That’s Rich

Frank Rich makes a rather bloated effort to puncture the collective windbag that is the “moral values” narrative.

The storyline proclaiming that the country swung to the right on cultural issues in 2004… is fiction. Everything about the election results – and about American culture itself – confirms an inescapable reality: John Kerry’s defeat notwithstanding, it’s blue America, not red, that is inexorably winning the culture war, and by a landslide. Kerry voters who have been flagellating themselves since Election Day with a vengeance worthy of “The Passion of the Christ” should wake up and smell the Chardonnay.

Rich supports his position by making the “people will continue to get the entertainment they deserve” argument and noting that

The blue ascendancy is nearly as strong among Republicans as it is among Democrats. Those whose “moral values” are invested in cultural heroes like the accused loofah fetishist Bill O’Reilly and the self-gratifying drug consumer Rush Limbaugh are surely joking when they turn apoplectic over MTV…Fox remains the go-to network for Paris Hilton (“The Simple Life”) and wife-swapping (“Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy”).

None of this has prompted an uprising from the red-state Fox News loyalists supposedly so preoccupied with “moral values.” They all gladly contribute fungible dollars to Fox culture by boosting their fair-and-balanced channel’s rise in the ratings. Some of these red staters may want to make love like porn stars. Besides, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The problem with Rich’s argument is that he’s reading “culture” as synonymous with “entertainment” when entertainment is only a subset of culture. The hypocrisy of moralizing asswipes like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, William Bennett and Rush Limbaugh is so well known as to be almost beyond the need for discussion. Their audiences ignore, deny or forgive their flaws in favor of their religious or moral messages, or their sheer entertainment value. Even if this means turning to and similar sites, media companies will give people the entertainment they demand (after creating and nurturing the demand, of course), but so what if Middle America watches Paris Hilton sex tapes, enjoys intensive sex and masturbates to the hardcore videos on and similar sites? They still want their guns, so they vote against the Dems. Guns are culture too, so is religion, and so – insofar as they are mutable, or pluralistic – are morals.

In the short term, it doesn’t much matter how the radical right gained power: with all three branches of the government under right-wing control, some of the far right’s agenda will be passed in the next four years even though they don’t claim a majority of the general population.