The right seems to have decided that the culture war, like just about everything else, sells better if promoted by attractive youthful spokesmoms. Goodbye Pat Buchanan, hello Sarah Palin–and an especially big shout-out to that bright-eyed smiling newcomer to the national hate sweeps, Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann. Bachmann, as you may know, has become a YouTube star, thanks to her interview on Hardball, in which, talking to an incredulous Chris Matthews, she called for the news media to ferret out "anti-American" members of Congress.
The stronger Obama gets, the more unhinged the Republicans become–at least, those Republicans who haven’t already detached (Chris Buckley! Colin Powell! Charles Krauthammer! Peggy Noonan! Kenneth Adelman!)–although to be fair, Bachmann has been sending bulletins from Outer Wingnuttia for quite a while. In August she mocked Nancy Pelosi for "global warming fanaticism…. She has said that she’s just trying to save the planet. We all know that someone did that over 2,000 years ago." Bachmann also claimed that Democrats want high gas prices in order to force Americans to move to "the inner city." Watch out, Real America, Democrats want to turn you into black people!
Many are worried about the way the McCain campaign has revved up the culture war–Bill Ayers is more famous right now than Obama’s earlier BFF Paris Hilton, to say nothing of Reverend Wright, ACORN aka perpetrator of "one of the greatest frauds in voter history," secret Muslims, socialism, exotic Hawaii, Joe the Plumber, small towns, the real Virginia and the pro-America parts of the country. (According to McCain, if Obama had only agreed to do ten town hall debates with him, none of this mud would be slung now. It’s as if he’s blaming Obama for his own decision to take the low road. You leave me no choice, sir, but to lie and slander in a most ridiculous fashion! So much for Republicans standing for self-reliance and responsibility.) Sometimes it does feel like McCain, by choosing Sarah Palin, has lifted up a rock and revealed the national id in all its unregenerate glory, seething with racism, paranoia, McCarthyism, xenophobia and bigotry.
And yet this is the country where every poll suggests that these appeals to the devils of our nature aren’t working their mojo. It may have taken the collapse of the global financial system to get Americans to elect a black man president, but give the voters a little credit: it could just happen.
Not too much credit, though. The culture war may fail at the top of the ticket, but it still has enough juice to do damage further down. This year’s state ballot initiatives offer numerous opportunities for social conservatives to damage women’s health and human rights: Californians can vote to require parental notification on abortion, a measure they’ve rejected twice but which looks likely to pass this time around. South Dakotans can vote to ban abortion entirely, with narrowly tailored exceptions for rape, incest and serious injury to the woman’s health–just make sure you report being raped by your brother immediately and that your doctor is prepared to risk ten years in prison if his colleagues think he’s erred on the side of keeping you alive. For the true fetal fan, though, Colorado is the place to be: there voters can choose to declare that human personhood, with all its legal protections, begins with the fertilized egg, putting at risk not only legal abortion but also emergency contraception, the pill, chemotherapy and other medically necessary procedures, to say nothing of in vitro fertilization (protecting fertilized eggs, it turns out, is more important even than creating a born child).