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Tuesday, November 30, 2004

I'd like to address this meeting of the Harper Valley P.T.A.

Apparently, some people are still upset that certain liberals have the temerity to suggest that the moral values voters the media believe decided the election might just be the teeniest bit hypocrital. We are petty elitists, and intellectual lightweights to boot.

I have to say that this critique is driving me nuts coming from sophisticated thinkers like Somerby. He claims, ridiculously, that Frank Rich was misleading when he said that nobody complained about the "Desperate Housewives" skit until political groups got them all riled up, using the fact that a spokesman says he didn't get any calls at home. Clearly the spokesman means that nobody from the network called him to let him know there was an uproar, which is what would normally happen. This argument is beneath Somerby. Rich made a very good case that this was a ginned up controversy.

The bigger issue is that Somerby and others claim that those of us who find all this moralizing a bit suspect are using the fallacy of composition --- we are applying the hypocrisy of some moralizers to all red state morals voters. But that criticism ignores the fact that this entire discussion is taking place within a broader "culture war" as defined by those who have decided to wage it. The "Desperate Housewives" flap didn't happen in a vacuum. Of course voters are individuals and there are certainly some who sincerely believe that the skit in question crossed the line. But the real subject of this conversation is this false construct of the Republican Real Americans appalled at the horrible values of the Democratic libertine cosmopolitans. It is not a stretch to use the "Desperate Housewives" flap as an example of hypocrisy on the part of the moralizers considering that it is an immensely popular mass market television show among the very Real Americans who are alleged to be so moral.

Via Sommerby (who takes a different lesson from these quotes) here's an example of what we are dealing with:

MR. RUSSERT: Two interesting developments over the last month or so. A report came out that the state with the lowest level of divorce is Massachusetts. The states with the highest level are the so-called Bible Belt in the South.


REV. SHARPTON: That's because they watch "Desperate Housewives."

MR. RUSSERT: Also "Desperate Housewives"...

REV. SHARPTON: That's right.

MR. RUSSERT: ...a widely viewed television series, particularly in the South.

REV. SHARPTON: Because...

MR. RUSSERT: Why is it that the red states...

DR. FALWELL: Because the South doesn't belong to the New Testament Church anymore than the North.


DR. FALWELL: We have a responsibility to preach the Gospel. But I would take that poll a little further. Among born-again, Bible-believing Christians who take the Bible as the word of God, you'll find those stats are non...

MR. RUSSERT: They don't watch "Desperate Housewives"?

DR. FALWELL: I hope they don't.

REV. SHARPTON: You don't know. Look, Brother Russert, Brother Russert...

DR. LAND: I don't...

DR. FALWELL: I have never watched it and I've...

DR. FALWELL: I have never watched it and I've...

DR. LAND: We're in church on Sunday night. The point is--you know, look. He said we shouldn't impose values on others. Look, when a mother has an abortion, she is imposing her values on an unborn child. And it is always a fatal imposition because the baby dies.

DR. FALWELL: Amen. Amen.

REV. SHARPTON: Brother Russert, I'll tell you that people...

MR. RUSSERT: On "Desperate Housewives," Newsweek says that the creator of "Desperate Housewives" is a conservative, gay Republican.

REV. SHARPTON: That's what I was going to say. Do you find that...

DR. FALWELL: Well, the fact that he's a gay Republican means he should join the Democratic Party.

What I would give to be able to sit down in a living room somewhere and watch that unbelievable Sunday sideshow with Mark Twain, Sinclair Lewis, John O'Hara, Theodore Dreiser, Willa Cather, Erskine Caldwell, Flannery O'Connor and about a dozen other great American writers. If there is a greater All American, mom and apple pie, flagwaving tradition in the great country of ours than deflating pompous gasbags like those guys, I don't know what is.

Exposing the phony piety of middle American life goes back a long, long way. In fact we could say that our earliest literary superstar, Nathaniel Hawthorne, made his name with the subject of the preacher and small town sin. The greatest American writer ever (imo) Mark Twain, wrote:

We are discreet sheep; we wait to see how the drove is going, and then go with the drove. We have two opinions: one private, which we are afraid to express; and another one - the one we use - which we force ourselves to wear to please Mrs. Grundy, until habit makes us comfortable in it, and the custom of defending it presently makes us love it, adore it, and forget how pitifully we came by it.

The progressive movement was inspired and energized by novels and stories that laid bare the twofaced nature of bourgouis American morality. Sinclair Lewis wrote "Main Street" in 1920:

The doctor asserted, 'Sure religion is a fine influence - got to have it to keep the lower classes in order - fact, it's the only thing that appeals to a lot of these fellows and makes 'em respect the rights of property. And I guess this theology is O.K.; lot of wise old coots figured it out, and they knew more about it than we do. He believed in the Christian religion, and never thought about it; he believed in the church, and seldom went near it; he was shocked by Carol's lack of faith, and wasn't quite sure what was the nature of the faith that she lacked.

In 1927 he wroteElmer Gantry:

"He had, in fact, got everything from the church and Sunday School, except, perhaps, any longing whatever for decency and kindness and reason."

Just last year, Rick Perlstein visited Ronald Reagan's home town and found, you guessed it, quite a bit of shall we say ... cultural dissonance among the pillars of the community.

I could go on and on. There is nothing new about questioning the sincerity of public people who preach private morality. Politicians may believe that they need to preach morality for strategic reasons. Fine. But that does not require writers and social observers to pretend that we live in a country in which the natural course of human nature has been suspended in certain more "moral" regions or that it is disrespectful to question why Viagra commercials and close-up Cheerleader crotch shots do not elicit the same shocked moral outrage from NFL fans like Rush Limbaugh as the blond's naked back in the arms of a leering black football player.

I do not watch "Desperate Housewives." In fact I watch almost no network television at all. I don't defend any of popular culture on aesthetic or moral grounds. I'm sure that traversing the shoals of modern life is very difficult for those with young children. If I had young kids I probably would severely restrict their viewing. But, I'm not going to listen to anyone tell me that that "Hollywood" and "New York" values are infecting any region of this country against its will because every corner of this land is filled with people who eat that stuff up.

Parents should probably use the V-Chip that Clinton pushed through to give parents a tool to keep their kids from seeing things they don't want them to see, use TiVo to screen programs or better yet, turn off the TV. I have a feeling that as unpopular as that might be, it might just be for the best. Having TV executives hold a seance to figure out what Michael Powell and his cronies believe should be on television just doesn't seem to me to be much of a solution in a free society.

And one more thing: Somerby approvingly quotes President Clinton numerous times saying that the Pentecostals deserved respect because even though they didn't believe in a right to abortion they took in unwanted babies and gave them a home. He uses this as an example of how liberals should talk about fundamentalist Christians. Falwell repeated on Press the Meat that his church sponsored adoptions.

It's a nice story, but it would be a lot more meanigful if it weren't for this:

African-American babies are going to parents overseas even as US couples adopt children from other countries

Adrian, Emma, and Elisa have more in common than their charm and being the apple of their parents' eyes. All are black children born in the United States and adopted as infants by parents in other countries.

They also are representatives of a little-known trend: At the same time the US is "importing" increasing numbers of adoptive children from Russia, China, and Guatemala, it is "exporting" black babies to be adopted in other countries.


The majority of [american] couples seeking to adopt are white, but there aren't nearly enough Caucasian babies available in the US to meet the demand. Although exceptions certainly exist, American parents generally prefer babies to toddlers, girls to boys, and Caucasians to African-Americans, adoption professionals report. Other ethnicities fall in between, depending on their skin color. African-American boys are at the bottom of this "ranking" system, they say, which is why they're harder to place.

"We have to work much harder to find homes for our African-American babies," says Robert Springer of Christian Homes, an adoption agency in Texas.

No one is equating babies with commodities, but the principles of supply and demand apply. Adoption costs and waiting times in the US vary depending on a baby's ranking in the "desirability list."

The children who are in the greatest demand are also in the shortest supply. Those who want to adopt healthy white babies in the US may wait as long as five years, agencies say. In contrast, they add, the waiting for African-Americans is often measured in weeks and months, especially for baby boys.

Now I realize that not every pentecostal who opposes abortion would refuse to adopt a black child. But, the evidence shows that while the fundamentalists may be willing to adopt unwanted babies in theory, in practice they only want to adopt certain unwanted babies. I don't know why that deserves any special respect.

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