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July 30, 2008

New Tomdispatch


War Meets Values on Campaign Trail
Will the Big Winner of 2008 Once Again Be a Conservative Culture-Wars Narrative?

By Ira Chernus

While the Iraq war has largely faded from our TV screens, some 85% of all voters still call it an important issue. Most of them want U.S. troops home from Iraq within a couple of years, many of them far sooner. They support Barack Obama's position, not John McCain's. Yet when the polls ask which candidate voters trust more on the war, McCain wins almost every time.

Maybe that's because, according to the Pew Center for the People and the Press, nearly 40% of the public doesn't know McCain's position on troop withdrawal. In a June Washington Post/ABC poll, the same percentage weren't sure he had a clear position. When that poll told voters that McCain opposed a timetable for withdrawal, support for his view actually shot up dramatically. It looks like a significant chunk of the electorate cares more about the man than the issue. Newer polls suggest that McCain's arguments against a timetable may, in fact, be shifting public opinion his way.

McCain's Only Chance: Values-plus Voters

Pundits and activists who oppose the war in Iraq generally assume that the issue has to work against McCain because they treat American politics as if it were a college classroom full of rational truth-seekers. The reality is much more like a theatrical spectacle. Symbolism and the emotion it evokes -- not facts and logic -- rule the day.

In fact, the Pew Center survey found that only about a quarter of those who say they'll vote for McCain base their choice on issues at all. What appeals to them above all, his supporters say, is his "experience," a word that can conveniently mean many things to many people.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at July 30, 2008 01:07 PM

That's a very interesting article.

...The centrist and even liberal media are as busy as conservatives propagating the idea that, to be one of the average, ordinary Americans, you have to prize (white) working-class values considered "Republican turf" since the late 1960s: individualism, self-reliance, hard work for "modest" (which means stagnant or falling) wages, faith, and a patriotism so strong that it will never surrender.

The American Everyman, the hero of this year's media story, is an underpaid worker who may very well vote Republican against his or her own economic interests, and all too often against the interests of loved ones who hope to come home alive from Iraq or Afghanistan.


For the foreseeable future, debates about cultural values are going to be played out fiercely on the symbolic terrain of war and national security issues.


What can be done to change this picture? Facts and logic are rarely enough, in themselves, to persuade people to give up the values narratives that have framed their lives. They'll abandon one narrative only when another comes along that is more satisfying....

The article does seem to skimp on the role of media in many ways though -- you get the reality that media presents. It appears to say that the media is an impartial observer in this.

The other day I was watching CNN. There was a promo about liberty and freedom, and the tagline was about the monks being Buddha's Warriors. (Which made me chuckle thinking about the blame China Bernard post.)

I thought, really? Is that CNN trying to be ironic, or are we so steeped in war and warrior culture that Buddhist monks are Americanized into warriors and western values of liberty? To what goal?

Oh, but there's a lot here that media bears responsibility for.

Posted by: Labiche at July 30, 2008 05:52 PM

Labiche: Its American television, they meant WARRIORS.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at July 30, 2008 09:42 PM

Mr. Schwarz, I can't imagine who your shrink is, but please call him or her right away. You are obviously in no condition to be at large in the US.

Posted by: JoAnne at August 4, 2008 06:51 PM