THE FIRST 100 DAYS: Obama Steers Clear of the Culture Wars

Anyone else notice the silence? Listen to what you don't hear in the Age of Obama. Since Barack Obama has been sworn in as the 44thpresident the lack of rancor and angry debate on abortion, guns, and gays has been stunning. In fact the only news on the culture front has been losses by the right as Iowa and Vermont passed pro-gay marriage laws. Otherwise, the old right-wing wedge issues of years past are met with a deafening silence in the body politic of 2009. Let us all give thanks.

During the peak years of the little war (the late 80's and 90's) a few inexcusable crimes such as harassment and some murders of abortion doctors were perpetrated by radicals on the right. And what are now shallow shell organizations among the Christian Right, most specifically the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition, gamed the social agenda for contributions to keep their leadership in private jets. A few politicians won elections with outrageous cultural attacks on their opponents, and the nation was subjected to Tom DeLay and Senate Majority Leader (and doctor) Bill Frist's exploitation of a brain-dead Terry Schaivo. But overall mainstream voters ignored the battles.

Today the issues of abortion, guns, and gays barely register in single digits in the polls. There are several reasons cited for this lack of interest among the vast majority of Americans.

Certainly the horrors of the current recession have focused the attention of the public and the politicians with laser-like intensity. Debating social issues while you lose a job is a waste of energy (as if many people waste energy on cultural issues in good times). Enough problems are on the table already including two wars, unemployment heading toward 10%, huge deficits, and intense disagreement over bailing out banks.

President Obama also deserves credit for lowering the culture temperature. To the extent he raised abortion at all during his campaign and first 100 days in office it has been to propose a national effort to discourage the practice. He did not include gun control or gays in the military among his campaign issues. Obama even invited pro-life; anti-gay marriage mega-pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration, much to the dismay of the left.

The president not only kept George W. Bush's' faith-based office in the White House he expanded it (sadly from my standpoint). When he visited Mexico to discuss the war on drugs, President Calderon pushed Obama to reinstate the ban on assault weapons which Congress let expire a few years ago and (again sadly from my perspective), the president refused to bite. Obama has spoken out forcefully about personal responsibility among young men for neglecting children they helped conceive and to young women for having babies they cannot mother properly.

A "Culture War" requires a president to stir the social pot. President Obama has not and will not lend the prestige of his office to such a destructive agenda. But even when George W. Bush and other Republican pols, including former Vice President Dan Quayle, milked cultural issues for political purposes, I contend the culture war was, and is, mostly a myth.

Poll after poll finds that abortion should be legal but highly restricted. The recent carnage by people with guns directed at their own families will keep the gun proponents on the defensive. As for gay issues a whole new generation (and now the largest generation), the "Millennials," along with their compatriots in Generations X and Y, have become widely accepting of gay rights including marriage.

Having said this it is important to recognize that there are millions of Americans on both sides who are passionate about these social issues. They are, for the most part, honest and thoughtful people who lend their voices and votes to their respectful agendas. The vast majority of these advocates do not participate in destructive protests or mean spirited debates. But collectively they represent a small percentage of the citizenry.

For them the war goes on, the mission is crucial and fundamental values are at stake. For their president and the vast majority of their fellow citizens the social issues are important but they see no reason to go to war over them. Rather, like President Obama, most Americans believe on each of these issues it is at the table of common ground and not the battleground where consensus can be found.