Until very recently I had no idea who or what Duck Dynasty was. But now I, along with the rest of the English-speaking world, know far more about Duck Dynasty than I care to. But I am preparing myself for the reality that I will be hearing those two words endlessly over the course of the next year. Because unlike many media scandals that come and go after a 24 hour news cycle, I believe the Duck Dynasty controversy will have legs. Not only will the controversy linger, it might reignite the culture war that has traditionally hurt Democrats, especially in off-year elections when older, whiter voters have turned out more.
On Friday, A&E announced that it would welcome Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson back into the fold.
The move was no doubt motivated by the fact that a petition in support of Robertson garnered more than a quarter of a million signatures and his album sales (yes, apparently he and his family have an album) shot through the roof.
For those of you living under a rock (or like Sarah Palin didn’t bother to read the controversial comments in question) Robertson described what he considers sinful during an interview with GQ: “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.”
Despite the fact that in the next quote Robertson also quotes scripture to denounce those who commit adultery, drink too much, and slander others as sinners, he was roundly denounced as a bigot and hate monger, particularly in progressive and liberal leaning news outlets.
This is precisely what will prove problematic for President Obama and the Democratic Party in the upcoming midterm elections.
Though nearly half of the country opposes same-sex marriage, the media narrative has become dominated by the storyline that only a small segment of backward bigots who hate gay people oppose same-sex marriage. That simply isn’t true. (Reinforcing bias in reporting on this story is the fact that many outlets caved to pressure to use the term “marriage equality” in coverage, when such a term is an activist creation. Interracial marriage is called interracial marriage, not “marriage equality.” If supporters of same-sex marriage view the civil rights fights as comparable, the same language standard should be applied.)
Polls also show 59 percent of Americans now find same-sex couples morally acceptable. That means there are plenty of Americans who don’t have a problem with gay couples but seem to have a problem with the word “marriage” being used to define their relationships.
Among my family members who oppose same-sex marriage, I have been told to congratulate my gay friends whose weddings I have attended. But I have simultaneously been told that such unions don’t fit my relatives’ biblical definition of marriage. I have further been told that in the context of the oft repeated phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin,” they see gay people no differently than they would view a straight person like me who decides to live with someone “in sin” (as the biblical saying goes). It wouldn’t make me a bad person but one who according to biblical text would be “living in sin.” In other words, they wouldn’t throw holy water on me but also wouldn’t throw me a parade. Most of all, they wouldn’t really care how I live my romantic life at all, as long as I was happy.
There’s a big gulf between the relatives I describe and someone who “hates” gay people. The fact that so many liberals can’t see the difference speaks to the tremendous gulf that has grown in recent years between the increasingly vocal liberal wing of the Democratic Party and, well...everyone else.
There was a time when there was room in both major parties for differing viewpoints. Rockefeller Republicans and pro-life Democrats all could find room in their party tents. But much like Democrats accuse the GOP of bigotry for ostracizing party members who embrace bipartisanship—or, in the case of Gov. Chris Christie, embrace President Obama—the Democratic Party is in danger of being seen as increasingly intolerant by crucial swing voters in the culture wars.
Last year Democratic senators who oppose same-sex marriage were targeted by angry progressives, despite there remaining many more important issues affecting the LGBT community that those senators’ votes were needed on, most notably workplace protections for LGBT citizens. After all, not every gay friend I have wants to get married, but all of them want to be able to find and keep a job without fear of being fired for who they are.
Which raises a question: Would progressives rather have someone like Mary Landrieu of Louisiana say she is with them on same-sex marriage so they can feel good about themselves, or would they rather have her in the Senate to vote on other issues she can wield influence on and are more important? The alternative is a Republican senator who almost surely will vote against their interests 100 percent of the time. For the record, Landrieu was a co-sponsor of ENDA, the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, in 2009. (Landrieu has said she personally supports same-sex couples but believes her responsibility as a legislator means accurately representing the majority of her constituents who disagree with her.
But the reality is Landrieu is in trouble in the upcoming midterm elections. And my guess is if she were on record in support of same-sex marriage and had come out against Phil Robertson, her goose would be cooked, Cajun-style. She’s not the only one. Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas is one of a number of Democratic senators in conservative states where people do things like go to church, read the Bible, and, yes, watch Duck Dynasty.
In the same way Palin had no right to dismiss those of us in big cities as not being part of “real America,” those of us in big cities—and particularly those of us who work in the media—have no right to dismiss these people as not part of the future of America. While issues such as health care and the economy have defined recent elections, the Duck Dynasty controversy could signal the return of social issues to front and center, and on those we remain a nation closely divided.
The backlash to the attack on Robertson was a reminder that the White House, the DNC, and progressive activists could soon find themselves living in an America in which those who think like Phil Robertson are calling the shots, because there are still just enough of them to take control of both houses come this November and quite possibly the White House in 2016.