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The Shifting Cultural Landscape

12/26/07 7:55AM By Olin Robison
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(HOST) Commentator Olin Robison believes that political correctness as we have understood it is coming to an end.

(ROBISON) O.K. Everyone. Pay attention.

No, not to me, but to the fact that we appear to be living through one of those occasional seismic shifts in American culture; one of those cultural changes that is the social equivalent of a geological shift in the tectonic plates.

The shift we are witnessing is much evident in the current Presidential campaign. We are watching, among other things, a public reaction against political correctness - at least to parts of that concept as it has been commonly understood.

There was recently, for instance, a major newspaper story to the effect that on-the-job romances, office romances, if you will, are no longer taboo. Such things appear to be much more acceptable now in ways which would until recently have gotten a person fired.

The more serious shift is in the area of religion, or, as it is now commonly described, religion in the public square. Religion has long been the third rail of American politics; something of a no-go zone.

There is much evidence of the change. Governor Romney recently gave a much covered speech at the Bush Presidential Library on the campus of Texas A and M University. It was entitled "Faith in America." The current "hot" candidate in Iowa, Governor Huckabee of Arkansas, has now run a campaign commercial in that state wishing everyone a "Merry Christmas" rather than "Happy Holidays." CNN has now run and re-run a major production called "God's Warriors," focused on the Christian Right in the US. No less an establishment organization than the New Your City based Council on Foreign Relations recently held a conference on the subject of "Evangelical Religion and American Foreign Policy." On and on the list could go. It is a sort of rebellion. It is also recognition of a shifting cultural landscape.

Do not, dear friends, think any of this is an accident. It isn't. When a Presidential candidate broadcasts a Christmas greeting such as that currently being done by Governor Huckabee, you can be assured that it comes only after considerable discussion within that campaign organization. It is definitely NOT and accident. It is an attempt to get out front of something that has happened or is happening.

There is a long history here in the United States of such cultural preferences swinging back and forth - something like a pendulum.

The reactive force this time is the counterpart of the arch-liberal late 60's and early 70's; a period which clearly redefined American culture. That was a period which produced the Civil Rights Act; the Voting Rights Act; the Civil Rights Movement....we could go on and on. Much that was good will remain.

It is nonetheless the case that one of the grievous faults shared by both the far left and the far right is that each, given the opportunity, always overdoes it and manages to scare people.

This time we are seeing a double reaction: first, to the long ago liberal dictates about political correctness, and also to the more recent excesses of the far right, which rode to power on the coattails of public fear. In time even they overdid it and scared people.

It has happened before; it will, sooner or later, happen again.

Olin Robison is past president of both the Salzburg Seminar and Middlebury College. He now lives in Shelburne.
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