In the 1960’s, conservatives were fixated by communists on the rise and a youthful culture supine with drugs and rock 'n roll. They set out the foundations of a new Moral Majority to combat these dire threats. The precepts of the Moral Majority were Christian, mainly, Republican, mainly, and meshed neatly with Chamber of Commerce values. SC Governor Mark Sanford is only the latest politician whose values knocked down the limbo stick.
Sanford who spent the last five days “crying in Argentina” voted, as congressman, in favor of three of four articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton, citing the need for “moral legitimacy”. It is not just conservatives, of course, caught up by the limbo stick "on the Appalachian Trail": Senator Gary Hart (Monkey Business) and Congressman Wilbur Mills (Silver Slipper). The list goes on: former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer (Most Expensive Night). Former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey (Dear, I have something to tell you). House Majority leader Newt Gingrich and Senator John Edwards (Dear, you have cancer?). US Senator Larry Craig (Foot tapper in airport men's room). And the judiciary: US District Judge Samuel Kent of Texas (sexual assault).
These moral transgressions are so ubiquitous, I misread the other big news today: “35,000 year old flute found in German cave” and assumed it was another story about infidelity.
The Victorian Age, that spanned the 19th and early 20th centuries, was notable—mainly in Great Britain—for its obsession with covering up impulses of men and women through high manners and layers of clothing: tight bodices, hoops, and other paraphernalia meant to contain and restrain what might burst into the open. But the Victorian Age also represented an emotional response to massive economic dislocations.
We should look back to the Victorians to understand to our obsessions with conformity in a time of unparalleled change. The ascent of the Moral Majority was not just an assertion of religious values—as its proponents largely contend—as it was to the transformation of corporate America and especially the rearrangement of industrial America from its bases in the northeast (God-less) and the Rust Belt to the fast-growing areas of the south and southwest.
In the past two decades, changes to the US economy have been even more momentous. We are no longer an industrial nation manufacturing our own goods. We are consumers caught in a world made smaller and flatter by technologies we helped to create but not master.
No wonder we fall for the allure of 35,000 year old flutes.