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Culture warriors gear up for Super Tuesday

WITH THE CALIFORNIA and New York primaries looming, it was inevitable that the culture warriors would start nudging their religious brethren from center stage. The warning bells already are sounding.

At the start of the campaign, few expected the Bush-McCain rivalry to come to an ideological boil. Since both men seemed joined at the hip on key issues, it shaped up as a battle over personality. Viewed from the perspective of a casting director, McCain clearly held the edge. He was a Central Casting war hero, while his rival came across as an uneasy amalgam of an Andover-Yale preppie stuffed into Texas boots. McCain was the underdog, rising up against “coronation politics.”

And it seemed easy to predict where this storyline was headed, except that this was about politics, not movies. The plot first got off-kilter when Bush staged his love-in with the evangelists, only to have McCain counter that his rival was embracing anti-Catholics. The Born-Againers represented an “evil” strain in the Republican Party, he argued, stunning conservative confreres.

Insiders sensed that with the religious wars commencing, surely the culture wars would not be far behind. An opening salvo came from, of all places, the Catholic League. On the “Today” show, its spokesman, Bill Donahue, suggested that Bush was no more off-base in embracing the Bob Jones evangelicals than was Al Gore in accepting support from Harvey Weinstein.

Harvey Weinstein?!

OK, folks, the logic runs something like this: Just as Bob Jones University regards Catholicism as “a cult,” so Weinstein’s company, Miramax, fostered films like “Priest” and “Dogma,” whose storylines were not exactly affectionate toward the church hierarchy. The Wall Street Journal chimed in, insisting editorially that this was a legitimate analogy. The Journal’s brand of evangelical Republicanism, of course, increasingly has been an embarrassment to mainstream Republicans.

BUT DOES ANY OF THIS really make sense? It’s one thing for a politician to embrace a professional ideologue, but what’s that got to do with accepting a contribution from a moviemaker whose company picked up a film representing a particular point of view? The Journal also accused an NBC show, “The West Wing,” of putting “an anti-Catholic twist” on the Matthew Shepard murder by having a White House press secretary refer to the murder of a gay man thusly: “They made him say Hail Marys as they beat him to death.”

With the Journal picking up the cudgels, can the other culture warriors be far behind?

One factor impeding them is that none of these people ever sees any movies. Hence, why refer back to “Priest,” filmed six years ago, when a high-profile Oscar nominee, “The Cider House Rules,” deals explicitly with the “A” word — abortion?

One can imagine how the warriors will respond if Oscars were to rain down upon a movie whose protagonist insists that abortion is morally and medically correct. And, yes, this was another movie funded by Al Gore — whoops, I mean Harvey Weinstein.

And why has no one in Bush’s camp gotten around to seeing “Three Kings,” a movie financed and distributed by Warner Bros.? This is a film that impugns “W’s” father for mobilizing forces opposing Saddam Hussein — only to abandon them when it becomes expedient. The Bush name is invoked on several occasions as the plot unfolds.

Jerry Weintraub, Hollywood’s major ally for Bush senior and junior, has a long-standing deal with Warner Bros. How can “W” accept money and hospitality from a man who’s linked to a movie company carrying this seditious message?

THE DEMOCRATS HAVE problem pictures to cope with, as well. In “Wonder Boys,” a new film released by Paramount, a character played by Michael Douglas smokes pot in virtually every scene. Worse yet, he clearly enjoys it. Paramount is a unit of Viacom, as will be CBS. Will Al Gore accept the support of Sumner Redstone, who, according to the Wall Street Journal’s logic, is responsible for this public display of contraband? Where are the warriors now that we need them?

Of course, the campaign is only starting to heat up, so there’s still time for all manner of idiocy to surface. And since the economy is healthy and no enemy is threatening our shores, the politicians have to grasp at so-called moral issues rather than issues of survival. To the Christian right, abortion and homosexuality have taken the place of Khrushchev and Castro. And they seem pleased about it.

Brace yourselves, folks. Things are going to get ugly.

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