April 2011 Vol. 109 No. 6 THE REVIEW

Purple Haze

Clare Huntington

It takes only a glance at the headlines every political season-with battles over issues ranging from abortion and abstinence-only education to same-sex marriage and single parenthood-to see that the culture wars have become a fixed feature of the American political landscape. The real puzzle is why these divides continue to resonate so powerfully. In Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture, Naomi Cahn and June Carbone offer an ambitious addition to our understanding of this puzzle, illustrating pointedly why it is so hard to talk across the political divide. In a telling anecdote in the conclusion of their book, Cahn and Carbone recount how, upon hearing that the rate of nonmarital births had risen to 38 percent of all births in the United States, a conservative commentator attributed this shift to the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage. Cahn and Carbone relate their astonishment at this, given their certainty that the increase in nonmarital births was due to the prevalence of abstinence-only education, the inaccessibility of contraception and abortion, and the poor economy (pp. 206-07). They readily admit that they had no more evidence to back their conclusion than the conservative commentator. Instead, both sides resorted to strongly felt, though unproven, intuition. As Cahn and Carbone sum it up, "[s]uch is the nature of the culture wars" (p. 207).

 

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