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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist
Platt Liebau is editorial director and a senior member of tOR and CRO editorial
boards. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator
based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News
Channel, MSNBC, CNN, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable
and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States.
A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School,
Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing
editor of the Harvard Law Review. Her web log can be found
[go to Liebau index]
the Air We Breathe
The Lasting Importance of American Culture
Platt Liebau] 5/16/05
is a columnist of wit, style and heart. It was a privilege
to hear her deliver an informal talk during my visit to Washington,
West spoke about a
column she had penned, which criticized Laura Bush’s White House Correspondent’s Dinner comedy
routine as a culture-coarsening and unfortunate breach of good
taste. The piece had elicited an avalanche of emails either taking
issue with West’s opinion or heartily commending her for
The split in reader
opinion reported by West wasn’t surprising,
given the divergent reactions of the women surrounding me. One
critique of West’s topic was particularly arresting. Why,
asked one listener, in an age marked by the War on Terror and
efforts to reform social security – truly “important” topics – are
we wasting time discussing the First Lady’s speech to White
House press correspondents?
That comment stands,
without more, as the best explanation of how our culture continually
spirals downward at an ever-increasing
rate. Certainly, almost everyone would concede that the culture “matters” – but
it is almost always a “second order” concern, rarely
a more pressing immediate matter than one’s personal safety
or economic well being. And so tastes and mores shift, often
as we focus on more urgent topics, until the changes have become
so embedded in our way of life that they aren’t even really
up for discussion anymore.
Take World War II.
Necessarily, the primary focus was placed on defeating the
Axis powers – but afterwards, Americans
were left with a culture that was forever changed. Some of the
alterations, including a sense of greater understanding and camaraderie
across class, racial and even geographic lines, were all to the
good. Some, including a coarsening of behavior and language,
weren’t. But all of them affected America deeply, and continued
to do so long after Germany, Japan and Italy had been defeated,
occupied and rebuilt. To take the example into the modern age,
HillaryCare is dead – but the pantsuit is still with us.
The impact of cultural
changes is as pervasive as it is long lasting. It’s tempting for many, especially on the right,
to take a libertarian view of the culture. In an age when disapproving
of anything is deemed to be terminally uncool, it’s all
too easy to fall for the “don’t want your children
exposed to that television program? Don’t let them watch
it” line of argument. But its reasoning is terminally flawed.
Even if one’s own children are forbidden to watch a particular
television program, they will inevitably talk to and play with
other children who are allowed both to watch it and to mimic
In the end, American
culture is like air. We focus on it rarely, but we depend on
it and its quality influences all of us, individually
and collectively, more than we recognize. And when it’s
polluted or corrupted, there’s no refuge for any of us.
Read Diana West’s column on Laura Bush, and disagree (or
not). That’s America. But never, ever make the mistake
of thinking that the topic is an unimportant one. Even an issue
as “frivolous” as a First Lady’s speech may
have cultural reverberations that echo down the years, long after
the voices arguing about social security or the War on Terror
have finally fallen silent. tOR
Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst, commentator and
theOneRepublic / CaliforniaRepublic.org editorial
director based in San Marino, CA. Ms. Liebau also served
as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review.
Her web log can be found at CarolLiebau.blogspot.com