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My Take: Culture war overtakes budget battle
An antiabortion ran in several publications on Thursday.
April 8th, 2011
09:15 AM ET

My Take: Culture war overtakes budget battle

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Anyone who still believes that the Tea Party is about economics is not paying attention to what Tea Party partisans are drinking.

When it comes to money, the difference between the budgets that Democrats and Republicans want are miniscule - a few billion or so in a budget that will eventually come in at roughly $3.8 trillion. So why is this tiny difference worth shutting down the government? Because this game of chicken is not about money.

The old Religious Right put its cultural agenda front and center. It staked its identity on resisting the sexual libertinism of the 1960s. So it opposed abortion and homosexuality and stem-cell research.

Tea Party partisans have the same cultural agenda, but this incarnation of the Religious Right proceeds by stealth, in this case with riders to a budget bill - riders they know no Democratic president or Senate can ever accept.

So the current stalemate isn’t about the money. It’s about the determination of Republicans to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, National Public Radio and the Environmental Protection Agency - efforts that have absolutely nothing to do with the deficit.

Of all these hot button issues, the hottest concerns Planned Parenthood, a network of approximately 800 women’s health centers.  Some of these centers (fewer than half) offer abortion services, but none actually uses federal funds to perform abortions, since using those funds for that purpose is already illegal.

All told, Planned Parenthood receives $330 million annually from the federal government. Assuming a budget of $3.8 trillion, cutting Planned Parenthood loose would reduce the federal budget by a whopping .0087%. To put that figure in perspective, A proportionate cut in the annual budget of the median American household would save each family a whopping 45 cents per year.

So we are not talking real money here. The ad that ran yesterday in Politico, Roll Call, The Hill and other publications calling for the "privatization" of Planned Parenthood and attacking its founder Margaret Sanger has nothing to do with money. It has everything to do with an effort to revive the culture wars - to return to the bedroom politics of the old Religious Right.

I have no objection to cutting the budget. I am not sure this is the time to do it, given how precarious the economy is. And I do find it hard to take budget cutters seriously when they refuse to consider raising revenues, since when my household budget comes under strain I always try both to cut back on spending and to find a little more income.

But that is not my complaint here. My complaint is that the people the American people have sent to the Capitol to pass a budget are not focusing on that task. They are not following the money to be budgeted for 2011. They are following a script written by social conservatives in the early 1980s.

As the Bible says, there is a time and a place for everything: "For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

Regardless of what you think about the abortion question, you have to admit that this is not the time to revisit that question. It is not the time to debate Planned Parenthood. And it is not the time for an 11th-hour effort to prohibit the District of Columbia from using Medicaid funds to pay for abortions—something all states are permitted to do.

So please don't tell me that the Tea Party is focused like a laser beam on lowering taxes and cutting the budget. And if the government shuts down tonight, please don’t tell me it’s about the money. It’s not the economy, stupid.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Abortion • Culture wars • Economy • Opinion • Politics • Tea Party • United States

soundoff (274 Responses)
  1. prayfast2

    I am appalled at the audacity of the this proposed shutdown with the members of the Tea Party standing with signs shut it down. How is the budget ever going the funded with thousannaires trying to foot the bill for this country when billionaires, and millionaires basically have the protection of never having to pay their fair share of taxes.

    The reason why there is a deficit now is not because of the services being funded by the gov't it is because of the greed, of the mega companies and mega millionaires who bleed this country dry. The oil companies are basically exempt 5 years of them paying their taxes would put a major plug in the bucket. Stopping the tax breaks for the rich would put another big plug.

    April 8, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  2. Ray

    Judeo-illiberals have been fighting their anti-white culture war, and winning it, far longer than the Christian right has been waging its losing battle for "family values."

    Proof that sheer fanaticism can enable the emotionally stunted and reality-challenged to win, and win, and win again.

    April 8, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
  3. Nppa1234

    Ok we have a separation of church and state for a reason and freedom of that relegion and are based off of a republic. If you don't know what that means look it up debate solved relegion does not get a say. I am an Atheist I do not run around saying people should think like me. Think like yourself.

    April 8, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
  4. Adeline

    "Culture War" is wrong in naming. It's "Morality War." Stop infanticide.

    April 8, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
    • craggler

      grow up and realize this isn't a cookie-cutter black and white issue. Jeez....it's lie arguing with second graders.

      April 8, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  5. JAG

    I'm typically a democrat leaning voter, but was behind the GOP on the budget – until this mess. It's so obvious now that they have alterior motives. Why would they care about anything but a number? If they get the number right, they can argue about the rest when peoples livelihoods aren't on the line. Without any bias, I don't see how this, along with the politically motivated attacks on unions by new GOP governors, can be read by the average American as anything other than proof that the republicans sell fiscal responsibility, but provide economic policy that does little but cater to the upper 5% of society sprinkled in with some guns/abortion talk to keep the thumpers in step.

    April 8, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
  6. fartlek

    for the love of god, have the tea party idiots move to some repressed country like Saudi Arabia and let the rest of us who want to live in the 21st century have a working budget.

    April 8, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • craggler

      amen

      April 8, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  7. Mattmchugh

    Once again, Republicans prove they care deeply about the needs of unborn... and don't give a f–k about most of the living.

    April 8, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • TalkAbtBelief

      Thank you!

      April 9, 2011 at 12:16 am |
  8. Monique

    And by the way... If it takes a whole village to raise a child, it takes a whole nation to ruin the country... stop playing the blame game, and look in the mirror! One man, Bush OR Obama could not have done THIS to AMERICA... it took all of this to let this happen, and all we do is talk about, and find others to blame... it's no wonder we are in this mess. WAKE UP AMERICA... we are a nation of PEOPLE... NOT a nation of POLITICIANS! This is OUR country... this is OUR responsibility.

    April 8, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • PRO PARENTHOOD

      100% agree with you. Everyone is blaming Obama for everything....People he is not a dictator who decides everything....he is not the only one running the country so please also blame the rest of the government.

      April 8, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • bumblethorp

      Nicely said. Thank you.

      April 8, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  9. Harry

    This article is so extremely slanted. It's a shame that there isn't a media source that gives the news without their opinions. Fox is just as bad. By saying a "whopping .0087%" CNN is making it clear which side they take. Don't give us your opinion, give us the news!

    April 8, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • Monique

      Totally agree, Harry!! The news is nothing more than gossip, these days, and so many fall right in line to get their fixin' of the drama!

      April 8, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • Curtis M

      Harry, this is clearly an opinion piece, not a news item. Like it says at the bottom of the article: "The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero."

      If you want "just the facts", then click the CNN logo at the top of the page to go back to the front page.

      April 8, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  10. Cosmic Dog

    1921? Seriously?

    April 8, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
  11. Jack

    This stalemate, brought on by the Repubs, was also about defunding the health care law the Dems passed, since they cannot overturn it any other way at this time. This is political hi-jinks on a massive level by the far Right-wing politicos that sickens me to the core, because of their hypocrisy. They do not care one bit about this country. They care only about obtaining the most power. They're only using the spending issue as a wedge. Where were they when Bush drove our economy into the drink?

    April 8, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
    • Steve

      Obama is far surpasing Bush's tank job. Add an extra war and triple the record deficit Bush ran. They are the same president just one is more communist and tanner than the other

      April 8, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
    • TJ

      Actually, Steve, Obama resulted in one LESS war than Bush. Combat operations in Iraq are complete, and Libya is an international effort that the U.S. is NOT in charge of. That never would have happened under Bush's watch. You fail.

      April 8, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
  12. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    What utter nonsense you people spew. Abortions are legal. GET THE HELL OVER IT.

    April 8, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • Steve

      actually, only in some states which is how it should be. State right, not federal

      April 8, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Wrong, dipshirt. Grow a uterus and you get to decide what to do with its contents. Otherwise, shut up.

      April 8, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • PRO PARENTHOOD

      Exactly.....GET OVER IT. I would never get one, but I do appreciate that I have a CHOICE. MY body, my right.

      April 8, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • steven harnack

      Hey Steve, I don't know where you've been but over 30 years ago Roe vs Wade, decided by the Supreme Court, made abortion legal in every state, territory and possession of the U.S.A. You're another example of the ignorant know nothings that think that lies are just opinions.

      April 8, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
  13. PRO PARENTHOOD

    Seriously??? ARE yo kidding me?

    We THE WOMEN absolutely need planned parenthood. I am a very young married woman. I am a full time college student and so is my husband and we have been using the Planned Parenthood services since high school. We cannot afford health insurance as of right now and until we are done with college.
    I do not go there to get abortions, but to get yearly screenings that I otherwise could not afford, I get my BC there and so much more. They do so much more than abortions (I mean only 3% of services are abortions)........

    This is our RIGHT..... are they kidding me? I am so angry and want to kill someone for real..... WE NEED PLANNED PARENTHOOD.

    April 8, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • Steve

      if you want to kill someone just make sure its your own kid. this way you dont go to jail

      April 8, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • Brandi

      Did that Steve guy even read the article or what you said?

      April 8, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • PRO PARENTHOOD

      lol...what? I did not even understand what Steve meant. Would you mind clarifying who are"my kind"???

      April 8, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • Geez

      What I dont understand is Harry Reid is the one that keeps bring up Planned Parenthood and Abortions... I dont think I have heard a single Republican mention it. So now were are basing Republican beliefs... and Tea Party beliefs on what Reid says.... hmmm that sounds a little off.

      April 8, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • bumblethorp

      You don't hear Republicans talking about it, because they are trying to bury it. They are pretending the debate is about one item and trying to sweep the defunding drive under the carpet. It's just like Walker in Wisconsin. They only were talking about the benefit reductions that were part of the bill; they weren't talking about the collective bargaining aspect. That aspect was the key dealbreaker, not the benefit reductions that were already agreed to by the unions.

      It's a very devious bit of trickery to try to paint the opposing side as irrational. But think of it this way: if the Democrats (as portrayed by those of the extreme far right crowd) were in the same position as the Republicans are now, and they decided to add a rider to a bill that says abortions were mandatory after your second child. They don't talk about it, because gee shucks, the rest of the bill is to keep paying our military, supporting Israel, and giving candy to babies. And their argument is then "Aw, come on. Look at all the good things in this bill. It's just this one little thing that they should just accept." Would you be waiting for the Dems to state their position on it? Or would you perhaps think the Repubs had a better counterposition to explain?

      April 8, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
  14. GetAClue

    Are all of you liberals really this ignorant? Regardless of religious views or political affiliation, these types of things such as Planned Parenthood, should not be funded by federal taxes. I live in the Omaha area where there are at least 5 hospitals, all of whom have ER's. We already pay for these types of services. Nobody is saying women should not get exams or that their "rights" to get pregnant are being taken away. What I am saying is that you should have that nast little word "responsibility". You want to do it, fine. But don't ask me to pay for either your abortion or your child. This is in NO WAY the responsibility of the American people. I am sick of seeing women enact their "right" to have 10 kids or more, all of whom were conceived while on welfare and government aid. If I cannot afford a new car, I don't go get one. PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY PEOPLE!

    April 8, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • TiredMomma

      I wish people could separate Planned Parenthood from the abortions that it provides. It offers so much more than that for women. A condom is not the issue here. Planned Parenthood is not using taxpayer monies to provide abortions. It does receive other monies which are used for that purpose. But not taxpayer money. If you look at the amount of money that cutting it would save, there is no way it could be about money, but about views that don't believe in abortion. Stuck on that one religious area that Planned Parenthood provides. What about the breast exams, pap smears, STD care and on and on with the necessary services that every American woman should be provided.

      April 8, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • PRO PARENTHOOD

      yes TiredMomma that is exactly what I was saying. I have been using planned parenthood since high school (because I did not want to be a pregnant teenager) and now 4 years later I just now found out they even offer abortion. I never went there for that. I went there (and still do because I am a college student who cannot afford insurance) to get screenings, BC and other things I cannot yet afford. It has saved sooo many women. Why are they trying to take our rights and take us back a century??

      April 8, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • TheNumber

      Are you so ignorant as to think Planned Parenthood is only about abortions? Women require care that we do not – often if they end up in one of your five emergency rooms in Omaha it is because they did not have preventative care, i.e. a regular doctor. These women do not have a regular doctor because they cannot afford insurance and certainly cannot afford the cost of the visits on their own.

      This is very much the responsibility of the taxpayers. I can't imagine how shameful it would be if we, as a nation, turned our backs on our own people. A nation that turns its back on its hungry, sick and old is NO great nation.

      I am a damn proud American and I will not yield to those who will turn us into a disgrace by taking the heart out of this country.

      April 9, 2011 at 12:48 am |
  15. Lisa Pulsinelli-Vote

    Proper cultural context of interpreting scripture is needed. You quote: As the Bible says, there is a time and a place for everything: "For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
    While this is true, proper cultural context is that this was written under Jewish Mosaic Law and it is very distinct about abortion or killing of anything with lifeblood being a sin in proper covenantal law understanding. There is never a time and place for "exposing their young from their wombs" or "killing" or even "sacrificing to Molech" as the Israelites were call out of the pagan nations they were inhabiting and given proper social, ethical and moral laws. The problem with both the Religious right and the ultra liberal relative truth left is that they misquote scripture to justify their political cause. The problem with Planned Parenthood is that when their budget is cut it's about women's reproductive rights. When a young person who choses to actually be influenced by morality under a Judeo- Christian worldview and remain celibate until marriage or worse yet, is commanded by this same moral law to stand up to the injustice of murder according to the Divine standard the media, government and any other means of judgement says they are intolerant or called a prude.

    April 8, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  16. Steve

    I dont understand

    If liberals want to kill their kids i am all for it

    Less welfare and one less liberal vote in 18 years. This is a small price to pay to get rid of more leaches

    Why not?

    April 8, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • Curtis

      exactamundo. People don't realize that the crime rate drop off in the late 80s/early 90s wasn't due to better policing, but rather the legalization of abortion in 1972. The kids that would have been 16-20 year olds in that time that should have been born to poor unfit mothers in 1972 never made it. I don't get why the Republicans would be AGAINST abortion. Less welfare, less crime.

      April 8, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
    • Jason

      What you guys don't get is that opposition to abortion is not really a liberal/conservative issue. Republicans have adopted the issue in order to get a certain part of the electorate in their corner, but it's not really a core issue.

      April 8, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • TheNumber

      Steve, I am a Republican living in California. I don't know a single "liberal" on welfare, in fact, the "liberals" I do know are rather successful.

      I am a business owner, myself. Not only do I pay a substantial amount in personal income tax, but I also pay hefty business, payroll and property taxes. Not all of us Republicans whine about paying taxes. Not all of us are so thoughtless and self-centered that we don't care about our fellow Americans.

      It seems as though giving a crap about another human being these days labels one as a liberal. That is pathetic.

      April 8, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  17. Nunya

    Very nice assessment of the situation in many ways.

    However, I do think that he underestimates the drivenness of true believers on the abortion question. To people who truly believe that abortion is murder, *any* time is the time to debate the issue and any lever that they can apply to the issue is a legitimate one to use – including this current situation.

    April 8, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  18. TalkAbtBelief

    What would be next – a witch hunt? How inhumane it is to force women to go back to the illegal abortion time that killed and disabled too many. I'm not clear though about the business of a Christian church (or any other) and its followers to dictate how tax payers’ money should be spent and to impose their religious believes on the government if the church doesn't pay taxes in a first place? Does it?

    April 8, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • GetAClue

      Force you to go to back illegal abortions? Are you serious? Why not take your $1.50 and buy a condom and save the working taxpayers millions of dollars.

      April 8, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • TiredMomma

      I wish people could separate Planned Parenthood from the abortions that it provides. It offers so much more than that for women. A condom is not the issue here. Planned Parenthood is not using taxpayer monies to provide abortions. It does receive other monies which are used for that purpose. But not taxpayer money. If you look at the amount of money that cutting it would save, there is no way it could be about money, but about views that don't believe in abortion. Stuck on that one religious area that Planned Parenthood provides. What about the breast exams, pap smears, STD care and on and on with the necessary services that every American woman should be provided.

      April 8, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  19. Another Larry

    @W247: "He is, He exists, He always has existed and always will exist. It's sounds a bit convoluted but I am hoping to find a way to explain it to you a little clearer that you can truly understand."

    I understand just fine. What you've done is decide to believe a narrative because you prefer it over the alternatives.

    April 8, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  20. AnaHadWolves

    I am a religious person myself, but, would never force my religious beliefs on another...ever! It may be in imperfect analogy, but, to me, religion is akin to my toothbrush or underwear: very personal and never shared. I get along well with others and their religions as long as they do not try to impugn mine, impose their beliefs on me nor "share" their religion with me. I'm very happy with my religion and, should I want to change it (unlikely), I will reach out to THEM to inquire.

    In the meantime, please stop pretending to speak FOR God as if you were the only font of knowledge on the subject, condemning me if I don't share your particular brand of religion or proselytizing that only you have the answers and they're centered in your religion.

    I've seen Christians kill in the name of Christ, Muslims kill in the name of Allah, Jews kill in the name of Yahweh and on and on and on, so, no one religion is perfect. Practice your religion as YOU see fit, but, that does NOT include condemning, cursing, damning nor killing those who don't agree with it. Live and let live.

    April 8, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • Edge

      Every reglious share the same principles.thou should not lie, steal, or kill but they do don't they?

      April 8, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
    • Brandi

      There are so few people who believe like we do. I'm really impressed to see my beliefs echoed by somebody else. Kudos so open-minded. De gustibus non est disputandum!

      April 8, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
    • Jason

      Like it or not, we all impose our beliefs on others. For example, every time Child Services takes away a child, the beliefs of our society are being imposed on an "unfit mother". Every time you tell a child not to bully other people, you are imposing your beliefs on that child. Every time someone gets pulled over for speeding, the beliefs of others are being imposed on the speeder. Imposing beliefs is inevitable, and you'll have to get used to it.

      April 8, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • Ray

      Modern liberalism is a belief system that's been imposed on others, using government force, physically and otherwise.

      April 8, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.