Viewpoint -- Let's declare peace in the culture wars

By STATE REP. MOLLY HOWARD

For the Ledger-Transcript

Published: 06-28-2024 11:17 AM

It is currently popular to equate U.S. politics with “culture wars,” by experience as a New Hampshire state representative is not of war and hardly includes much semblance of culture.

If we set aside the shorthand of the press echo chamber and examine what is really happening in our politics, maybe we can find a more-nuanced thinking about what is going on in this country and in our state. Some of the shenanigans that I saw on the House floor are reminiscent of the performative behavior found in the U.S. House.

This includes some strategies for passing bills that seemed to supersede the legislation itself, like when non-germane amendments make each side choose whether to pass bills we hate in order to achieve a priority legislation that is attached, achieving a strange bedfellows bipartisan vote that pleases nobody. Those votes feel like parties where everyone is wearing headphones and dancing to their own music.

But that’s as close as we get to war, and these tactics tend to undermine our ability to operate, even separately. Once in a while, it even feels as if we mostly want the same things, like when the Senate sent our bills back with their input and, among the several pivots we took on our last day of voting, we managed to fund summer lunches for kids who need them and to stop the runaway expansion of the EFA with bipartisan votes.

The idea of “culture” is a little more complicated because so much is implied. I don’t think that people who prioritize business success are united enough in their reasoning to comprise a “culture,” nor are the parents who are seeking public dollars to fund alternative education for their children a philosophical monolith. People who support regulation or believe in climate change are of such diverse experience and expertise that it’s impossible to characterize them narrowly.

Maybe labels simplify our thinking about the behaviors (and votes) of those of us elected to represent you, but they don’t elevate your ability to understand them. In fact, I think the labels we use to define ourselves and others only fuel the battles. They are the trenches we jump into for defense and out of to fire shots at each other. They are the barbed wire on the front lines of politics. They stop us from finding common ground or at times from even looking for it. They only serve to define our differences.

I don’t see a way to fully serve the people of New Hampshire without turning down the volume on the folks who oversimplify politics in our state and our country. I’m tired of hearing how people feel about the economy instead of how it’s really doing. I don’t want to vote on any more bills that address a legislator’s pet peeves instead of our constituents’ well being. I resent having to cull religion out of bills that are aimed at specific segments of our society or being expected to accept legislation that affects parts of people’s lives that are basically none of my business.

I want to legislate to protect the people of New Hampshire against real threats like the omnipresence of PFAS chemicals or the housing shortage. I want expansive politics that set lofty goals such as health care for all, day care for workers, budgets that ease the pressure on towns and cities, schools that serve every family, housing and infrastructure that support our growing economy. But, more than anything, I want for us to put aside labels and help each other to flourish each in our own right. It’s time to understand that victories divided by culture are failures at large.

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Molly Howard of Hancock is the Democratic state representative for Hillsborough County District 31.