You didn?t think the culture wars were over, did you??.One thing that distinguishes today?s breed of (conservative) Republican is their conviction that the whole world lives up their street. If they don?t like your political views, taste in clothing or music, or the subtext of your movies, then you’re the depraved one; they’re the ones who’ve cornered the market on normality, or patriotism, or taste, or morality.

In the latest mainfestation of such tunnel vision, the California Republican Party is throwing a conniption over (what else?) the public display of a mildly provocative work of art in the state Attorney General?s building in Sacramento. This one is a painting depicting the continental United States going down the toilet, accompanied by the legend ?T?anks to Mr. Bush.?

Many thoughtful persons might consider this an unexceptionable work of political commentary. To the spokeswoman of the state GOP, it’s ?the cheap artwork of a gadfly with a world view that is so offensive to a majority of the people.? She didn?t cite the poll results that led her to this conclusion, but her reading of public sentiment doesn?t correspond to that of the people who email me regularly. In any case, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, a Democrat, has indicated the painting will stay until the show it?s a part of ends on August 31.

The tempest brings back pleasant memories of public-art fits of the past ? over Robert Mapplethorpe (exploiter: Jesse Helms), Andres Serrano and ?Piss Christ? (Helms, again, and the extremely moral Al D?Amato, haranguing the National Endowment for the Arts) and Chris Ofili and the elephant dung-bedecked ?Holy Virgin Mary.? (In the last case, Rudy Giuliani, then running for the U.S. Senate against Hillary Rodham Clinton, before his apotheosis as a paragon of crisis leadership and temporary sponsor of Bernard Kerik?s career, tried to withdraw municipal funding for the Brooklyn Museum over the piece.)

The cheap headlines generated by these campaigns blow over all too quickly, leaving nothing in their wake but huge crowds attracted to the exhibition space by the manufactured brouhaha and a string of court rulings slapping down the complaining hacks for attempting censorship in violation of the First Amendment. Props to California Attorney General Bill Lockyer for goading another gang of blue-noses into apoplexy. Let?s cross our fingers that he doesn?t back down.

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