Another Perspective

Refighting the Culture War

The election was a lost battle in a war conservatives are winning.

By 11.13.08

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Back in 2003, social conservatives bragged they were no longer losing the culture war, which reminded me of the 1962 Mets bragging they were no longer winless. Thanks to Fox News, talk radio, the Internet, conservative book publishing, and the end of the independent bookstore monopoly, social conservatives were finally competing on a level playing field. "No longer do the New York Times, the big networks, and the rest of the elite liberal media have an all-but-monolithic power to set the terms of the nation's political and cultural debate," wrote the Manhattan Institute's Brian Anderson.

Since the advent of this new media, attitudes have undergone a profound shift, in particular among the young and working class. Today on campus the old liberal establishment is seen as pushy, uptight and overly intrusive with its speech and behavior codes. Sanctimonious, pony-tailed professors who blame America for everything are preachy and passé. Gray-haired feminists repressed and somewhat pathetic. It is now the old hippies who are out of touch. Meanwhile students have become more reactionary. "The 'under-30 generation' is rebelling against rebellion itself," wrote Holiday Dmitri in National Review. "…[S]tudents are sick of being spoon-fed leftist political ideology and having to adapt to pious political correctness….And let's face it, it becomes cooler to break from the pack and revel as an outcast amongst the academic elites."

What's more, today's youth are not as easily manipulated as their parents. Hipster overlord Gavin McInnes put it this way in the American Conservative: "Due to the overwhelming glut of information on the Internet and an unprecedented barrage of marketing…young people are more aware and more cynical than any generation that came before." Today hip means being "anti-liberal," and "anti-PC," like the creators of South Park, who despise liberals more than conservatives. Indeed, every hipster I know preferred the Republican Ron Paul to our president-elect. (Don't know what a hipster is? According to UrbanDictionary.com: One who "listens to bands that you have never heard of. Has hairstyle that can only be described as 'complicated'... Definitely cooler than you... Complains.")

THEN A FUNNY THING happened. Just as conservatism was gaining new recruits, the culture war settled into a kind of static, trench warfare. For the past five years all's been quiet on the culture front while the battle took a back seat to the hot wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and George W. Bush's general incompetence. Conservative culture warriors attempted a brief, half-hearted counter-attack with the Sarah Palin nomination, but they were quickly overwhelmed by the economic crisis.

This has led some to claim that today "the culture war no longer sells." At least that's how Peter Beinart put it in the Washington Post. " The struggle that began in the 1960s -- which put questions of racial, sexual and religious identity at the forefront of American politics -- may be ending." The final proof was Obama's victory. And as for the Alaska governor, "She may be the last culture warrior on a national ticket for a very long time." That's not what liberal pundits were saying before the economic meltdown. "Culture matters," Clarence Page wrote back in May. "Democrats have long been frustrated to see their party, historically the party of America's working class, so often been rejected by the very working-class voters that its policies are intended to help."

Indeed, on the very day Beinart was proclaiming the irrelevance of the culture war, California, Florida and Arizona voters were banning same-sex marriages, Arkansas voters were banning gay couples from being adoptive parents, and the GOP was printing millions of "Palin in 2012" bumper stickers. But while social conservatives could claim victories (of sorts) in California, Arizona, Florida and Arkansas, their program was defeated in South Dakota and Colorado, which voted to keep abortion legal, thus putting on hold the long awaited challenge to Roe v. Wade. It's hard to generalize what these results say about the country other than Americans are frustratingly fickle and conflicted about their moral values, or, perhaps that save for his "bitter," "religion" and "guns" slip-up in San Francisco, Obama effectively managed to conceal his disdain for the Great Unwashed.

Newt Gingrich is right that the election results were more a commentary on the GOP's recent performance than an invalidation of conservative ideals. No Republican, not even an Abraham Lincoln, could have won this election. The good news is that the country continues to run away from the Left faster than a hillbilly from work.

Despite the dubious legacy of Bush and the Democratic landslide, no one denies there has been a noticeable shift right, in particular among the young and the working class. Obama won some of these voters this time around, but they are by no means lost for good.

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.