The Right Lost the Culture War
“Has the Right surrendered in the culture war?” asks Washington Examiner political editor Chris Stirewalt. The piece is illustrated with the photo and caption at right and begins:
As some 240 million American Christians observe the most sacred week of their religious calendar, the nation reached a pivot point on faith and values.
Demonstrating the lessening influence of Christianity on American public life, President Barack Obama, addressing a group of Muslim students in Turkey, said that one of the great strengths of the United States is that “we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation, or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation.”
But Obama has correctly observed that the growing number of American nonbelievers (now 4 percent) and practitioners of a cafeteria-style spirituality have America looking much more like Western Europe. There, religion is like antique furniture, admired for its beauty but used only sparingly.
Obama, like many politicians, has been preparing voters for the transition to a more multicultural nation for some time. As a candidate, he explained that Americans have to appreciate that “we are no longer a nation of just Christians.” In his inaugural address he gave a nod to American “nonbelievers.”
There were some raised eyebrows when the White House sought out gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender parents to bring their children to the Executive Mansion for the annual Easter celebration as a show of inclusiveness. But there wasn’t the kind of shock and outrage that would have greeted the move a decade ago.
Similarly, the fact that gay marriage is now a foregone conclusion is met with mostly a shrug. With Vermont’s move to pass a law allowing the practice, every state will eventually have to acknowledge the legality of gay vows administered elsewhere. Keeping local restrictions will seem pointless and out of date when the laws actually do nothing to prevent the practice.
In much the same way, changes to the way the government treats abortion and embryos provoked some quibbling but mostly silence.
Exhausted by decades of the culture war and afraid of further economic setbacks, the silent majority hasn’t been roused by the issue. Perhaps it isn’t even a majority anymore.
Indeed, as Andrew Sullivan — a gay Catholic conservative married (in some states at least) to another man — points out, even social conservative firebrand “Dr.” Laura Schlessinger has pronounced gay marriage “a beautiful thing and a healthy thing,” albeit while wishing we’d call it something different when two people of the same sex do it.
I would quibble, however, with one word in Stirewalt’s question. The right hasn’t surrendered the culture wars; we lost.
And yes, I include myself. As regular readers know, I’m decidedly not religious and am libertarian on these matters with respect to the use of government power. I spent the first nearly-three-decades of my life, though, immersed in Southern and military culture. I’m still anti-abortion (although not anti-contraception) still oppose reading same-sex marriage into the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause (a subject for a separate post).
Conservative culture has been under assault from the popular culture, the schools, and the courts for quite some time now. We’ve lost the youth and future generations are decidedly unlikely to ever become meaningfully “conservative,” short of an apocalyptic scenario.
Even many of my generation (I’m early Gen X), myself included, have been worn down through a combination of factors. Gay marriage isn’t something I gave much thought to ten or fifteen years ago — it would have seemed like a reductio ad absurdum at the time — but I’d have reflexively opposed it. I was bitterly opposed to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” thinking it was the camel’s nose under the tent that could seriously undermine military cohesion. But, as Cartman might say, the proof of the gay cowboys is in the pudding. Men are marrying men, women are marrying women, gays are adopting kids, and the world continues to spin on its axis. Gen Y soldiers and marines are more socially conservative than their civilian counterparts but almost surely think, as I do now, that throwing out competent gays for getting caught being gay makes little sense.
To be sure, there’s still the modern equivalent of the “Surrender, Hell – the South will rise again!” contingent, like my friend and fellow Jacksonville State alumnus Stacy McCain. God bless ’em. But, alas, Lee’s done surrendered.