The New Culture War
In Part One I talk about the breakdown of the modern conservative movement and the Three-Legged Stool.
Now, thirty years after Reagan’s coalition swept to victory, the Three-Legged Stool is broken and the conservative movement – like the American economy – is in tatters. The ties that bound fiscal, social, and defense conservatives together for so long are coming undone and with them the culture war as we know has drawn to a halt. The old culture warriors have been replaced by Tea Partiers, and the old culture war message replaced by an economic battle-cry. What explains this new focus? Partially the economy, which has not recovered after two years of Democratic leadership. But the conservative movement itself is on rocky ground, and leaders on the right are once again turning to issues which unite, rather than divide, the conservative base.
In Part Two I talk about how economics are taking the place of the old culture war battles.
Even gay marriage has become a divisive topic within the conservative movement. While much of the conservative base remains staunchly opposed to gay marriage, many conservative pundits and politicians have begun to voice their support of marriage equality. Glenn Beck, arguably the most influential conservative talking head in today’s Tea Party movement, has voiced his support of gay marriage. Ann Coulter was recently vilified by right-wingers for her appearance at Homocon, the gay conservative convention. And long-time conservative activist and anti-tax crusader, Grover Norquist, was similarly rebuked for becoming a member of the board of GOProud, a Republican organization devoted to cultivating the inclusion of gays in the Republican Party. Several conservative organizations even threatened to boycott the Conservative Political Action Committee for its inclusion of GOProud. Nevertheless, the convention went off without a hitch despite blustering to the contrary. The legal battle to overturn the ant-gay-marriage Proposition 8 in California was helmed by conservative, Ted Olson, whose eloquent support for marriage equality is a testament to tolerance. This is a trend that is likely to continue, further dividing the conservative movement from the inside out.
And finally, in Part Three, I talk about how this new culture war will only work so long as the GOP remains out of power.
Furthermore, the old culture wars aren’t so much dead as they are in hibernation. When the dust settles, and new conservative leadership emerges from the tribal warfare currently afflicting the right, expect the old culture war to rear its ugly head once again. When the base is no longer fired up by Tea Party rallies, mosque-building protests, and anti-Obama signs and t-shirts, the older cultural tropes will come out of hiding.
Some of this may be a bit overwrought, I realize, but I think it’s generally a fair analysis of the problems facing the modern conservative movement. All the return to fiscal Jesus stuff is quickly swept away once conservatives get back in power. Maybe a president Chris Christie would have better luck, I don’t know. But so far I don’t see evidence that any of the hard choices that the Tories have made in the UK would stand a chance in today’s GOP, sound and fury notwithstanding. A modernized conservative movement in America more akin to what Nick Clegg and David Cameron have created in their coalition government, would be at once more serious and honest and more committed to fiscal restoration than what passes as a conservative movement in America, and would likely be able to woo many independent voters, disaffected conservatives, and me (not that I matter, obviously, but people like me in any case) back into the conservative coalition. I don’t see that happening any time soon.