The New Culture War

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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19 Responses

  1. One quick response: Gay marriage is less of a problem for the GOP than it will be for the Democrats in the near future. If advocates succeed in nationalizing the issue, it will be hard for Dems to hold key constituencies together. A win-win fort the GOProud crowd.Report

  2. Kyle says:

    I wonder if we’ve hit some kind of political-cultural critical mass where people define themselves more easily by who they’re not and what group they don’t want to associate themselves with than with a positive call to an agenda.

    That said, I think opening fault lines on cultural/political issues have a lot of potential to drive the parties in different directions or turn off swaths of people form the two party binary.

    (See, progressives on the new old Democratic war on terror, or conservative Hispanics on immigration, or everyone on gay rights.)Report

    • Trumwill in reply to Kyle says:

      @Kyle, I wonder if we’ve hit some kind of political-cultural critical mass where people define themselves more easily by who they’re not and what group they don’t want to associate themselves with than with a positive call to an agenda.

      How new a phenomenon is this, though? I’m young enough that it goes back as far as I can remember. When I was young, it was liberals wanting to be oh-so-much-more intelligent than the bloodthirsty warmongers (Cold Warrior being a derogatory term at the time) and conservatives having a corresponding desire to be associated with the liberal welfare queen and commie apologists. Since the fall of the cold war, the dividing lines have changed, but they seem to have a lot more to do with who “they” are first and who “we” are second.

      That’s not mutually exclusive with what you’re saying, I suppose, if the shift is merely the demolition of the second consideration. Supported by the increasing tendency of people (who, in my experience, aren’t independent in any meaningful sense) to identify as being independent.Report

      • Randy F. in reply to Trumwill says:


        It’s a little simpler than that. If what you got out of the failure of Bush is that deviations from the One True Movement Line are the causes of everything bad ever to happen to Republicans or America under Republican administrations, every conservative can pick their favorites by process of elimination – nobody who has ever accomplished anything related to governance will ever be good enough.

        When and if the purist of the pure are elected, some people will inevitably find some point of deviation and blame the inevitable failure of their incoherent platform on that.

        If you simply define conservatism as everything that is good (patriotism, family, toughness, responsibility) and everything that isn’t as liberalism, any conservative who fails to be perfect is by definition a RINO or a liberal.Report

        • Simon K in reply to Randy F. says:

          @Randy F., There’s an equivalent insanity on the left. I’m currently reading Tony Blair’s autobiography and the descriptions of the Labour party in the 1980s are just incredibly reminiscent of the current state of conservatism – anyone pragmatic, anyone moderate, anyone prepared to talk to the other side immediately and automatically puts themselves outside the movement.

          Its the nature of ideology (or at least of ideologies at variance with reality) to do this. Communists of course are famous for it, and it happened to a lesser extent to the British Tories in the 1990s (over Europe).

          The slightly worrying thing about the Right, right now, is that usually this happens to parties that are out of power or at least failing to govern effectively. I don’t much like the idea of a party in a paranoid, inquisitorial state of mind winning control of the House in November.Report

          • M. Farmer in reply to Simon K says:

            @Simon K,
            I think it’s helpful to distinguish between moderates who are sincerely interested in avoiding irrational extremes, and “moderates” who are simply deal-makers in the service of maintaining a corrupted status quo for the sake of power. Moderation has to be judged within the context of what’s being moderated — if the “extreme” position is to end corruption and transform a broken system, then moderation, compromising with the corrupt, is no virtue.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Kyle says:

      @Kyle, I think this is true – but also very true of the left, or at least of a large portion on the left who have begun to self-identify by pointing out how horrible conservatives are and how they are very much not a part of that tribe…Report

      • Randy F. in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        @E.D. Kain,

        Yes, liberals do bash conservatives for … being conservative. Still, the liberal coalition has always been more of a logrolling business. What exactly do a New York art dealer and a Detroit UAW worker have in common anyway? Arguing that they’re in the same ethno-religio-nationalist tribe just won’t cut it. Nor will bashing outsiders, because they paint themselves as the outsiders – economically, religiously, racially, etc.

        Instead, the offer is an even more wobbly stool, but with far more legs. Lose one and it still stands on the rest. For example, right now, the union leg is withering while the Hispanic leg is gaining strength. It may hold up on election day, but it’s never comfortable to sit on. No Democratic president, save FDR, has ever had as much support from liberals for as long as Bush had it from conservatives.

        However, liberals never went after their own in the same way conservatives did. Lieberman and Lincoln are exceptions, but they went much farther off the reservation than Bennett or Murkowski ever did.

        Conservatives, on the other hand, have a philosophy that purports to have a stock answer for everything (war, tax cuts, deregulation). It makes for less messy talking points and simpler litmus tests, but simply can’t compromise in its present form in the same way that polyglot liberalism can.

        You simply don’t see an inverse Jim Webb or Bob Casey, which is why the Tea Party movement will either change radically or implode into a little confederacy-plus-mountain-west bubble.Report

  3. Will says:

    Nice series, ErikReport

  4. RalfW says:

    I don’t know if the anti-Muslim genie can be put back in the bottle, even if the GOP takes both the House and Senate. I am not a keen analyst, but I actually wonder if in part because the anti-gay panic button just doesn’t pay off in votes and campaign cash the way it did 5 years ago is part of the reason that the far right is so fully mashing the Muslim panic button now.
    The far right has never really, in my 44 year lifetime, been for much that I can tell. They were called reactionaries in my youth, because that was all they did, react (negatively) to damn near everything.
    Now being a reactionary is mislabeled ‘conservative’ and the culture war thing to be against is Muslims, including, it would seem, people who lust for Kenyan-Muslim-anticolonialism in their hard-to-understand heart.Report

  5. Robert Cheeks says:

    I think our Kenyan President, Imam Barry, and his progressive, Third World, ecomomic legislative agenda has done more to unite not only Conservatives, but a significant number of people who were pretty much apolitical than any event I can remember in my lifetime.
    And, led by Radio Rush, these conservatives are learning why it’s not only imperative to crush the progressive left, but replace these scalawags with Constitutional lovin’ Americans and not bottom feeding RINOS or Neocons.
    So we’ll see in a few weeks how successful that ‘movement’ is and I agree it is indeed cobbled together, temporary, and ephemeral. If you notice the leadership of the left is flailing about trying to figure out who ‘heads’ the movement so they can attack.
    In the final analysis the new ‘Conservative’ coalition will have failed if it doesn’t have the cohones to repeal ALL of the commie legislation of the past year or so. Sadly, I’m not holding my breath, …too many disappointments.Report

  6. Jaybird says:

    If I may stretch an analogy beyond the breaking point, I’d like to ask which side of the war is defensive… and, from there, wonder if the side that would be offensive is, in fact, engaging in a Just War? A War of Plunder?Report

  7. Ryan Davidson says:

    I think this sort of crack-up was inevitable and in the making for a long time. The fact is that religious conservatives are historically not at all the natural allies of big business, but the fact that international communism in the twentieth century was atheistic as well as communist forced them into a sort of strange bedfellows alliance for the better part of a century. When the Wall fell, that alliance no longer became necessary, and I think we’re starting to see it start to lose inertia as more natural preferences assert themselves. So you’ve got social conservatives–the most religious of the groups–economic conservatives, and defense conservatives, but there is now no longer any external force which might motivate those three groups to act in concert.

    I think this is pretty easy to see in the way things are going down. Social conservatives don’t actually stand for small government anymore, and they don’t care at all about spending gobs of money on stuff they like. Economic conservatives generally don’t give a rat’s ass about social conservatism, e.g. the various free-market types stumping for gay marriage. Defense conservatives also love spending money, but really don’t care about religious social causes.

    This was going to happen. It’s taken twenty years, but that’s been barely enough time for the generation who ran things during the Cold War to start dying off.Report