Cultural Antietam

The growing conservative take on the political impact of the president’s statement of support for same-sex marriage is one of cackling with glee (not to be confused, of course, with cackling at Glee). In one interview, they say, Obama accomplished what Mitt Romney would have taken many months to consummate: an unshakable marriage between his campaign and the Christian Right.

Maybe. I’ve always assumed these folks would get there anyway, sooner rather than later. While Mitt Romney may not have been their ideal candidate, their conquest of the GOP–and for that matter, of Romney–on all the issues that matter to them is too far advanced to let the identity of the nominee get in the way of ejecting the hated secular-socialist-Muslim from the White House and claiming the spoils of victory. Perhaps in some computer in Boston, Team Romney has calculated that the number of additional concessions they have to make to their ideological masters can now be taken down a few notches, not that they won’t keep demanding them.

But what seems to be eluding happy Republicans right now is the possibility that having a fresh grievance against Obama won’t necessarily convince culture warriors to quiet down and assume their position in the back of the Romney campaign bus, carefully avoiding any utterances that might frighten swing voters. Now that they are fully aroused, are they really going to go along with a message that treats this election as nothing more than a referendum on Obama’s economic record?

Check out this remark from Pat Buchanan, who may be a self-disgraced ex-pundit to most people but who remains firmly in the mainstream of Christian Right opinion:

Obama, by declaring that homosexual marriages should be on the same legal and moral plane as traditional marriage, just took command of the forces of anti-Christian secularism in America’s Kulturkampf. And Nov. 6, 2012, is shaping up as the Antietam of the culture war.

I’m sure Pat is aware that Antietam was not some one-sided Civil War battle, but a bloody nightmare that led to the end of the war only because the Yankees could better afford shocking casualities.

More to the immediate point, it’s not entirely clear to me that the self-proclaimed exclusive representatives of Christianity on the Right have the troops to win a culture war, determined as they are to wage it not just on the relatively strong (if lagging and ultimately doomed) ground of opposition to same-sex marriage, but on issues like banning abortion and restricting contraception where they are in a distinct minority. Matter of fact, even if they can keep themselves from campaigning against every social development of the last half-century, polls are showing that the level of intensity among supporters of same-sex marriage is as higher or higher than among those opposing it.

But what is entirely clear to me is that Kulturkampf ’12 will play directly into the Obama strategy of making the election a choice between two directions for the country rather than a referendum on the last four years in which all Mitt Romney has to do is to bob and weave and make himself seem vaguely moderate. Anything that polarizes the electorate even further into a judgment on the ideology of the two parties is not likely to turn out well for the party of Pat Buchanan and Paul Ryan.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.