The culture war is dead; long live the culture war

THE CULTURE WAR IS DEAD; LONG LIVE THE CULTURE WAR…. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) recently caused a stir in far-right circles when he suggested it might be time for a “truce” in the culture wars. Many conservatives assumed he was referring to a shift in emphasis away from the traditional hot-button, right-wing wedge issues — and they were right; that’s exactly what Daniels meant.

For a generation or two, the culture war was fairly specific, at least to the extent that everyone knew what we were fighting about. The “God, gays, and guns” label was largely effective for a reason.

What did culture warriors want? School prayer, a prohibition on flag burning, access to firearms, Ten Commandments displays all over the place, distrust of the United Nations, and extensive legal restrictions on abortion rights, gays, and drug use. Broadly speaking, the larger effort has been anti-feminist, anti-secular, anti-diversity, and pro-nationalism. The culture war was a right-wing initiative, but it was always far more authoritarian than “small government.”

By 2008, this culture war seemed largely over — the American mainstream, facing real problems, just didn’t want to hear it anymore. Dems gave up on gun control; fights over school prayer seemed antiquated; no one was running around burning flags; fears of black helicopters became more amusing; the nation still didn’t want to see Roe v. Wade overturned; and gay Americans were part of the American mainstream. Conservatives wanted to change the culture, and they failed.

But in the Obama era, we’re seeing less of an armistice and more of an evolution. Right-wing tribalism and jingoism haven’t faded at all — they remain the foundation for conservative activism — but the focus, at least for now, is on a different slate of issues and a more radical legislative wish-list.

So, instead of the right demanding a bunch of new constitutional amendments, conservatives now want to start repealing old ones — protecting the 2nd Amendment suddenly seems far less interesting than gutting the 14th. Complaints about “welfare queens” are out, while whining about “anchor babies” is in. Instead of getting worked up about erecting Ten Commandments displays, the right gets hysterical in the other direction about the construction of mosques. We hear less about secular humanists trying to destroy America, and more about immigrants.

No one asks about Obama’s sex life or whether he smoked pot in college, but interest in his birth certificate generates excessive attention.

Adam Serwer had a smart take on this yesterday.

To the extent that this new culture war resembles the old one, it is in the reversal of roles — it is the right that is now largely defined by an identity politics which perceives persecution, and possible extinction, for a culturally constructed usually white, conservative, “real American.” This isn’t just about Obama or his agenda, which borrows heavily from earlier conservative ideas, it’s also a response to anxiety over economic insecurity and fear of ideological annihilation through demographic change. Hence the burgeoning Islamophobia and calls to repeal birthright citizenship. […]

[I]f Obama’s election was a referendum on what it means to be an American, then the right’s response can be seen as a large scale attempt to challenge the legitimacy of the results…. Sadly, Obama didn’t end the culture war, his election just ushered in a new one. To the right, Obama’s election wasn’t a call for truce, it was a deliberate escalation.

The wedge strategies haven’t gone away, they’re finding new fulcrums.

The culture war is dead; long live the culture war.