How the Right Has Turned Everything Into a Culture War
The blinkered, blindered, robots of the right have their own political correctness, which they apply to everything.
The political press takes it as a given that there is a sharp dividing line between the “social issues” propelling the culture wars (abortion, school prayer, gay rights) and matters of substance (the economy, foreign policy, immigration and safety-net programs like unemployment benefits). But as the American conservative movement has veered sharply rightward over the past 30 years, that line is no longer so clean. Today, conservatives have a social argument for every subject of debate - everything has become part of the culture wars.
Viewing tangible matters through a cultural lens is not new. In the 19th century, dime novelist Horatio Alger wrote a series of formulaic books about poor, young, street urchins meeting some wealthy benefactor who teaches them the value of hard work and living a clean life. Once the urchins get on a properly Protestant, chaste path, their fortunes grow and they end up rising to the middle-class. It’s a narrative that resonates with the right today.
But the intermingling of social and concrete issues has accelerated in the age of Obama. Many on the right consider Barack Obama alien - consider birtherism, or Dinesh D’Souza’s claim that the president is influenced by “Kenyan anti-colonial behavior.” Whereas social issues once served as a distraction from matters of substance, today cultural narratives dominate conservatives’ arguments.
This is not just a matter of academic interest. It’s helping to fuel the growing reality-gap between conservatives and liberals - and not just because we continue to see these issues as matters of substantive policy while increasingly they see them as cultural.