Friday, November 14, 2008

Scary as Ever: Liberalism and the New Culture War

Most folks probably wouldn't quibble with Peter Beinart's argument in new his piece at Time, "The New Liberal Order." Public demands for activist goverment - a new liberal order - are high, and the public is optimistic that the coming Barack Obama administration will achieve great things in the years ahead.

But Beinart offers a flawed analysis of the cultural trends likely to shape the emerging era of American politics. Specifically,
Beinart claims the culture wars are over and liberalism's won, for example:

Culturally, liberalism isn't that scary anymore. Younger Americans — who voted overwhelmingly for Obama — largely embrace the legacy of the '60s, and yet they constitute one of the most obedient, least rebellious generations in memory. The culture war is ending because cultural freedom and cultural order — the two forces that faced off in Chicago in 1968 — have turned out to be reconcilable after all.

The disorder that panics Americans now is not cultural but economic. If liberalism collapsed in the 1960s because its bid for cultural freedom became associated with cultural disorder, conservatism has collapsed today because its bid for economic freedom has become associated with economic disorder ....

Starting in the 1990s, average Americans began deciding that the conservative economic agenda was a bit like the liberal cultural agenda of the 1960s: less liberating than frightening. When the Gingrich Republicans tried to slash Medicare, the public turned on them en masse. A decade later, when George W. Bush tried to partially privatize Social Security, Americans rebelled once again. In 2005 a Pew Research Center survey identified a new group of voters that it called "pro-government conservatives." They were culturally conservative and hawkish on foreign policy, and they overwhelmingly supported Bush in 2004. But by large majorities, they endorsed government regulation and government spending. They didn't want to unleash the free market; they wanted to rein it in.
Perhaps Beinart thought he could develop a nice thesis using neatly contrasting poles of culture and economics in making the case for a comprehensive left-wing ascendency. But even his own citation of Pew survey data undermines the argument: These "pro-government conservatives" are not abandoning the political firmament of traditional culture. They are recognizing that "privatizing" conservativism indeed exposes families to the raw instabilities of markets, and this is at a time when the economic autonomy of the American state has grown uncertain in an age of both the globalization of markets abroad and the unrestrained growth of entitlement spending at home. With the imprudent monetary policies of the Greenspan Fed, combined with the Democratic Party's Fannie and Freddie interest-group liberalism, it's no surprise that market conservative have become frustrated with the lost promise of laissez-faire capitalist economics.

Perhaps many traditionalists simply want to slow down the aggregation of risk that's inherent in the current turmoil of the American economy.

To be sure, Beinart even concedes further down that in contrast to economic concerns, Republicans are "more unified on cultural issues."

You think?

As noted previously, one of the most important outcomes of the November 4th elections was the cultural brick wall erected to preserve traditional marriage in the states as between one man and one woman. Voters in California, Arizona, and Florida all approved gay marriage bans by wide margins, and in California some the most intense anti-establishment protests on record have erupted across the state.

Indeed, it turns out now that militant same-sex marriage factions are alleged to have declared "
open season" on Mormons, and not just in California. The news this morning indicates that a suspicious white powdered substance has been found in letters sent to Mormon temples in Utah and California. The investigation is ongoing, but it appears that gay rights activists are escalating from threats of violence to actual terrorist attacks.

Recall that Yes on 8 backers have been
savagely beaten, and a mob attacked an elderly woman carrying a cross at a pre-election campaign rally. Moreover, activists are targeting for censure the Yes on 8 supporters employed at majority-gay businesses and secular art institutions, forcing people off the job for excercising their rights to participate in the electoral process. As Melanie Morgan notes:

I guess it's time for Christians, Jews and African-Americans to prepare for the lions and jackbooted leftist thugs who plan to disembowel the Constitution and anybody who votes contrary to their beliefs.
But today's culture war goes far behind the totalitarianism of the No on 8 forces.

There have been a number of reports, for example, of violence directed against conservatives by supporters of Barack Obama's presidential campaign.

In Minneapolis, Minnesota,
college student Annie Grossmann was beaten for wearing her McCain-Palin campaign button to a post-election gathering. In Illinois, 8th grader Catherine Vogt was told to just "go die" - that she "should be killed" - when she wore a "McCain Girl" shirt as part of a class experiment on political tolerance.

Across the country, we see reports of a society that's turned its back on decency and basic values: We have a news report this morning indicating that a judge in Portland, Oregon, has ruled that
cycling naked is a form of "symbolic protest." On Wednesday, an hours-old infant was abandondoned in the restroom of a McDonald's restaurant, a not so infrequent occurence. We have transgendered men who keep their feminine organs bearing children who will grow up confused and bewildered by the total obliteration of traditional defininitions of a man and woman. And we have a crisis in the urban schools, where, for example, a majority of high school students drop out before graduation (often because they are pregnant), and where the education of many disadvantaged students is shortchanged by a militant Afro-Centric curriculum.

The list goes on, but a final word is needed on the left's challenge to the sanctity of life in America.

The Democratic Party's 2008 abortion plank stated "we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine" the right for a woman to obtain an abortion on demand. President-Elect Obama has pledged to pass the Freedom of Choice Act upon taking office. Of course, Obama is the most extreme pro-abortion president-elect in American history. To date, Obama has fudged the issue, hoping to join pro-choice and pro-life forces in a deathly marriage of political convenience. But as we will see, nothing more illustrates the left's hostility to moral righteousness than its campaign to abandon the inalienable rights of the unborn.

On questions of political culture, Peter Beinart's "new liberalism" is as scary as ever. His cookie-cutter thesis of a Democratic realignment omits the crucial place of moral values in politics. If America abandons its tradition of moral truths and cultural exceptionalism, there won't be much point to having a two-party system anymore: The Orwellian new age will have arrived.


Libby said...

*hiding under the bed from the world to come*

Norm said...

The Democrat/Liberals get 52% of the vote because Obama promises that a check is in the mail and now all the world is their oyster. Yeah right

shoprat said...

Extremism is what touches off backlashes and the Donks will get theirs quickly.

Kenneth Davenport said...

Donald -- I totally reject Beinert's thesis (of course, I usually object to what he writes). Beinert is trying to create a narrative that fits the left's deepest desire -- that the country has realigned to a center-left orientation and that the Obama "landslide" shows simply that liberalism has triumphed.

Unfortunately, the facts don't bear this out. 56 million people voted against Barack Obama, afterall -- and the reason McCain lost was not because of a huge uptick of liberal voters, but because conservatives stayed home. In addition, exit polling suggests that Americans remain generally in support of low taxes and less regulation -- both center-right positions. The election was both a rebuke of Bush and the Republicans and an embracing of a historic opportunity to elect a black candidate. It was not an historic embracing of liberalism.

At least that's how I see it.