Saturday, March 3, 2018

How Progressives Win the Culture War

From David Brooks, at the New York Times:

I wonder if I’m wrong on the subject of guns. I started this latest round of the debate with the presumption that supporters of moderate gun restrictions are popularly strong but legislatively weak. Since Sandy Hook in 2012, more than two dozen states have passed gun laws and almost all of those laws have LOOSENED gun restrictions. Roughly 360 gun bills have been introduced in Congress, and they have all failed but one, which also loosened gun use.

The blunt fact is that Republicans control most legislatures. To get anything passed, I thought, it would be necessary to separate some Republicans from the absolutist N.R.A. position. To do that you have to depolarize the issue: show gun owners some respect, put red state figures at the head and make the gun discussion look more like the opioid discussion. The tribalists in this country have little interest in the opioid issue. As a result, a lot of pragmatic things are being done across partisan lines.

The people pushing for gun restrictions have basically done the exact opposite of what I thought was wise. Instead of depolarizing the issue they have massively polarized it. The students from Parkland are being assisted by all the usual hyper-polarizing left-wing groups: Planned Parenthood, Move On and the Women’s March. The rhetoric has been extreme. Marco Rubio has been likened to a mass murderer while the N.R.A. has been called a terrorist organization.

The early results would seem to completely vindicate my position. The Florida Legislature turned aside gun restrictions. New gun measures in Congress have been quickly shelved. Democrats are more likely to lose House and Senate seats in the key 2018 pro-gun states. The losing streak continues.

Yet I have to admit that something bigger is going on. It could be that progressives understood something I didn’t. It could be that you can win more important victories through an aggressive cultural crusade than you can through legislation. Progressives could be on the verge of delegitimizing their foes, on guns but also much else, rendering them untouchable for anybody who wants to stay in polite society. That would produce social changes far vaster than limiting assault rifles...