The Strategic Logic of the Culture Wars

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"The Strategic Logic of the Culture Wars"

There’s much wisdom in what Kevin Drum writes here, but I think he’s wrong to believe that public opinion growing more tolerant and socially progressive heralds an era in which right-wing culture war tactics will grow less politically effective. If anything, the reverse. Culture war battles overwhelmingly involve the left throwing the first shot, then getting burned politically as the right fire back, and then winning the substantive battle. After all, as long as public opinion on race was sufficiently conservative that there was no meaningful pressure on politicians to back civil rights, racial backlash politics were useless. Similarly, there was no political mobilization around banning abortions until pubic opinion became sufficiently pro-choice to make political mobilization around legalizing abortions seem like a reasonable way to spend your time.

And, again, as long as public opinion was massively hostile to gay rights, there was no use in trying to use anti-gay sentiment as a tool of political mobilization. Liberals will win the gay marriage battle soon enough, but then some new thing will come along. Besides race, after all, the overwhelming majority of these fights have had to do with traditional ideas about gender roles. Clearly, adherence gender norms has become much more relaxed over the past 40-50 years. At the same time, however, we’ve hardly emerged as a behaviorally androgynous society. Kwame Anthony Appiah used to point out in seminar that he could guess the sex of the students around the table pretty accurately simply by looking at everyone’s shoes. Which isn’t to say that we’re going to have a political fight over shoes per se (just as there was never a “women can wear pants now” legislative fight during which moderates brokered a compromise appending “but their pants should be tighter than men’s pants” to the text) but we’ve got all these “mommy wars,” hook-up controversies, etc. to keep chewing over.

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