E.J. Dionne, Jr. declares the culture war over. Our various crises, he argues, are leading to a deemphasis of culture war issues, perhaps inaugurating a new version of what he calls the secular period from 1932 (FDR) to 1980 (RWR).
So do I. My own peculiar reasoning has to do with Dionne’s chracterization of the secular period. He concedes that, for example, FDR used religious language. I’d add: quite confidently because American culture at that time was still watered-down mainline Protestant culture. But that was changing, especially among the elites, and it led to a judicial effort to purge the public square of the remnants of our past "religious" culture. By the time JFK is elected, it’s de rigeur for political figures to speak the language of separationism. In other words, what secularized American politics was not the press of "real" economic and foreign policy issues, but the efforts of elites (mostly under people’s radars) to drain what life was left out of our national vaguely religious, vaguely Protestant cultural consensus.
I’ll concede this much to Dionne: the cultural issues of the last two decades have receded a bit. Most of the states that want to affirm traditional marriage have done so, which means that issue, for the moment, doesn’t have much energy behind it. And, yes, kids don’t seem to care about it as much as do their elders. But abortion is still right there and, as MOJ’s Greg Sisk points out in this most excellent post, the oil Barack Obama wants to pour on our troubled cultural waters is highly flammable.
The stealth offensive that produced the reaction that we call our culture war started in the judiciary. Many social conservatives entered politics in response to judicial provocations. Does anyone think that a President Obama or a President Clinton won’t nominate Supreme Court justices whose opinions will constitute a new cultural casus belli?
I don’t relish this prospect, but I can’t imagine a circumstance in which I won’t be provoked by the judicial decisions that follow from four or eight years of Democratic dominance in D.C.