Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Culture Wars

There’s now a web-based version of MY entry in THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CONSERVATISM on "Culture Wars." Somebody needs to update it to include, for example, the recent election. Obama is the most culturally leftist president we’ve ever had, but he didn’t really campaign and sent various signals that he doesn’t intend to govern that much as a culture warrior.

Discussions - 6 Comments

Word is that he's seriously pondering placing an open flamer in charge of the Navy Department.

How's that grab ya'?

Or are we so jaded now that as Mark Steyn quipped, we're all "cool and casual" about anything like that?

Professor Lawler,

You are corect that Obama is the most cultually leftist President ever, if by that you refer to votes in favor of "patrial birth abortion" and the "born-alive fetus" plus his Saddlerock Forum pay-grade agnosticism on the status of the fetus. However, I'm not sure if, using other criteria and historical reference points, your factual statement implies much.

Is Obama personally and politically "culturally leftist?"

DRUGS. He's referenced more youth "hardcore" drug use than any other POTUS to my knowledge. Consider cocaine was commonly proscribed 100 years ago and in beverages. He has note stated a position for drug legalization.

SEX, MARRIAGE and FAMILY. Despite his own splintered upbringing, Obama has chosen and enjoyed a rather traditional family structure. Many Presidents had affairs prior to or during Office. There's a new book on FDR's relations with his secretary. Obama has not called for "Marriage Equality" to the dismay of some suporters. He speaks of marriage as historical and religious, a separate category than civil law.

FOREIGN AFFIARS. Anti-imperialist? No. Blame America first? He speaks about the last 8 years of American arrogance, so there is some blame on Bush 43, and no appreciation of the effort to go through the United Nation, to form coalitions or the changes of the last 2 years. Reasonable people could disagree.

RELIGION. Folks at NLT have been right to point out Obama's Social Gospel, Progressivist religious understanding. I hope he reads more Lincoln, grows in his Awe and Reverence and more truly humble. I would like a President to have these qualities before office. But he is more thoughtful than many former President's on religion (i.e. Bush 41 and Jefferson not so good) and exhibited greater church attendance than many. No Dawkins-Harris-Hitchens speeches, I suspect.

Second, you state Obama has campaigned in a way to suggest he will govern as a cultural leftist. I noted several efforts on the contrary -- parental responsibility for no TV and learning to reading, the limits of what government can do on education, increased fatherhood responsibilities by Black men, a verbal nod to small businesses and the military and, well, Pastor Rick Warren, if only show. His Cabinet has people of various center/center-left persuasions. He likes to hear disagreements. Staff won't hide him from criticism.

Altogether, Obama is not the embodiment of TOm Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Bill Ayers, or Ms. Magazine editors. We should be cautious b/c of his familiar and formative liberal university and non-profit experiences, but I don't suggest the threat level need go to ORANGE or RED.

I would argue that one can draw a distinction between being a cultural liberal and being a culture warrior. One of the things that makes our arguments over social issues so unpleasant is the bitterness and malice of the people who seem to feel most strongly about those issues. One of the reasons Obama does not seem like much of a cultural liberal is that he does not radiate the contempt for those on the other side that we associate with many social liberals - like the ones who are outraged that the Warren fellow will be praying at Obama's inaugeration. But he will pursue liberal policies and will appoint judges who will impose even more liberal poilicies. Obama is (among other things) the model of an effective and prudent social liberal.

I apologize to pete and esp scott d. There was a typo in the original post, which was needlessly convoluted anyway. I meant to say, as you can now see, that O didn't campaign that much as a culture warrior. So I agree with scott pretty much, actually.

Yes, tone is different than policy, appointments, etc. Pete, you suggest Obama is a cultural liberal but not a cultural warrior; he's cloaking his power to impose his liberal cultural agenda. That's a fair argument, and maybe more of threat for folks not in his camp.

If I followed the understandably needed but burdensome (for me!) negative clauses, Professor Lawler hears the opposite tone. The "most culturally leftist president we’ve ever had" campaigned without signaling he'll refrain from governing as a cultural warrior. [Let's leave aside the distinction between culturally leftist and cultural liberal for now] What would those signals look like? 1992 campaign Clinton-Gore ran on 100,000 new cops. The Clinton's both made early first-term speeches about "Safe, Legal and Rare" abortions (though he successfully vetoed "partial-birth" bills several times). 1996 campaign focused on Welfare reform passage and V-Chip, protecting kids from violent media. Are those the right kind of signals? Like Bush 43 standing with Sen. Kennedy signing NCLB (education)?

What kind of President is better for the country, given that the election is oven -- an cultural warrior or one who's tone is amicable? What differentiates folks on this question? Sense of urgency vs. patience? Deep commitment to Truth vs. kinda liking it? I'm of two minds presently: Standing for the truth can come across as coarse, but being coarse does stand in for truth.

I think Obama will disappoint the cultural warroirs on the liberationist front, but he will nonetheless make headways in their direction.

As president, Obama will continue his self-fashioned narrative--weaving together black and white, liberal and conservative.

That's what the new politics means. Of course he is not antagonistic--the path of least resistence provides opportunities to make real substantive change in the culture. It is perfectly fitting with the culture. Noone wants a curmudgeon for president.

Obama will provide Rawlsian reasonableness--which means a substantive argument for the actualization of a nearly nihilistic move for whatever it is a disinterred subject wants regardless of its effects.

Obama is the true Rawlsian president. Noone knows what he wants in the original position, but he provides the conditions for making the fairest choice. Look at the conservatives in his cabinet.

Goodwin's supposed team of rivals provides the conditions to cut the cake. Remember, Harrington say that he who cuts the cake gets the last slice.

Obama will truly "spread the wealth" as McCain says. We will all suffer as a consequence of the greed of the rich. It is called communism of the poor.

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