A Return to the Culture Wars?

This has not been a good Supreme Court term for the Obama administration. Damon Root (Reason) has a quick and delightful overview of some of the key decisions. The most recent defeat—the Hobby Lobby decision—can be viewed as a loss for the administration, but it may provide some political benefits with respect to fundraising and continuing the “war on women” meme, as Byron Tau (Politico) explains:

Shortly after the court’s 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which said for-profit employers with religious objections can opt out of providing contraception coverage under Obamacare, the liberal fundraising emails went flying. Democratic candidates and liberal groups were seeking to collect scores of new email addresses and bank last-minute cash contributions in advance of the monthly FEC deadline at midnight Monday.

As Megan McArdle notes in the conclusion to her interesting discussion of the decision (Bloombergview):

Presumably, the administration hates this ruling–but at the same time, it has to love the passion that it has engendered. This is going to be fundraising gold for Democrats for the next two years. In a politics that cares more about symbolism than substance, that too was predictable. And it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this was the prediction that mattered more. Politics may not be rational, but it still has its own remorseless logic.

Jeremy Peters and Michael Shear (New York Times) argue that this was also a decision that the conservative movement can run with: “The ruling comes as social conservatives have suffered setbacks on another high-profile social issue, same-sex marriage, and leaders predicted Monday’s decision would infuse Republicans with energy as they fight to take control of the Senate this year and reclaim the White House in 2016.” Their analysis suggests that the decision could contribute to a revivification of the culture wars that defined much of the politics of the past few decades.

I hope that Peters and Shear are wrong. Any efforts of Republicans and Democrats to reignite the tiresome culture wars will threaten to draw attention away from the far more pressing issues of late, e.g., the ongoing growth of executive power, long-term fiscal instability, the failure of immigration policy, targeted killings abroad, and the expansive violation of civil liberties in the name of national security. These are the kinds of issues that sizable parts of both parties and the public should agree are of sufficient importance to avoid any of the short-term tactical appeals offered by the culture wars.

One thought on “A Return to the Culture Wars?

  1. The left has engaged in a decades long attack on marriage and the family precisely because the legal union of a man and a woman creates a kinship structure that is the best defense against an overambitious state. As this kinship structure is undermined by redefinition of what constitutes a “family”, redefinition of marriage, artificial reproductive technology, and relentless attacks on the so-called “bourgeois values” of self-reliance, hard work, and self-restraint, it will become more and more difficult to solve the economic problems that libertarians are rightly concerned about. How do you limit government when more and more people are dependent on it? There must be an alternative source of support that people feel they can rely on. That alternative is fast disappearing.

    Social conservatives have not done a good job of making these connections clear, preferring religious arguments that will never persuade a largely secular polity. But the culture wars, so-called, are not going away because many of us believe the arguments are critical. It’s important to remember that Republicans cannot win elections without social conservatives like me, so fiscal and social conservatives need to find a way to work together.

    With respect to Hobby Lobby, I am more concerned about the rights of non-religious people to criticize the left’s radical social agenda. The venue for debate for us is getting smaller and smaller.

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