Conservatives are cheering the results of this week’s election, in which Republicans have positioned themselves to exert enormous influence over the direction of governance for the next several years. But I’m not cheering. Not because I don’t agree with the need for more conservatism in politics, but because I don’t believe government is where the real battle is being fought. Mark Stein explains the matter in a recent article:
Liberals expend tremendous effort changing the culture. Conservatives expend tremendous effort changing elected officials every other November — and then are surprised that it doesn’t make much difference.
Culture trumps politics — which is why, once the question’s been settled culturally, conservatives are reduced to playing catch-up, twisting themselves into pretzels to explain why gay marriage is really conservative after all, or why 30 million unskilled immigrants with a majority of births out of wedlock are “natural allies” of the Republican Party. . . .
If the culture’s liberal, if the schools are liberal, if the churches are liberal, if the hip, groovy business elite is liberal, if the guys who make the movies and the pop songs are liberal, then electing a guy with an “R” after his name isn’t going to make a lot of difference. . . .
Culture is the long view; politics is the here and now.
Yet in America vast cultural changes occur in nothing flat, while, under our sclerotic political institutions, men elected to two-year terms of office announce ambitious plans to balance the budget a decade after their terms end. Here, again, liberals show a greater understanding of where the action is.
I recall a friend telling me in 1980, following Reagan’s landslide victory over Carter, that that election had finally halted the nation’s descent into madness. I wasn’t convinced, and the events of the next thirty-four years have confirmed my suspicions. Once the agents of cultural power have been subverted to pernicious ends, the politics will inevitably tag along meekly. Occasional fits of electoral pique may slow, but will never overcome, the culture’s march into hell.
If conservatives want to make a real impact, they need to make inroads in the institutions of cultural significance, starting with the family. It’s a much more difficult battle to fight, but there is no other way to address the problems that plague our country.