( – promoted by EaBo Clipper)
One day, historians will look back and declare that the late-1990s and the entirety of the 2000s marked the second phase of the American Culture War.
The first phase, of course, occurred during the 1960s and 1970s, as Americans were torn over the controversies surrounding Vietnam, abortion, religion and the civil rights movement. Those culture-war battles never resulted in a decisive victory for either side, although that era is generally considered a period of triumph for the political/cultural Left.
The culture war seemingly came to an end in 1980, when Americans disgusted by what they regarded as the moral, political and financial collapse of the United States elected Ronald Reagan President. The 1980s were a horrible time for the political/cultural Left, as Reagan restored a sense of American greatness and superiority that hadn’t existed since the Eisenhower era. Religion returned to prominence in the public square, the pro-life movement became more politically influential, and the perceived excesses of the entertainment culture came under greater scrutiny. It seemed as though “traditional America” had finally emerged triumphant.
However, the political/cultural Left suddenly gained new strength in the 1990s. Bill Clinton replaced George H. W. Bush in the White House, and spent years sabotaging, demonizing, and restricting the growth of the political/cultural Right. American culture became more and more liberal, to such an extent that it appeared the “if it feels good, do it” ethos of the 1960s had been fully restored to its previous prominence.
The bottom fell out for the political/cultural Left in 1998, as a result of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal. The stories of semen-stained dresses and the extent to which Clinton was a “cigar aficionado” shocked the conscience of many Americans; even if they didn’t agree with the Republicans that Clinton should be removed from office, they were disgusted by Clinton’s actions, and began yearning for someone who wouldn’t disgrace the White House with his personal conduct. The Lewinsky scandal was the first battle of the New Culture War, and led directly to the second major conflict–the outcome of the 2000 election.
Whether fellow conservatives want to admit it or not, George W. Bush would not have won the White House were it not for the Lewinsky scandal. The political/cultural Left had gained so much strength in this country–the Clinton-era ethos of materialism and personal satisfaction had gained so much power–that had it not been for the horror provoked by the Lewinsky matter, Americans would have decided that the “good times” would keep on rolling if Clinton was in essence given a third term, and backed Gore over Bush by a wide margin. Bush’s win was directly linked to the sense that he would restore honor and dignity to a White House symbolically (and literally!) perverted by the Clinton-Gore Administration.
The political/cultural Left’s hatred of Bush has little to do with the actual circumstances of his election. Bush is hated for the same reasons Nixon and Reagan were hated: all three men represent “traditional America,” the America scorned by the Left. By “traditional America,” I do not mean what the Left thinks it means: America the racist, America the sexist, America the homophobic, America the anti-Semitic, American the economically unjust. By “traditional America” I mean the America of “God, family, and country,” the America that believes in faith, patriotism, and civility. Bush, like Nixon and Reagan before him, appealed to Americans who believe that the United States is fundamentally a good and just nation; since the Left regards such a view as naive and flawed, the Left naturally hates the political figures who play to that view.
The Left could not tolerate Bush’s win because it represented the end of the new “if it feels good, do it” era. As of January 2001, it was back to “God, family and country”–which, to the Left, meant cultural backwardness, parochialism, an embrace of the “heartland” and other such supposed malfeasance. The Left regarded Bush, and everyone who supported him, as backwards, and vowed to tear down the Bush Administration root and branch.
Even the horror of 9/11 would not stop the Left from pressing on in its war against the Bush Administration; this has led to the third major conflict of the new culture war–the demonization of Bush’s antiterrorism efforts. The Left’s complaints about the Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay, the Iraq War, and so-called “domestic spying” are all weapons in this battle. The demonization of Condi Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and David Petraeus is a part of this effort.
Because the Left regards Bush as demonic, they cannot possibly see anything he does as angelic. Thus, the Left is unsurprising in its view of Bush as just as dangerous to world peace as Osama bin Laden. It should not have shocked anyone that the Left so vociferously fought against Bush’s decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power; as far as the Left was concerned, it was Bush who should have been deposed.
The Lewinsky scandal, the 2000 election, and Bush’s post-9/11 antiterrorism initiatives have been the focal points of Culture War II. Will the 2008 election become the fourth theater of this war?
Whoever wins the 2008 election will set the cultural template for the majority of the next decade (assuming, of course, the winner is elected to a second term in 2012). If the race comes down to Fred Thompson vs. Hillary Clinton, it will represent the clearest cultural/political difference between two Presidential opponents since Bush vs. Gore. If Clinton emerges victorious, we will inevitably witness a return to the “if it feels good, do it era” of the 1990s. However, if Thompson is elected, he’s likely to maintain the “God, family and country” focus of the Reagan and Bush eras.
Culture War II is raging. Will there ever be a decisive winner?