Some conservatives are conceding defeat in the culture wars. The Telegraph reports:
Leading evangelicals have admitted that their association with George W. Bush has not only hurt the cause of social conservatives but contributed to the failure of the key objectives of their 30-year struggle.
James Dobson, 72, who resigned recently as head of Focus on the Family – one of the largest Christian groups in the country – and once denounced the Harry Potter books as witchcraft, acknowledged the dramatic reverse for the religious Right in a farewell speech to staff.
“We tried to defend the unborn child, the dignity of the family, but it was a holding action,” he said.
“We are awash in evil and the battle is still to be waged. We are right now in the most discouraging period of that long conflict. Humanly speaking, we can say we have lost all those battles.”
Despite changing the political agenda for a generation, and helping push the Republicans to the Right, evangelicals have won only minor victories in limiting the availability of abortion. Meanwhile the number of states permitting civil partnerships between homosexuals is rising, and the campaign to restore prayer to schools after 40 years – a decision that helped create the Moral Majority – has got nowhere.
Though the struggle will go on, the confession of Mr Dobson, who started his ministry from scratch in 1977, came amid growing concern that church attendance in the United States is heading the way of Britain, where no more than ten per cent worship every week.
Steve Benen agrees with James Dobson that the right has lost (even if they are not all giving up the fight. (Has anyone ever before written the words “Steve Benen agrees with James Dobson?)
Now, in fairness, this report omitted some context. As my friend Kyle reported, Dobson actually emphasized his desire to keep the fight going, despite the religious right movement’s setbacks: “Humanly speaking, we can say that we have lost all those battles, but God is in control and we are not going to give up now, right? … I have been assured by the board and by many of you that we’re not going to cow, we’re not going to be discouraged.”
That said, whether Dobson and his cohorts give up now or not, his assessment about their lack of success is nevertheless accurate. The culture war is all but over, and far-right evangelicals have precious little to show for their efforts. After about three decades of fighting, the culture warriors are hard pressed to point to any progress at all.
Anti-gay animus is not only waning, four states now allow gay marriage. Abortion is still legal and a majority of Americans are still pro-choice. School prayer isn’t even on the political world’s radar screen anymore. Pornography is not only a multi-billion industry; it’s more accessible than ever. The single fasting growing segment of the American spiritual landscape is non-believers and those with no religious identification.
James Joyner also writes that The Right Lost The Culture War in response to this article in the Washington Examiner. Political editor Chris Stirewalt asked, “Has the Right surrendered in the culture war?”
I would quibble, however, with one word in Stirewalt’s question. The right hasn’t surrendered the culture wars; we lost.
And yes, I include myself. As regular readers know, I’m decidedly not religious and am libertarian on these matters with respect to the use of government power. I spent the first nearly-three-decades of my life, though, immersed in Southern and military culture. I’m still anti-abortion (although not anti-contraception) still oppose reading same-sex marriage into the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause (a subject for a separate post).
Conservative culture has been under assault from the popular culture, the schools, and the courts for quite some time now. We’ve lost the youth and future generations are decidedly unlikely to ever become meaningfully “conservative,” short of an apocalyptic scenario.
I am not yet prepared to claim victory and consider the culture war won for liberalism. I’ve often written that history is on our side. The trend of history has been towards greater liberty and for reason over superstition. However history does not always work in straight lines. It is not possible to know what issues will reemerge in the short run. Just four years ago the right was able to capitalize on anti-gay marriage initiatives to bring out the religious right and defeat John Kerry. While the trend of history is towards greater liberty, there will always be opponents who desire to impose their will and values upon others.