Conservatives Admit Defeat In Culture War

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.


  1. 1
    jimmy star says:

    Conservatives Admit Defeat In Culture War – Liberal Values …

  2. 2
    Christopher Skyi says:

    Tucker Carlson, over two years, in a cato podcast predicted the fall of the GOP and the fall of the evangelical right, and also why McCain would lose the election because the evangelicals hated him, even then — and all the later kissy-kissy makeup stuff between McCain and the religious right never bridged the gap.

    Essentially evangelicals  forgave or overlooked  all of Bush’s exceess on the promise he would be on their side. They sold out — what was the Iraq war to them?  Didn’t matter. They supported Bush on that issue so that he would push their agenda. 

    Carlson is strikingly prescience in this 2 year old podcast about how the right went wrong.  He savages the religious right. While I’m sad to see a decline in conservative economic values, as for conservative social values — good riddance!

  3. 3
    Eclectic Radical says:

    Conservative economic values are closely tied to conservative social values in this country. Much of the conservative economic ideology has its roots in conservative Protestantism. Calvin’s successors preached that the poor were clearly poor because God had predestined them to damnation, while the rich were clearly enjoying God’s favor and might be saved. Anglican clergyman Thomas Malthus went from the other direction, that economic injustice was necessary in this world and seeking to set it right would only make it worse due to God’s ordination that we suffer in this world to be saved in the next. Today, evangelical preachers tell their flocks that if they are truly saved they will become truly prosperous because God blesses his servants with wealth and punishes sin with poverty. The most die-hard economic conservatives in both houses of Congress are die hard social conservatives as well, while social moderates are generally willing to compromise on economic issues. It is only natural for conservative economic policy to take a hit when conservative social policy takes a hit.

    That said, conservatism’s current state is as much due to economic dogmatism as it is to social dogmatism. The Bush administration lied about the strength of the economy (perhaps to themselves as well as us) while depleting the economy recklessly. Now real effort has to be made to make the gears and mechanisms of genuine American industry going again, and the right wants to be conservative about the economy now, when we can’t afford it.

  4. 4
    jimmy star says:

    Conservatives Admit Defeat In Culture War – Liberal Values …

  5. 5
    Christopher Skyi says:

    “Now real effort has to be made to make the gears and mechanisms of genuine American industry going again, and the right wants to be conservative about the economy now, when we can’t afford it.”

    There’s no way to address that sad whopper in this post, but I’ll do my best to start you down the path of enlightenment, but — beware: enlightenment comes when you realized just how f**ked we are.

    Item 1: Financial Bloggers Gain Recognition Amid Turmoil

    “While bloggers sometimes get bad reputations for ranting and raving from the sidelines, it’s hard to question the credentials of some renowned bloggers, such as Princeton economist Paul Krugman, last year’s Nobel Prize winner, and the notoriously bearish New York University economist Nouriel Roubini.
    “Blogs have very much become a meritocracy,” says Barry Ritholtz, chief executive at quantitative-research firm FusionIQ and author of “The Big Picture” blog. “You just have to look a little harder and work more diligently to find who’s worth reading.”
    The Big Picture, as well as other top blogs, experienced a spike in traffic last September after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and Merrill Lynch agreed to be sold to Bank of America (BAC). Ritholtz – who opines on a wide- range of topics from trading strategies to macroeconomics – says he currently averages anywhere between 80,000 and 120,000 daily page views.
    “Bloggers, or independent voices, are helping to define the debate about what’s taking place in the economy and with policymakers in D.C.,” he says. “The secret to reading anything is knowing who knows what they’re talking about and who not to bother with.”

    Item 2. Start with the highly recommend bloggers in that article. These are financial & economic experts from both the right and left, and to a man and woman, nobody, and I mean NOBODY, believes that the massive bailouts and trillion dollar debt spending is going to do anything but make us much much worse off in the future.

    The reading can be tough going — if you have no background or familiarity with finance or economics, much of it will at first go over your head, but spend some time with these bloggers — it’s quite an eye opening education.

    Yves Smith’s Naked Capitialism blog ( is one of the best and most highly informative and respective expert bloggers out there.

    Least you think she’s some of ideologue, she’s advocated for some time the nationalization of troubled banks. The argument is technical, but even educated conservatives and libertarians concede her points if not her ultimate solution.

    Daily, she  and expert guest posters eviscerates The Fed, the Treasury, and all the other fumbling lost players that seem to be leading us over either an economic cliff or into the backwaters of stagnate economic growth for years if not decades to come.

    Start with this post:  “Are Competitive Devaluations Starting?

    From the post: “Enjoy the “bear-trap” rally on global bourses this spring. But remember, we have only just begun to see the mass lay-offs and hardship caused by this slump. The politicians will act to save their skins. Markets may not like the result.”

    The most worrisome thread is about the wholesale collapase of the dollar. If that happens in a serious way, you can kiss your liberal economic dreams goodbye, along with with your personal dreams.

    The Feb and Treasury has been basically following the model Japan used in the 90’s, to little avail. Even now, Japan is getting hit harder than almost anyone else precisely because their stimulus spending never saved them making them particularly vulnerable to the current downturn — see “Veneroso: Japan on the Edge of the Abyss:”

    And guess who’s getting lectured to, and by whom?  Yep —  China is lecturing both the old social democratic economies of Europe and U.S. to shape the hell up (because of our own shift to a European model of massive government spending):

    “China Tells US and Europe to Protect Economies”

    I could go on and on, because it goes on and on, but I’ll leave with this from Yves Smith in her post “China’s Wen Worries About Safety of Treasuries, Asks for Reassurance:”

    “Wen is pointing at a completely different issue, that of the ability of Uncle Sam to honor its debts. This would seem remarkable to some until you consider the following:

    Moody’s warned of the risk of a US downgrade in the next 10 years BEFORE all the emergency expenditures and financial firm emergency operations started

    Standard and Poor’s said consolidation of Freddie and Fannie might impair the US’s rating (um, we aren’t going to let them go, so the distinction between consolidation and what we have now looks largely cosmetic).

    Credit default swaps on US 5 year debt, last I saw, was 100 basis points. Not all that long ago, it was 2, assuming you could even get a quote, the idea of a CDS on govvies seemed ludicrous. The US now seen as far from a risk free credit

    And in case you think the credit risk is exaggerated, consider. The US already partially defaulted on its debt.

    Recall how Bretton Woods operated. Rather than go back to a gold standard at the end of World War II (its defect is a deflationary bias, which made the Great Depression worse), the US instead pegged its currency at $35 an ounce and other countries set rates of conversion in dollar or pound sterling terms. By 1965, the value of dollar claims by foreigners on America’s gold reserves at the $35/oz. rate were greater than the actual supply. The US defaulted on its $35 par value when Nixon cancelled Bretton Woods by suspending the convertibility of dollars into gold. As Michael Hudson noted (hat tip reader Rajiv):

  6. 6
    Fritz says:

    Eclectic, there are a number of data points in opposition to your thesis that social conservatism and free-market ideology always go together.  For instance, Mike Huckabee is a rather glaring exception.  And libertarians are (almost all) contrary data points as well in the other direction.

  7. 7
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I did not advance the thesis that social conservatism and free-market ideology ‘always go together’. I said there were close ties between conservative social values and conservative economic values in the United States (and cited some of the common philosophical source material for both) , which is true.

    There are exceptions to any broad statement, but even among those exceptions enough members of the Libertarian Party were comfortable with compromising their social positions to nominate conservative Republicans with right wing social agendas to the presidential ticket on two occasions. I know the Paul and Barr nominations were controversial and the party doesn’t represent all libertarians, but the party represents a significant number of libertarians and the nominations carried.

    Mike Huckabee, Rick Warren and other ‘progressive’ members of the religious right do advocate significant breaks from mainstream conservative economic thinking. That is true. However, they are somewhat anomalous among the ranks of the leadership of movement conservatism.

    There is a lot of evidence of ‘go along to get along’ in the Republican Party where individuals firmly espouse views not their own because they are the accepted party position. For the most part, this has consisted of social moderates siding with social conservatives on social issues. The moderate Republicans who have made compromises with Democrats on economic issues have all been social liberal/fiscal conservative types, with social conservatives unwilling to compromise with the enemy.

    Of course there are exceptions, but I believe my broad statement is still generally true more often than not.

  8. 8
    Christopher Skyi says:

    “Now real effort has to be made to make the gears and mechanisms of genuine American industry going again, and the right wants to be conservative about the economy now, when we can’t afford it.”
    It appears the gloves are off between two of the largest grassroots organizations in the county, and (see:, and between two economic Titans, John Maynard Keynes & Milton Friedman (both dead economist by the way) — see the snippet from “The Big Picture” blog below:
    Interesting Bloomberg article on the current massive attempts to reliquify the system:

    “Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke is siding with John Maynard Keynes against Milton Friedman by flooding the financial system with money.
    If history is any guide, says Allan Meltzer, the effort will end in tears. Inflation “will get higher than it was in the 1970s,” says Meltzer, the Fed historian and professor of political economy at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. At the end of that decade, consumer prices rose at a year-over- year rate of 13.3 percent.
    Bernanke’s gamble that the highest jobless rate in 25 years and the most idle factory capacity on record will hold down inflation is straight out of the late British economist Keynes. Should late Nobel-prize-winner Friedman’s dictum that “inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon” prove right, the $1 trillion or more in liquidity Bernanke has pumped into the financial system by expanding the Fed’s balance sheet may leave him to cope with surging consumer prices.
    So far, investors and economic data both back up the Bernanke-Keynes view. The market in Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities as of April 6 indicated long-term inflation expectations of 2.5 percent, below the 2.8 percent average inflation rate of the past 10 years.
    Figures to be published April 15 will probably show that the March consumer price index was unchanged from a year earlier, thanks to a steep decline in energy costs, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. In February, the index rose at a year-over-year rate of just 0.2 percent.”
    Looks like is backing Kaynes. For the sake of all of us, I hope is correct . . . we’ll all find out in about a year or so . . .

  9. 9
    Fritz says:

    Christopher — that is an incredibly scary quote.  It’s like someone in Vegas trying to convince the big-time loser that he should put his plane ticket home on the OO because “You can’t afford to be conservative now”.

  10. 10
    David Claiborne says:

    It looks like despite admitting defeat, they still intend to continue the culture wars unabated.

    That’s the problem with religious zealots, especially those who consider themselves to be warriors – they have no sense of reality, and they’re willing to fight until the bitter end.

  11. 11
    Fritz says:

    “Obama’s post-partisan vision”?  Um, right.  Yeah.

    Anyway, the SPLC is sucking in big bucks in contributions decades after the Klan was relevant, so I figure the religious right will be sucking in money from this for the next 50 years.

  12. 12
    David Claiborne says:


    I’ll assume since you have nothing in response besides a snort and a sneer, you’re unable to provide anything outside of partisan rhetoric that discredits the statement that Obama’s vision from the beginning has been post-partisan.

    And I’m not sure how equating the SLPC with religious extremists, and gays with the KKK, does anything to lend credence to your point.

    People across the world in general, and America in particular, are abandoning old worn-out dogmas with increasing pace.  In 50 years the modern christian conservative viewpoint will be nearly entirely culturally irrelevant.  “Christians” of some kind will surely still exist, but evolution has one rule – adapt or die.

  13. 13
    Fritz says:


    President Obama has been very effective so far in advancing the agenda and the strength of his political party and its major supporters.  I see nothing to suggest his energy will not continue unabated.  I think it is possible that the negative consequences of his policies may become clear by 2012.

    Hmm…  So far his clearest move to pay off his supporters was the administration’s decision to immediately destroy the DC education voucher program, which was supported by the residents but was, of course, anathema to the teachers’ union.  I guess I would have said more at the time, but I find it almost impossible to believe that anyone would credit a politico talking about being “post-partisan”. 

    I agree that Christianity is being replaced in the USA by newer dogmas.  That doesn’t mean that the religious right won’t be sucking in large amounts of money from Christians still in decades. 

3 Trackbacks

Leave a comment