Culture Vultures

The Culture Wars Are 10 Years Old. Has the Right Won the Struggle Over P.C., Multiculturalism, and the Canon?

You're already familiar with the conundrum: Gore should have won with 56 percent of the vote, according to the standard political-science textbooks, because if you multiply the rate of inflation by Clinton's October 2000 approval rating, divide by the unemployment rate, and add the Dow Jones surge from 1992 onward, you get about 320 Democratic electoral votes and an unambiguous result in Florida. But that didn't happen. Not because of Gore's annoying sighs or meaningless fibs or tedious lockbox, but because of the culture wars. The Gore/Bush vote split almost exactly between people who did and didn't believe that W. was going to restore "honor and dignity to the Oval Office." The people who voted for W. knew precisely what that phrase meant (it was partly about renting out the Lincoln bedroom, but really, finally, mainly, it was about Monica). And on the edges of that split, you can find an even more basic divide—the difference between Americans who think it's reasonable to call the United States a Christian nation and Americans who want to believe they live in a secular democracy.

This, I think, is the most basic ground of the culture wars, and perhaps on this front my side hasn't lost after all. Yes, we lost an election and we're likely to lose still more ground as a result. But culture wars are, in fact and in principle, unwinnable; the stakes have to do with ideas and ways of life, not with kill ratios or hanging chads. The question for the next decade, then, is whether the left believes its ideas are truly worth fighting for.

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