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Is the Culture War Over? May 5, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Culture, Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, politics.
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I know it sounds a bit optimistic, but there is evidence that the culture wars are moderating.

In addition to the fact that there are 4 states that now permit gay marriage, a recent NYT/CBS poll showed support for marriage equality jumped 9 points in one month– from 33% support last month to 42% this month. Support for gay marriage has a plurality of supporters, with the opponents divided between 28% who oppose any legal recognition and 25% supporting civil unions.

Another poll from from Washington Post/ABC News reveals that in 2004 just 32% favored gay marriage. Now 49 percent support it versus 46 percent opposed, and more than half say gay marriages in another state should be recognized as legal in their own state.

What is really surprising about the Washington Post/ABC poll is that, although self-identified conservatives are least likely to favor gay marriage, they have gone from 10% support in 2004 to 30% today. The trend in public opinion has been moving in this direction for many years, but when support for gay marriage triples among conservatives in five years it is clear that conservatives are losing this battle.

Why the sudden uptick in support? The increasing visibility of gays has set aside myths about gay people. Prejudice is difficult to sustain when you discover that the people you hate are just ordinary people with aspirations similar to your own. But the fact that no one has ever been able to clearly state how allowing gay marriage would destroy the institution of marriage has been a factor as well. Thankfully, sometimes, bankrupt ideas  are exposed despite obfuscation and fear-mongering.

The lessening of culture war passions has another data point as well. The same Washington Post/ABC poll shows:

Respondents were near split on another issue that until recently was deemed untouchable in many parts of the country — marijuana legalization. Forty-six percent of all respondents said they supported legalizing “possession of small amounts for personal use,” with rates of support higher among men, among younger voters and among independents, a majority of whom supported legalization.

And the poll found increased support for immigration reform as well. 

In another new high, 61 percent now support giving illegal immigrants “the right to live here legally if they pay a fine and meet other requirements.” That’s up from 49 percent in 2007 to a substantial majority for the first time. In this case support is up more sharply among Republicans, a 17-point gain to 59 percent, than among Democrats, up 9 points to 68 percent. It’s up 14 points among independents.

But lest we get too complacent, the same poll shows opposition to gun control and support for tighter border enforcement is increasing.

Is their some general thesis about the culture wars to which this data points? I doubt that the culture wars are over, but they are shifting ground.  Today, to be a good conservative, one has to deny the existence of climate change, praise the “I’ll take mine and the hell with anyone else” attitude of Wall St. investors, and offer tax cuts as the solution to any problem.

In short, this indicates that, within conservative circles, social (including religious) conservatism is on the wane, and libertarian conservatism is on the rise. For the past 30 years, the visible face of conservatism was the religious right and its moral crusade, with the big business boosters and Randians in the background paying the bills. That dynamic seems to have changed.

The moral veneer of conservatism has been stripped away, revealing its dark underbelly—it has always been about greed and its ideology.

This shift is a good thing because it suggests that some of the pernicious assumptions about the moral integrity of conservatism have been exposed.