The Culture Wars Are Over; Liberals Won

My Google calendar reminded me the other day that it was the start of LGBTQ+ Month. In February it let me know that it was Black History Month. In March it was Women’s History Month. I watched a lot of college basketball that month. I saw a Buick commercial approximately one million times in which the car company told me it wouldn’t rest until women’s athletics got as much TV air time as the men. (I guess Buicks are so good the company didn’t feel the need to say anything about, you know, their cars.)

We also saw teams in the tournament wearing messages on their uniforms. In fact, the NCAA passed a rule specifically allowing social justice messages on jerseys. (The rule says nothing about conservative messaging. So, presumably, “Free Markets, Free People!” would not pass muster.)

Last year when Georgia passed election laws that restricted some voting practices (but left them still more liberal overall than states like New York and Delaware) Major League Baseball pulled its All Star Game from Atlanta. Earlier this year when Florida passed the “don’t say gay” bill (which didn’t say that) Disney vowed that Mickey would not rest until it was repealed.

I got a new pair of Keen’s the other day. The company informed me, right there on the box, that they “make shoes to make a difference.” And all I wanted was a new pair of walking sandals. I aim too low. I thought Keen just cared about my soles; turns out they care about my soul.

And now, it’s the Taco Bell Drag Brunch. Yep. It was reported in the New York Times, which prints all the news that’s fit for print (or digital bandwidth) that the fast food chain is sponsoring the popular events in its stores in five cities this month. That’s great, but when Chik A Filet sponsors drag brunches we’ll know the liberal rout is complete.

Taco Bell is sponsoring drag brunches. Do you need more evidence that the culture wars are over?

My point is that the culture wars are over and liberals have won. Liberal cultural values permeate the media, advertising, corporate boardrooms, academia — pretty much everyplace except politics. In fact, my argument is that the reason cultural conservatives over perform in politics is that they are getting obliterated everywhere else.

Now, the grumpy old guys (my people!) over at the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page huff and puff about “corporate wokeness.” They should go back to caring about the free market. Because what Buick and Disney and MLB and Keen and so many other companies really care about is their bottom lines. This kind of liberal social messaging appeals to young college grads, who are attractive to them for two reasons: their youth and their education. Young consumers have always been the prize because they’re just forming lifelong brand loyalties. And college-educated consumers earn twice as much as those without a degree. Since social conservatives skew older and less educated they can be more or less ignored.

Some of these companies are also getting pressure from their young employees who want to earn a good living and also be Gandhi while they’re at it. Again, it’s the market at work. Companies are desperate for talent. If liberal social messaging helps with recruitment then that’s what needs to be done.

The world will soon be run by people who feel free to change their pronouns on a whim. I’m not complaining about this. Well, okay I am, but I also realize that it’s just where things are headed. When the train’s coming at you it’s best to step off the tracks.

Which brings us back to politics. Frustrated by feeling unheard in the popular culture, social conservatives are flocking to the polls to vote mostly for Republicans who speak their language. Which is why it would be a good idea for Democrats to sidestep the culture wars as much as they possibly can. There’s simply no need to fight in that realm because the war’s already been won elsewhere.

Social change does not happen in politics. It happens first in the broader culture (it already has) and then politics catches up later on. Politicians don’t lead; they follow when it’s safe. There is no better evidence for that than gay marriage. In 2008 both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton opposed it. Then the political winds shifted and so did their positions — but only after a Supreme Court decision made their positions moot anyway

Before I leave you to your weekend, let me deal with a counter-argument. That argument would be that political parties need to do just what corporations do: they need to try to appeal to young political consumers. Maybe. But let me offer three cautions.

First, young people don’t vote very reliably no matter what you say to them. The voting population has always skewed older so, if you have to make a choice, it makes more sense to appeal to older people even at the risk of turning off some younger ones. Second, as people age into becoming regular voters they also mellow, become less rigidly liberal, less self-righteous and more practical. And third and most importantly, Democrats are losing Hispanic voters in droves in part because they are more culturally conservative than the Democratic elites who control the party’s messaging.

We live in a culture saturated in liberal values and messages. We’ll never go back and that’s fine with me — though I look forward to the day when all of this is so thoroughly accepted that we can dispense with all the tedious virtue signaling already.

But that means that Democrats don’t need to engage in the culture wars and, if they want to win, they shouldn’t. Leave the fight to Taco Bell.

Want to read more curiously conservative views from a liberal? Pick up a copy of Light Blue: How center-left moderates can build an enduring Democratic majority.

Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

5 thoughts on “The Culture Wars Are Over; Liberals Won

  1. Then-Vice President Biden famously supported gay marriage on May 6, 2012. The Supreme Court required all states to grant same sex marriages on June 26, 2015. So there’s an instance of a politician making a strong case three years before the Supreme Court made it a moot point. As you head back a little further, before 2010 polls indicate more or less 50% supporting same sex marriage. The polls are further complicated by the concept of civil unions, which were supported by many moderates. Did Biden merely ride the wave, or was he an agent of change?

    I’m going to give Biden the nod here for making same sex marriage a civil rights issue and LEADING to its acceptance, even though it happened in the Judiciary and not in the Congress.

    To your larger point, somehow Republicans do well making an issue out things that aren’t much of an issue. Socialism! (There’s one Democrat who identifies as a Socialist.) Gays! (Gay rights and marriage are widely accepted now.) Maybe instead of avoiding culture wars Democrats should just avoid hysteria and take positions like: Insurrection at the Capitol — bad. Shooting up schools — bad. Putin, tyrants, and invading other nations — bad. Fair elections regardless of the outcome — good. Same sex marriage — an equal right. Minorities and women — equal rights. And then just wave the flag. (Granted, immigration and the environment are tougher issues.)

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    1. There’s a good point embedded in Mike’s other good points: even if Democrats try to disengage from the culture wars, Republicans probably won’t let them. They’ll take something one member of their caucus or even some obscure activist says and portray that as the position of all Democrats. My caveat is that I read the New York Times and listen to NPR everyday and, in fact, there is a cultural agenda there that is not far off from what Republicans contend. Or maybe it’s less about an agenda than it is about emphasis. To follow those news outlets you’d think that issues of gender and race were at the top of everyone’s minds, when in fact they don’t make the top ten list when you ask Americans about what most concerns them.

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      1. There is no local issue anymore. AOC says something that an overwhelming majority of her constituents agree with and it’s a problem for President Biden in a way that just wasn’t true in the past. You can see this at the state level too now. Rep Hong and Sen Agard introduce a Bill that would create a massive government intervention in the housing market, it’s a problem for Gov Evers and every Dem running upstate. Because what plays in Madison doesn’t fly in Brown County.

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  2. Influential conservatives like Matt Walsh and his ilk have teamed up with groups like WILL and governors in a variety of states to make it harder if not outright illegal for people like me to live life on all levels as transgender people, so perhaps you’ll forgive me having little faith in corporations to enshrine my rights in lieu of politicians fighting to put those rights on paper and defend them. My humanity is not a special interest; the denial of my ability to walk safely in the street, remain employed, to not have my genitals checked before entering a locker room, and to get my medication like anyone else is not a “culture war” that can be dismissed. If you aren’t willing to fight alongside me, do not pretend to be my ally.

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