Why the Culture War Will Never Die

Depending on how you define it, the American culture war between liberals and conservatives can stretch back all the way to the nineteenth century. But I prefer to date its current iteration to the 1960s, when the hippies and the squares gazed across a high school football field at one another and said, "Man, I hate those guys."

However the actual 1960s played out, in our memories, the hippies were definitely the good guys, and the winners in the end. (This is in no small part because liberals created all the novels, TV shows, and movies that chronicled the period.) They may have been a little silly, but there's one thing that's undeniably true: They had all the fun. While the squares were getting buzz cuts, convincing themselves that the Vietnam War was a great idea, and nodding along with Richard Nixon's encomiums to the Silent Majority, the hippies were getting high, dancing to cool music, and above all, getting laid.

And the squares are still mad about it, even the ones who weren't actually born then. Here's a report from Suzy Khimm on an event held at the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday called "Where Is Liberalism Going?" They homed in on what it's all about:

"Give up your economic freedom, give up your political freedom, and you will be rewarded with license," said Heritage's David Azerrad, describing the reigning philosophy of the left. "It's all sex all the time. It's not just the sex itself—it's the permission to indulge."

Liberals, said editor Bill Voegeli, want to create "the United States of Feeling Good About Ourselves." …

Given liberals' fixation with pleasure, "I fear the next great frontier for the left will be trying to lower the age of consent," said Azerrad, head of Heritage's center for principles and politics. 

Technology-driven popular culture helped liberals lull the masses into complacency, Azerrad continued, citing iPhones, Google Glass, massive multi-player online video games, and "year-round sports" as among the distractions that have left society vulnerable to political and economic servitude. 

O.K., so this is only a couple of conservative "thinkers." But you don't have to go far to find conservative fury not just at the idea that sex is an important part of life that need not be clothed in shame, but also at the fact that it's liberals who seem to be having it all. Which is not empirically true, of course, but the prototypical Republican today is that guy who 45 years ago was a high school kid in a starched short-sleeve Oxford shirt, gazing longingly at that open-minded girl in the peasant blouse twirling around the field, all kinds of sinful thoughts playing through his mind. When he saw her pile into a car with her friends and a couple of longhairs, heading up to Woodstock where all manner of debauchery would take place, he gritted his teeth and imagined how great it would feel to punch one of those guys right in the face.

That square is wrinkled and gray now, but he's everywhere in today's GOP. He's Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, and he's much of their audience. He's the one who has Fox News on in the background all day, and he votes in every election. The 1960s and the cultural conflict that defined them won't release their hold on him, and since he makes up such a large part of the Republican electorate, the party is going to reflect his concerns and values, not to mention his resentments and disgust. Which is why it's charming, and almost sad, to see something like this (h/t Danny Vinik), a project created by a Republican media consultant:

We're cool, he's saying. If we had been around back in 1969, we would have jumped in that car with you and headed up to Yazgur's farm! And there are some Republicans about whom that's true. The ones with more libertarian inclinations are favorably disposed toward sex and drugs, if maybe not so much on the peace and love. But as long as those Baby Boomers are still around—and it's going to be for a while yetthey're going to have a secondary place in their party.

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