Electing 'Pols' vs. Replacing the 'Cultural Elite' -- or Christian Activism Loses Its Way in the Kulture Smog
Let's begin with the basics. The implicit goal of the Christian Right has always been to transform the culture. Clearly we were not interested in electing politicians just for the sake of having more Republicans in office. We expected results results, which would not only preserve whatever elements of Christian culture we still enjoyed, but would in fact expand them.
For instance, we believed that by electing the right men to office, the following things would happen:
- 1. Not only would prayer and the Ten Commandants be legal in the schools, but so would the teaching of creationism. Instead of "values clarification," social Darwinism, and multi-culturalism, children would be inculcated with a more respectful attitude towards Judeo-Christian values (code word: traditional values).
- 2. Abortion and pornography would be outlawed.
- 3. All forms of child exploitation, particularly child sexual abuse, would be outlawed.
- 4. Gays would be driven back into the closet.
- 5. The federal government would be cut down to size, rendering it much less obtrusive.
- 6. The so-called walls separating churches and state would once again function to protect churches against interference by the state, rather than vice versa.
- 7. Judicial appointments, often used to expand the role of the federal government would be more representative of the Framers' intent of a limited central government and broad state rights.
- 8. Through a combination of increased executions and tougher sentencing, crime would be reduced to 1950s levels and the streets would once again be safe for citizens and children.
It was hoped that the combination of these various planks would somehow combine to create a nation, which would at a minimum be a safe place to raise our children, and optimistically would be closer to an earlier time when Christian culture dominated. What exactly this earlier time looked like was somewhat hazy. Some Reconstructionists thought it might look like the Puritan times; Pat Robertson thought it would look like the 1950s under the leadership of the moral giant Dwight Eisenhower.
Bottom line: electing the right people to office would, in fact, transform the culture. That was the illusion. After twenty years of Republican conservative dominance from Ronald Reagan through Newt Gingrich, many activists have been disillusioned, at least those paying attention.
As I pointed out in my recent monograph, The Late Great GOP, the Reagan years were productive in terms of foreign policy, judicial appointments, and economic policy, but bore little fruit on "moral" issues (namely because of the relentless opposition of Nancy Reagan and her inner-circle of social image advisers who were loath to appear to be too "Right Wing"). The final shock came with how quickly Newt Gingrich's much vaunted revolution dissipated into a puddle of vacillation.
It seems the revolution came and went and nobody much noticed, least of all, the enemy that was supposed to have been vanquished by Newt and his courageous command. What happened? As a number of astute observers have observed (including the venerable Paul Weyrich, the dominant figure in conservative circles in Washington for the last thirty years), Republicans, even conservative Republicans, have turned out to be much more survival sensitive than was expected. In other words, like most "pols," they are poll driven. As the old cliché goes, they are more influenced by the New York Times and the Washington Post than the folks back home are. In this case, however, there is also a problem with the folks back home. The culture has changed, and not for the better. This is what has discouraged Weyrich and a number of other leaders.
For decades, conservative strategists operated on the premise that if we educated enough people, they would do the right thing. The assumption was that we would have at least two thirds of the country behind us, i.e., the "moral majority." But years of toil to educate people on Gay Rights issues and pro-life issues in key states failed to produce even a 51 percent majority of voters willing to do the right thing, let alone two thirds. The true epiphany that woke up many conservative activists was the recognition that even though the public acknowledged that Clinton was a shameless perjurer and sexual predator, two thirds of the public considered him to be worth retaining and were quite "put out" with the poor Republicans for even thinking about punishing him for breaking the law.
Indeed, it was Ken Starr (not William Jefferson) who drew the public's wrath for having the audacity to keep this unsavory issue in front of them, when they simply wanted to forget and monitor the progress of their stock options or, lacking stock options, monitor "The Simpsons."
Conservative leaders like Weyrich were beginning to notice that altering the political landscape exerted little or no correlation in the culture wars. Further, they noticed that the culture was becoming increasingly secularized and liberal, and that conservative politicians were less inclined than ever to buck the dominant culture. Their first priority (as they see it) is to get re-elected, so they can be in a position to do some good, at some point (the theory that it's better to do something than nothing). Thus the overriding rationale of the typical conservative politician's existence is that he must continue to be elected to be able to exercise any future potential good, thus his willingness to accommodate what he sees as lesser evils.
On the whole, the conservatives remain confused about just why they are losing the culture wars. Presidential candidate and notorious flapjack flipper Gary Bauer offers us a prime example. Mr. Bauer insisted that he didn't care if the cultural elite were to rage against him, because the fact was that he had the working class (blue collar workers) behind him. Unfortunately for Bauer, his constituency was more influenced by what they heard and saw on the media, or what their children picked up at educational institutions, or what their union leaders passed down (all under the sway of the cultural elite) than he suspected. At least that's a plausible reason why he didn't rise above 4 or 5 percent in the polls (and that's within the G.O.P.!).
No matter how you cut it, decades of Christian involvement in politics, including some noticeable conservative victories (1980, 1984, 1994) have failed to alter in any significant or long-lasting way the drift of the culture.
Since it seems clear enough that this is so, it is logical that Christian conservatives would draw the conclusion that, rather than looking to the political process alone to transform the culture, they should begin examining what exactly it takes to transform the cultural elite. In other words, instead of replacing members of Congress who are all too easily driven by the cultural zeitgeist, the logical strategy would be to replace members of the elite who are doing the driving.
This, however, has not occurred. Christian conservatives seem happier than ever to continue in the illusion that the next politician (or election) holds all the answers. Desperate for any sliver of hope, they are willing to transfer their illusion to whoever happens to come out on top of the GOP dog-pile. Even those who were convinced that George Bush was the Devil incarnate (or at least a liberal in disguise), now that their own personal heroes have been vanquished back to the sidelines of right-wing fund raising activities, have decided that Prince George, after all, may be their knight in shining armor.
Today, Christian conservative activists seem to be playing out the classic definition of insanity which is to keep repeating the same actions expecting to get different results. Maybe they need to read the popular little book Who Moved the Cheese?, which points out that things don't always remain the same, and we need to notice when they change (to keep ourselves from running down the same maze, only to find that somebody has in fact "moved the cheese"). In our case, there never was any cheese, but a least we had reason to suspect that there was some. After twenty years of scurrying down the same political mazes, you'd think we would wake up. But in fact, it's not so simple.
What really happens is that every few years many political activists do figure it out, and they simply give up or sidetrack to other things. But a new wave of activists follow hard on their heals, so it seems like a continual movement a continuity of force when, in fact, it's fresh recruits thrown in as cannon fodder every few years. Some of the Generals stay the same, either blinded to their lack of results, or driven by unlimited optimism, or perhaps driven by more pragmatic concerns (like keeping the cash flow going).
There are other problems, too. For one, old habits are hard to break. And they are almost impossible to break when one lacks an alternative battle plan. In other words, since no one has created a map showing how we might carry out a true culture war,replacing the mandarins of secularized culture with our own elect, out of necessity, we fall back on what we know how to do (I would say the tried and true, but that usually connotes positive results). If our goal is to transform the culture, we need to have an appropriate map, clearly defining the enemy's strongholds and suggesting the most efficacious routes upon which to encircle and besiege their power base.
The problem is that it is impossible to engage an enemy that we can't recognize in part because we've accepted so much of its worldview as our own. The cultural zeitgeist and its ubiquitous epistemological assumptions act as dense kulture smog permeating everything, especially evangelicalism's inability to think within a Biblical (as opposed to a humanistic) paradigm. For instance, evangelicalism's penchant for proving Scripture by using "scientific" bench marks (evidentialism) is directly attributable to a secular modernist faith in the ability of man's reason to objectively verify truth. Likewise, evangelicalism's rampant spiritual individualism flows from the Enlightenment's faith in man's ability to be the final arbitrator of all truth claims.
In part, the secular elite's propaganda is so effective because their "Kulture Smog Machine" conveniently obscures its machinations behind a think blanket of "kulture smog." Thus, evangelicals routinely send their children to kulture reeducation camps (AKA "public education") where, according to Kulture Meister John Dewey, they are systematically stripped of dangerous doctrines instilled by church and parents, and indoctrinated with social Darwinism (as well as biological Darwinism). After school, kids spend their time being entertained by the most insidious propaganda device ever created television! This is the main dissemination outlet of the "Kulture Smog Machine," chock-full of special features or "situation comedies" where every tenet of Western (let alone, Christian) culture is ridiculed, dismissed, or exposed as hypocrisy (usually all three), in favor of multiculturalism, hedonism, materialism, homosexuality, etc.
Many of these same evangelical families quietly pay 35-50% of their income in taxes to finance the machine's upkeep. Those who object to this onerous obligation or to other parts of the machine's agenda (which they are able to perceive) blindly devote themselves to electing candidates who are themselves cogs in a machine run by economic and cultural Darwinists (yes the G.O.P.)!
The kulture smog has done its job well the average Christian's mind is too hazy to identify, let alone counter, the strategies of an opposing worldview. Consequently, the G.O.P. or an early rapture stand as their only hope at least until someone provides a different map.
Topics: Culture , Christian Reconstruction, Education, Government