It’s the Culture, Stupid

It’s a sign of how much time I’ve had to blog that I’m just now getting to this post from Ace of Spades regarding comments made by Rush Limbaugh. The content that Ace quotes is crucial to understanding the problems that we truly face. Here’s Rush:

As you know, I’m a big technophile, and I read every tech blog there is, particularly those related to Apple. And all of these people contributing and writing and posting these blogs are under 30. And they live in a different world than I do and they live in a different world than I grew up in. The things that they just assume are true, like there is no doubt whatsoever that we are destroying the planet with global warming, no doubt. They can’t even conceive of what you and I both know to be the truth, and that is, the whole global warming thing is a hoax. They do not even think it’s a political issue. They do not realize that everything they believe in has been totally corrupted by politics. What they think is science is nothing more than corruption by the left, but they don’t know any better. It’s what they’ve been exposed to from as early on in their lives as their brains were capable of learning anything. And that happens to be the kind of thinking that populates the entertainment culture and so forth. I really think that the solution to our problems are not really political. I think conservatives are seen by young people and the left and the pop culture the way they are not because of what these people have been taught about conservatism. It’s purely cultural. They don’t know ideology. They don’t know liberal versus conservative. They’ve not been told, for example, that Romney is a skunk or whatever because he is a conservative. It goes far deeper than that.

So the battle that we face is not really an ideological one. I must confess, I think the solution will be found in ideology, but I must confess, I think I’ve been a little wrong. I have waxed eloquent here on this program. I have longed for the day where people understand what liberalism is ideologically. I have begged the Republican Party to campaign on ideology and to explain to people what liberalism is by pointing liberals out. You want to see liberalism, look at Detroit. You want to see liberalism, look at California. You want to see liberalism, look at Cuba. You want to see liberalism, look at Venezuela. The Republicans haven’t done it. I don’t know why, don’t care right now. But the young people do look at Cuba, and they lionize Che Guevara. They wear his T-shirts. They look at Cuba, they don’t see any big problem there. They don’t know. My only point here is I’m just scratching the surface on this, by the way, so I’m speaking off the top my head here, but I really think that the way this is going to have to be attacked and dealt with is not to set politics aside. I’m not saying that none of this is political, but it’s a cultural problem we face. The reason conservatives have been so maligned and are so maligned, the reason people who don’t know us think of us the way they do is not because they understand politics. It’s a cultural thing.

A lot of the post-election analysis missed this point. Well, maybe it would be more accurate that most of the people offering post-election analysis simply didn’t care about this point. In the narrow world of electoral politics, shifts in party popularity occur with great frequency. Those predicting doomsday for the Republican party are completely wide of the mark. And yet the chicken littles miss the much more troublesome gap – the cultural gap that slowly destroying this country. We’ve seen the stories about apartment complexes telling their residents to take down Christmas trees in common areas, and schools being prohibited from doing productions of Merry Christmas Charlie Brown. But of course there’s so much more than that. Young people are indoctrinated in schools and from television and movies. Conservatives have abdicated – both by our own choice and through design from the secularist left – any role in these cultural institutions. As Rush describes, these young skulls full of mush start out with a set of assumptions about traditional morality and other cultural issues that are foreign to most of us running around Catholic and conservative blog circles. This is not something that is magically going to be fixed by legislation or more tax credits for middle class families.

Unwittingly, I think Josh Trevino gets to the heart of this in a single tweet:

Now I don’t think Josh is making a larger cultural point a la Rush, but the technocratic mindset helps widen this cultural deficit. Right-leaning technocrats offer technocratic solutions to problems that are cultural and not easily addressed via legislation. It’s not that their technocratic ideas are wrong,  it’s just that ultimately they will fall flat without addressing these larger cultural concerns.

Current events highlight the blindness of the technocratic right. Today it was announced that Jim DeMint is resigning from the Senate and will be taking over as head of the Heritage Foundation. I’ve already seen comments from conservatives lamenting that DeMint is quitting the fight and essentially abandoning the conservative cause. Only people solely concerned with elective politics can make such a claim with any amount of seriousness. Instead of being a single Senator (who will undoubtedly be replaced by someone as conservative as he), he gets to mold the most important think tank in Washington. He has the opportunity to shape the policy orientation of an institution whose reach extends far beyond just Congress. Now it can be argued that the Heritage Foundation itself is an Inside the Beltway institution, but it helps promote conservative ideas beyond the Beltway. It’s hard to see how this is a diminishment in DeMint’s influence in conservative circles.

The more important issue revolves around the “fiscal cliff” debate. Conservatives have long preached about the follies of raising tax rates. They have done a fairly good job of explaining why raising taxes will not do nearly enough to reduce the deficit. But the talk around tax revenue and government spending – while important – overshadows the greater issue. All this talk about strict dollars and cents doesn’t address the simple fact that the federal government does too much, has grown far too big, and has its hands in far too many areas and is doing an insufficient job in those areas precisely because it is too big. Now some people are making this point, but I think more can be said about first principles. In focusing so much on tax rates and deficits and debt, conservatives neglect to engage the American public in a more meaningful way to emphasize that the federal government is simply just too big.

Of course there’s room for purely political discussion. Government itself influences the culture, and winning elections and making solid arguments about proper tax rates aren’t exactly unimportant. Yet a too technocratic approach is both wrongheaded and ultimately self-defeating. In Trevino’s tweet above he later added:

From Hayek: the “fatal conceit” is the idea that planners are able to know all relevant information, and thereby exercise control.

Conservative planners are perhaps less noxious than leftist planners, but the mindset is the same. They believe that if they tweak enough then they will make things better – both for the country and for their party. Without a cultural sea change all the middle class tax credits in the world will not be able to save this republic.

Of course it’s easy to just spout about the lack of focus without suggesting some ideas for how we can all affect change. A part of me has considered a Galt-esque approach. Instead of withdrawing from all economic activity we could all simply tune out of the wider culture. No more television. No more movies. Pure homeschooling. Bring the Hollywood moguls to their knees and make the news media even more irrelevant.

Unfortunately such an approach is both impracticable and probably counter-productive. One of the problems, as I said above, is our withdrawal from the battlefield. You know, like earning doctorates and then refusing to enter academia precisely because of its leftist slant (ahem). Maybe the issue is that we are consumers and not producers. This doesn’t mean that we all have to become writers or movie producers or teachers, although it wouldn’t hurt if we did. It means that in actuality we can’t withdraw further, but rather we must figure out ways to engage even more and place our stamp on the wider culture. This isn’t something that can be accompl