Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sarah Palin as VP means liberals have won the culture wars

I've had one thot that I haven't seen much in the commentary about Sarah Palin as VP on the GOP ticket:

Sarah Palin as VP means that liberals have won the culture wars. Done. Game over. Time to move on.

The idea that a woman can work outside the home? Liberal.
The idea that a woman can successfully balance work and being a mother? Liberal.
The idea that a woman can successfully compete with men? Liberal.

Liberals have won all of those arguments about feminism. Conservatives, of course, will not admit to this. Liberals are also winning the war for increased tolerance of diverse family structures. Conservatives were not judgmental about Bristol Palin being pregnant before she got married. "These things happen in families all the time" was a refrain that I heard.

So when a liberal idea applies to a conservative family, suddenly conservatives buy into the liberal idea. Funny how that works.

The irony is that, because liberals have won the culture wars, voters don't necessarily feel inclined to vote for a liberal. By choosing Palin, John McCain effectively conceded that liberals have won the culture wars, but also coopted the liberal message of the need for change. So McCain is ceding one aspect of the culture wars that he already knew he had lost. But, by choosing Palin, who is, if anything, more conservative than him, he keeps the culture wars alive.

I exaggerate when I say that the culture wars are over. They aren't, and they never will be. On a couple of major issues, however, specifically the roles of women and the rights of minorities, liberals have achieved a smashing victory. There are still issues simmering out there; gay rights, gun control, crime, abortion, evolution, etc. But in terms of the two biggies, liberals have won. This is one reason that conservatives are so intent on keeping other cultural issues alive - they have to keep fighting battles, because they lost the war.

Obama's problem now is that he has to fight the culture wars on slightly different ground than what he was planning to. This is going to be an interesting thing to watch. I think Obama can pull it off, but it's going to be tricky.

It's going to be tricky because one of Obama's great strengths as a candidate is his bipartisan appeal. Obama does not want to fight the culture wars. This is a weakness as a candidate, but it will be a strength as president, because the culture wars get in the way of governing. On gun control, there is a great deal of common ground that has not been explored. NRA diehards and gun control advocates both agree, for example, that felons should not have access to firearms. The question is how to engage in that dialogue. Obama has a gift for being able to do that.

But he doesn't have a strong enough track record for people to immediately understand that he can listen well to people who disagree with him. That's what campaigns are for.

In this respect, Palin is a perfect foil for him. I think there will come a moment in this campaign when the Obama camp will be able to force Sarah Palin to acknowledge the feminists who laid the groundwork for her. If she doesn't admit that Gloria Steinem had a point, she will come across as ungrateful. That's going to be a delicate maneuver. But it's what campaigns are all about.

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