War of the culture persuasion

Well, let me come out of hibernation for a moment to comment on the recent back and forth regarding whether Dems should "take on" the entertainment industry. Ed Kilgore and others favor this, while Matt Yglesias has been an outspoken opponent.

I agree with a little of both. I certainly don't want to see more Joe Lieberman posturing, as Matt fears--this is merely a small scale version of the Dems' general misconseption about the value of aping Republican positions and rhetoric. It will pay off for a few individual politicians, maybe, but it horrifies the base and it has no relationship to a larger liberal vision.

That said, there is another route for Democrats beyond empty moralizing and fundamentalist pandering. And one they already instinctively sympathize with. As many have pointed out, the "crap culture breeds teen sociopaths" canard doesn't actually resonate with people, becuase they know its not very true beyond some research that is inconclusive at best, impossible at worst.

So why are all these red staters up in arms against culture? What's the seed of truth in their anger beyond all the trumped up political hobbyhorses about homosexuality and promiscuity and talking sponges? It's the fact that mainstream culture is for the most part, actually, well, crap.

And PS, this is not news to liberals. The great swath of America that is the target of the culture warriors doesn't lie somewhere to the left of Rush Limbaugh and the 700 club, but squarely between those charlatans and your friends who haven't turned on the radio except to listen to NPR in the last decade.

I'm not saying there's any hope of an alliance between these two extremes that care deeply about the middle 80 percent, but that these struggles are, in some sense, the same. The only difference is that liberals are refusing to fight right now.

This isn't about stealing Pat Robertson's market share. It's about reclaiming the government-culture intersection that liberals used to care deeply about, but have been running scared from for decades now. It says that the culture that makes this a country worth living in shouldn't always have to submit to the whims of profit, and that the government is the right actor to take up the slack.

Now, this obviously isn't some magic key to winning elections in the near term, but its the long term work that needs to be done. Government has never divorced itself from culture, yet liberals, frightened by the costs of the 1990s culture wars, have decided they can get along without engaging in that debate. And it is part and parcel of the cut your losses til you have nothing left mentality that is so detrimental to liberalism today.


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