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Economist: We Are All Culture Warriors Now

February 29, 2012

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The race for Republican nomination has created a culture war that has bled into foreign policy, writes the Economist's Democracy in America blog.

Last night, my esteemed cerulean colleague and I got into a short discussionabout the place of culture war in this year's primary. At its centre was a question: did the recession put the Republican base in the mood for a good old culture war, or has the improving economy left the Republican candidates with no real battleground other than culture war? Was it the first and then the second: did a faltering economy, as my colleague via Benajmin Friedman suggested, foster "a mean sort of wagon-circling mentality" that, because of demographic shifts and Barack Obama's cultural uniqueness, simply became entrenched as the economy starting improving? Or was it neither: is it simply how demography and habit have pushed the Republicans? Whatever the ultimate answer to this chicken-egg question, one thing is startlingly clear: culture war ain't what it used to be.

Think back to Pat Buchanan's 1992 convention barn-burner. His list of objections to Bill Clinton comprised the latter's support for legal abortion, gay rights and women in combat, and his supposed use of a pro-choice litmus test for Supreme Court justices, "discrimination against religious schools" and draft-dodging. Mr Buchanan also fulminated against "the raw sewage of pornography that pollutes our popular culture" and the LA riots. His speech was the highlight of that convention. It energised the masses, produced rousing cheers and incited a passion that the candidate, George H.W. Bush, could not match. Four years later Mr Buchanan was at it again. "They hear the shouts of the peasants from over the hill," he shouted at a rally in Nashua. "All the knights and barons will be riding into the castle pulling up the drawbridge in a minute. All the peasants are coming with pitchforks. We're going to take this over the top." And they did.

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