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Last of the Culture Warriors

Author: Peter Beinart
November 3, 2008
Washington Post


Why has America turned on Sarah Palin? Obviously, her wobbly television interviews haven't helped. Nor have the drip, drip of scandals from Alaska, which have tarnished her reformist image. But Palin's problems run deeper, and they say something fundamental about the political age being born. Palin's brand is culture war, and in America today culture war no longer sells. The struggle that began in the 1960s-which put questions of racial, sexual and religious identity at the forefront of American politics-may be ending. Palin is the end of the line.

This won't be the first time a culture war has come to a close. In the 1920s, battles over evolution, immigration, prohibition and the resurgent Ku Klux Klan dominated election after election. And those issues played into that era's version of the red-blue divide, pitting newly arrived, saloon-frequenting, big-city Catholics against old-stock, teetotaling, small-town Protestants. In 1924, the Democratic convention split so bitterly over prohibition and the Klan that it took more than 100 ballots to nominate a candidate for president.

Then, in the 1930s, the culture war died. A big reason was the Depression, which put questions of economic survival front and center. In the 1920s boom economy, politicians were largely free to focus on identity politics. By Franklin Roosevelt's election in 1932, that was a luxury America's leaders could no longer afford.

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