The culture wars are over
Why liberals have won the battles on gay and abortion rights, immigration and drug legalization.
Victory comes with its own set of complications. Progressives have won the culture war, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Democrats have won. The Democratic Party is reaping the benefits, yes, but Dems will have to adapt to truly serve the demographics that elected them—by passing immigration reform, by appointing pro-choice judges, by repealing outmoded laws like the Defense of Marriage Act. There are still anti-choice majorities in the House and a slew of backward legislation in the states (41 states don’t allow gay marriage, though the Illinois legislature was considering marriage rights as this issue went to press).
“You’ve got the wind at your back, but you’ve still got to complete the journey,” Teixeira says. “You’ve still got to do the work. Understanding which way history is moving should increase people’s confidence and make them happier warriors. There’s a long ways to go. Don’t stop now.”
Indeed, an open letter recently sent from representatives of dozens of grassroots conservative groups to GOP leaders in Congress intoned, “You have a mandate to fight for conservative principles that is arguably much broader than the one that narrowly reelected President Barack Obama claims to have for his leftist agenda.” By all accounts, the gridlock in the 113th Congress will be just as nasty as it was in the one before it.
So, this is still gonna be hard. But the best part about the culture war being over? The long-term demographic and cultural victory should free Democrats to eagerly pursue the short-term victories—like incremental fixes to immigration law, subtle enforcement shifts on drug policy and expanded access to birth control—that matter to women, nonwhites, young people and gay Americans. More and more citizens have stopped pining for a rural, white, hetero, churchgoing past and are happily tucking into brunch with their same-sex partners and biracial adopted children. When we look at that World War II–era photo of a sailor and a nurse, we don’t wish to recapture that moment. At best, it’s fodder for a Pinterest board of retro style inspiration. At worst, it’s an icon of a long-dead, jingoistic American ideal. Either way, we’re certain it’s the past.
And a revisionist past at that. The passionate kiss in that nostalgic victory-parade photo was recently revealed to be not so romantic: They weren’t a couple at all—the sailor grabbed the nurse and forced the kiss on her. Those on the losing side of the culture war liked to extol the virtues of simplicity and tradition. But again, the photo provides an instructive example: The past often looks better than it actually was. The future, for all its complications and contradictions, will be better for a broader, more diverse group of Americans. There’s no going back.