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Mark Steyn

Happy Warrior

Where The Action Is

This column appears in the March 10th issue of National Review, but is especially timely in the week of all the pitching and wooing of CPAC:

People keep asking me whom I favor for the 2016 Republican nomination. I politely demur — and not just because it's almost three years till Election Day, and at this stage in the 2008 cycle I'm not sure I'd ever heard of Barack Obama. As a resident of a New Hampshire township with more than 37 people, I don't have to seek out presidential candidates; they're there at the inn and the general store and the diner and the Grange. I've seen enough next-presidents-of-the-United-States for several lifetimes: Phil Gramm, Pete Wilson, Bob Dornan, Elizabeth Dole, Orrin Hatch, Gary Bauer, Lamar Alexander, Tom Tancredo, Tommy Thompson, Alan Keyes...

Would it have made any difference to the country had any of these fine upstanding fellows prevailed? Or would we be pretty much where we are anyway? Aside from a trade agreement here, a federal regulation there, I'd plump for the latter. You can't have conservative government in a liberal culture, and that's the position the Republican party is in. After the last election, I said that the billion dollars spent by the Romney campaign on robocalls and TV ads and whatnot had been entirely wasted, and the Electoral College breakdown would have been pretty much the same if they'd just tossed the dough into the Potomac and let it float out to sea. But imagine the use all that money and time could have been put to out there in the wider world. Liberals expend tremendous effort changing the culture. Conservatives expend tremendous effort changing elected officials every other November — and then are surprised that it doesn't make much difference. Culture trumps politics — which is why, once the question's been settled culturally, conservatives are reduced to playing catch-up, twisting themselves into pretzels to explain (including in the pages of this magazine) why gay marriage is really conservative after all, or why 30 million unskilled immigrants with a majority of births out of wedlock are "natural allies" of the Republican party.

We're told that the presidency is important because the head guy gets to appoint, if he's lucky, a couple of Supreme Court judges. But they're playing catch-up to the culture, too. In 1986, in a concurrence to a majority opinion, the Chief Justice of the United States declared that "there is no such thing as a fundamental right to commit homosexual sodomy". A blink of an eye, and his successors are discovering fundamental rights to commit homosexual marriage. What happened in between? Jurisprudentially nothing: Everything Chief Justice Burger said back in the Eighties – about Common Law, Blackstone's "crime against nature", "the legislative authority of the State" – still applies. Except it doesn't. Because the culture – from school guidance counselors to sitcom characters to Oscar hosts – moved on, and so even America's Regency of Jurists was obliged to get with the beat. Because to say today what the Chief Justice of the United States said 28 years ago would be to render oneself unfit for public office.

What will we be playing catch-up to in another 28 years? Not so long ago, I might have suggested transsexual rights. But, barely pausing to celebrate their victory on gay marriage, the identity-group enforcers have gone full steam ahead on transgender issues. Once upon a time there were but two sexes. Now Facebook offers its 1.2 billion patrons the opportunity to select their preference from dozens of "genders": "male" and "female" are still on the drop-down menu, just about, but lost amid 50 shades of gay – "androgynous", "bi-gender", "intersex", "cisfemale", "trans*man", "gender fluid"…

Oh, you can laugh. But none of the people who matter in American culture are laughing. They take it all perfectly seriously. Supreme Intergalactic Arbiter Anthony Kennedy wields more power over Americans than George III did, but in a year or three he'll be playing catch-up and striking down laws because of their "improper animus" and wish to "demean" and "humiliate" persons of gender fluidity. Having done an impressive job of demolishing the basic societal building block of the family, the ambitious liberal is now moving on to demolishing the basic biological building block of the sexes. Indeed, taken in tandem with the ever greater dominance of women at America's least worst colleges and, at the other end of the social scale, the bleak, dispiriting permanence of the "he-cession", in 28 years' time we may be fairly well advanced toward the de facto abolition of man, at least in the manly sense. That seems to me at least as interesting a question as whether the Republicans can take the Senate with a pick-up in this or that swing state. Culture is the long view; politics is the here and now. Yet in America vast cultural changes occur in nothing flat, while, under our sclerotic political institutions, men elected to two-year terms of office announce ambitious plans to balance the budget a decade after their terms end. Here, again, liberals show a greater understanding of where the action is.

So, if the most hawkish of GOP deficit hawks has no plans to trim spending until well in the 2020s, why not look at what kind of country you'll be budgeting for by then? What will American obesity and heart-disease and childhood diabetes rates be by then? What about rural heroin and meth addiction? How much of the country will, with or without "comprehensive immigration reform", be socioeconomically Latin-American? And what is the likelihood of such a nation voting for small-government conservatism?

So, no, I'm not particularly focused on a Tuesday in November in 2016. Liberals understand that it's in the 729 days between elections that you win all the prizes that matter, on all the ground conservatives have largely abandoned.

from National Review's Happy Warrior, March 7, 2014

 

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