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Are we Fighting the Left or the Counterculture? Because They are Not the Same Thing

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Posted on December 23 2009 8:02 pm
David Swindle is the Managing Editor of NewsReal Blog and the Associate Editor of FrontPage Magazine. Follow him on Twitter here

Was Obama propelled to office because of the forces of the Counterculture or the Left?

Read Mary Grabar’s original Pajamas Media article here.

Read David Swindle’s NewsReal rebuttal here.

Read Mary Grabar’s NewsReal response here.

Mary Grabar’s response in our debate about drug criminalization has clarified her opposition to marijuana legalization in an important way. She concluded her essay with these words:

As I see it, this debate really is about more than whether or not you smoke a joint in your living room—which for all practical purposes neither I nor the cop on the street much cares about.  What I do care about is this one more capitulation in the Culture Wars.

Mary is certainly intelligent and reasonable enough to acknowledge what is plainly obvious: marijuana is not functionally different in its effects than alcohol or tobacco and we should not be too concerned with adults using it responsibly in their own homes.

So why keep it banned? Why all the numerous arguments highlighting marijuana’s negative qualities? Simple: because in Mary’s estimation to allow legalization would be to grant a victory to the counterculture. And, well, we as conservatives can’t have that. Or can we?

Here’s an argument that might be rather counter-intuitive: conservatism and counterculture are in no way mutually exclusive. I’ve blogged about this before here in talking about author Douglas Rushkoff’s brand of Robert Anton Wilson-influenced libertarian counterculture:

“Wait a second,” some people must be thinking. “Isn’t the counterculture the same as the Left?”

Sort of. Not really. No. The Left as defined by Discover the Networks and the Freedom Center is a political movement. The “counterculture” is a cultural movement. The two frequently overlap (they certainly did in the ’60s when both had their heyday), and countercultural thinkers and leftist thinkers are often friendly. (Hence, Rushkoff frequently recruits feminist author Naomi Wolf to write blurbs for his books.) Counterculturalists are more about shifting the culture, not the political system. They promote their art, music, film, drugs, sexuality, spirituality, and philosophical ideas while often passing on the political sphere.

A good example of the difference is in the person of David Horowitz. In the ’60s he was a leftist, not a counterculturalist. He argued for a Marxist political system while basically adopting the cultural norms (nuclear family, no dope smoking) of American society.

Is the Conservative Movement a political movement or a cultural movement? Is it about conserving the political ideas of the founders or the Judeo-Christian, “traditional” culture of the founders? (This is hardly an either/or decision.) And if it is about preserving a traditional culture, is it going to use the tyrannical power of government to do it? (And spend billions of taxpayer dollars?)

My answers to these questions should be obvious. I’m concerned about defeating the Left’s political machinations. And that should be the primary concern of conservatives. It’s not pot-smoking counterculturalists that are sending Guantanamo detainees to Illinois. The push for socialized medicine comes from leftists. (Harry Reid and Howard Dean are in no way “counterculture.”) And the political fight against these problems can only be won by a functioning coalition comprised of many peoples with many cultures who are united by a common political understanding of the role of government — the one I articulated in my previous post.

Mary wrote in her rebuttal that,

We lost the last election because we lost the culture war.

No we didn’t. John McCain lost to Barack Obama because of politics, not culture. Obama was a more exciting candidate who ran a much more effective campaign. It’s that simple.

A conservatism that can win is one which understands itself and defines itself as a political movement, not a cultural one. To do otherwise is to begin to destroy a functioning coalition that has been vital to defending America since Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley Jr., and Ronald Reagan brought it together in the 20th century. Conservatism must take the same approach to culture as the Constitution does — neutrality. Such an attitude worked for the document which has guided and protected our country for centuries and it will work for the Movement who has the same objective.

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