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Yes, Calvin, Conservatism Shouldn’t Abandon Cultural Issues, It Should Just Be Smart about Pursuing Them

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Posted on December 26 2009 7:25 pm
David Swindle is the Managing Editor of NewsReal Blog and the Associate Editor of FrontPage Magazine. Follow him on Twitter here

Calvin Freiburger has written plenty of thoughtful essays before and since joining NewsReal. His critique of yours truly is no different.

In reaction to my ongoing dialogue with Mary Grabar regarding drug legalization, conservatism and the counterculture, my NewsReal colleague Calvin Freiburger responded fairly to a poorly-worded statement of mine. Calvin highlighted these closing remarks for criticism:

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.

He then challenged the point that the Conservative Movement should style itself strictly as a political movement with political objectives:

A conservatism that disregards our culture will not win; indeed, its political prospects will only diminish further still.  I grew up in a public school system completely dominated by the Left.  I have seen time after time how easily the average apolitical teen, bereft of solid core values and spoon-feed the consensus of popular culture, assumes the Left’s claims on government’s role and conservatives’ evil to be true, to say nothing of every liberal myth from man-made global warming to the military-industrial complex.

More importantly, I have seen the Right’s feeble response.  This is a battle in which the conservative movement is largely—and the Republican Party is completely—AWOL.  How many conservatives are formulating strategies to break the Left’s stranglehold on education, both K-12 and college?  How many are drawing attention to the corruption of Church teachings on compassion?  How many on Capitol Hill are challenging the Left’s poisonous sexual dogma, or publicly illustrating the connection between the Democrat Party and the cultural forces it cultivates and feeds upon?

Republican electoral failures cannot be attributed to a nonexistent emphasis on culture; indeed, it’s far more likely that our woes are intimately tied to our dereliction of duty on this front.  The same old tactics—conservatives talking to the same radio audiences, writing in the same magazines, and posting on the same blogs, all mostly to each other—will win converts to the Right from time to time, but not in numbers that can even begin to compare to how many people are unwittingly fed liberal presuppositions about the world by stealth in their schools, TV shows, music, and churches, all of which form an echo chamber, reaffirming the messages for one another.

Social conservatives like Calvin and Mary are entirely correct to point out that culture is important and that conservatives should be engaged within it. There are a wide number of broad conservative cultural values that conservatives across the range of the coalition can likely support without much controversy.

The idea that one should not devote one’s life to nothing more than smoking marijuana is a conservative cultural value upon which Mary, Calvin, and myself can likely agree. “Work hard” is another. “Take responsibility for you actions” is a third. “Religion is a good thing” is a fourth. “Strong families are vital to the health of America” is a fifth. “Don’t have sex with everything in sight” is a sixth — though I wager Calvin might take it a step further than I into “Don’t have sex until you’re married — and only with someone of the opposite gender.” I’m sure we could compose quite a list of these points.

It’s certainly important for those on the Right to continue to articulate these cultural values. What my statement from my post was intended for was the question of how conservatives pursue these cultural issues. I argue that it’s fundamentally at odds with the principles of the Constitution and the founders to utilize the force of government to try and shape the culture in our direction or any others.

Thus, Mary’s idea that marijuana should remain criminalized primarily so that the Counterculture does not win a victory to America’s detriment is misguided — well-intentioned and patriotic — but ultimately misguided. If conservatives want to argue that a life of perpetual intoxication to marijuana — or any other drug — is a dangerous idea then they’re on the right track. When they decide to defend locking people up and the government spending tens of billions every year in defense of a cultural value then I’m going to dissent, as should all who grasp our constitutional values.

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