President Bush: AWOL From the Culture War

National Review’s Rich Lowry has an excellent analysis of President Bush’s role in the culture war in this morning’s Washington Post. He notes that on paper, Bush is a dream President for the Religious Right:
“Bush is a polarizing figure in the culture war simply by virtue of who he is. He won the presidency in an election that illustrated the deep split in the country, between liberal “blue states” and conservative “red states.” It’s not just a partisan and geographic divide, but a difference in worldview and lifestyle. If you know whom Samantha bedded (and how) on “Sex & the City” last Sunday, you are blue-state. If you debate when to take your first buck in deer-hunting season, you are red-state. Bush is so red-state, he is practically a caricature.”
Lowry analogizes Bush’s benign form of cultural conservatism to Ronald Reagan, a comparison he (and we) find hopeful:
“What Reagan did for defense and economic conservatives, Bush may be doing for religious conservatives. Reagan believed everything Barry Goldwater believed, but gave it a sunnier, more optimistic tinge. Bush represents a similar makeover for the religious right, the same basic convictions but in a more palatable form. Bush is reliably pro-life, he’s appointing conservative judges, and he supports the ban on human cloning — but he doesn’t seem angry or condemnatory.”
The problem, as Lowry describes it, is that Bush is too prone to stay on the sidelines:
“For all his bellicosity abroad, Bush’s message at home often is: Please, let’s not fight….when Bush was asked about gay marriage, you got the feeling he would have preferred not to be asked at all. His statement against it was an assertion and expression of personal preference, that ‘somebody like me’ believes ‘a marriage is between a man and a woman.’ Well, okay. But why? Explaining that requires argument, requires making moral distinctions among sex acts, in ways that are likely to make some people very angry. Requires, in short, everything Bush would rather not do….”
When Bush stays on the sidelines, the practical effect is that the Courts are left to decide the most hard-fought battles in the culture war. Which is unfortunate, not only because the courts will often decide them wrongly, but also because the Left has moved contemporary battles over cultural issues so far toward the fringe that such issues could usually be political winners for the right. But that won’t happen with the President AWOL from the fight.


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