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Have Republicans Lost the Culture Wars?

For years, Republicans have energized their base by backing hot-button social and class issues like gay marriage, immigration, gun control, and abortion. So it is interesting to realize how much public opinion has changed on these issues. Is it in spite of Republican opposition and pandering, or perhaps because of it? Welcome to the new culture wars, where progressives are starting to make significant progress and may even get a few big wins.

Let’s start with gay marriage. A few years ago, who would have predicted that this week the Supreme Court would hear arguments that the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Prop 8 are discriminatory? A national poll last week shows that 58% of Americans favor gay marriage, up from 37% just 10 years ago. And politicians have followed. The list of politicians who once were against gay marriage but are now for it includes Barack Obama, both Hillary and Bill Clinton, Senators Claire McCaskill, Jay Rockefeller, and conservative Republican Rob Portman (who recently announced that he had converted because his son is gay), Dick Cheney, and a former Republican National Committee chairman (who is himself gay). And the number of states where gay marriage is legal is increasing.

For immigration, results are mixed. Some states have passed tough anti-immigration laws. But the pro-business faction of the Republican party have long embraced fixing our broken immigration system. Indeed, George W. Bush tried to pass comprehensive immigration reform and failed. And the racist anti-immigration stance of the socially conservative elements of the Republican party has alienated minority voters, who are steadily increasing in numbers. It is unclear if Republicans will be able to win many future elections without embracing some form of immigration reform.

Gun control is a more nuanced issue. Many people (including me) believe that the right to own guns is constitutionally protected. I personally think that the issue of gun control needs to be reframed as an issue of gun safety. Surely even the NRA would not oppose measures that increase gun safety while not limiting the right to own guns. A majority of Americans support the elimination of loopholes that currently allow guns to be purchased without background checks. With the number of gun massacres making national headlines steadily increasing, it is clear that something will eventually be done. I just hope it is the right thing.

Finally, it might appear that abortion rights are the only hot-button social issue where progressives are losing. Indeed, Republicans keep introducing bills that would define that life begins at conception, which would not only make abortion murder, but also many common forms of birth control. But it is important to remember that unlike most other social issues, supporters of abortion rights already won this issue. Abortion is not only legal, it is constitutionally protected. Of course, that doesn’t mean defenders of abortion rights can declare victory and forget about it.

I believe Republicans are cynically using abortion to stir up their base, but don’t actually want to overturn Roe v Wade. Not only would it create a huge backlash from voters if abortion were to suddenly become illegal again, but the GOP realizes that abortion is more valuable as red meat to them as long as it is legal.

Anyway, taken as a whole, the dramatic shift in the culture wars is almost enough to actually make social liberals like me feel good about this country and its leaders.



  1. ebdoug wrote:

    I see a trend. Look at the Republicans. How many left were born with silver spoons in their mouths? Those with silver spoons like Rockerfeller and Kennedy are supportive of liberal issues. Those that fought their way up like Boehner are “I’ve got my toys, now you fight your way up to the top yourself.” Maybe someone can give me examples of born rich Rebublicans left. So many said “I was handed things because of the families I was born to, now I want you to have the chance that I had.”

    Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 5:24 am | Permalink
  2. Hassan wrote:

    To me it is very disturbing that most of those issues are going from one end to another not based on actual constitution but whims of majority. All those politicians were against it till they saw enough people to favor it, and they changed. This is not leadership, true leaders would stand for right regardless if 99% of country opposes it.

    Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 7:17 am | Permalink
  3. TJ wrote:

    RE: Republicans real goal on abortion… Ding Ding Ding!!! You nailed it. If they were at all serious about the topic they would have done something, anything, about it from 2000-2006. They have control of the government for 6 years and not a peep about abortion from them.

    The scary thing is that a new crop of Republicans are coming up that have been fed the lies for years and might actually believe them. So I think that’s why we are seeing these crazy bills being introduce more often. However, the main Republican base has no desire to have anything change at all with respect to abortion.

    Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink
  4. Iron Knee wrote:

    Hassan, are politicians supposed to be “leaders” or “representatives”?

    I actually think they can be both. My own opinions about gay marriage have evolved. I used to think that the government should just get out of the marriage business entirely and have something like a “civil union” that applied equally to straight and gay couples. Then leave it up to individual churches to decide if they wanted to marry people. I’m sure there would be plenty of churches who would marry gay couples. Heck, Mormons could even have multiple spouses, but only in a religious sense of marriage — the legal aspects would be governed by a separate government-dictated “civil union”.

    But now I think, like the Onion, who cares? Let gays marry. I don’t see any down side anymore.

    Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink
  5. Michael wrote:

    “[T]rue leaders would stand for right regardless if 99% of country opposes it.” That’s part of the reason I supported Howard Dean in 2004. He was in favor of marriage equality before it was popular.

    If it weren’t for the religious angle, there wouldn’t even be a controversy regarding letting gays marry. The fear among religious conservatives is that legal status will require all churches to perform gay marriages. Of course, that argument is a complete red herring. Loving v. Virginia invalidated legal bans on miscegenation, but there is still no mandate that churches must perform interracial marriages. In fact, there was much ado in 2011 when a KY church refused to accept interracial couples as members. They were perfectly in their rights to do so.

    You are spot on regarding abortion and reproductive rights. Several leading figures from that era have commented that modern women (and men, but this is primarily a women’s issue) have become complacent about this issue, because they’ve never lived in a time when abortion was illegal. Roe v. Wade was 40 years ago. Today’s college students can’t imagine not having access to birth control. But this assault on reproductive rights is happening.

    And it terrifies the GOP establishment. For 30 years, since Reagan welcomed Ralph Reed and the Religious Right into the White House, the GOP has leveraged this issue to capture single-issue voters into their corner. They made a deal with the devil (ironic wording…) with no intention of ever paying up. As TJ said, see 2000-2006, during which we had the most anti-abortion president since Roe v. Wade. But the state legislatures didn’t get the memo. So we get vaginal probe laws, nonsensical fetal rights amendments, de facto bans by defunding Planned Parenthood (they only do abortions, right?) or requiring licensure that is impossible to obtain, etc., etc.

    With every victory the nutjobs get, more and more moderates will abandon the GOP in droves. But it’s going to be a long, hard slog to get there.

    Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink
  6. Austin 3:16 wrote:

    — Many people (including me) believe that the right to own guns is constitutionally protected. —

    And how’s that working out for you?

    Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 1:28 am | Permalink
  7. Iron Knee wrote:

    Austin, that doesn’t mean the right to do dangerous things with guns is constitutionally protected.

    Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 7:46 pm | Permalink
  8. a regular reader wrote:

    IK says: “You can take my constitutionally-unprotected, dangerous things from me when you pry them from my cold dead hand”!

    Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 9:35 pm | Permalink
  9. Austin 3:16 wrote:

    Hey Iron Knee,

    Um dangerous things is the whole point of guns, unless you just want to put them in a display case. In which case render them inoperable.

    I’m not American, I’m an Aussie and the obsession with guns the USA has frankly confuses the heck out of me.

    I can’t see how it’s doing much good.

    Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 10:58 pm | Permalink
  10. Arthanyel wrote:

    Austin – America has a long history of gun ownership, from it’s start as a wilderness colony, to the Wild West, and to today’s urban violence. And gun ownership is constitutionally protected. I agree with IK although I frame the “proper” argument as an issue of gun VIOLENCE as opposed to gun rights or gun control.

    There is no doubt that America has too much gun violence. There is no doubt that too many people in America currently possess guns and they should NOT – because they are criminals, mentally unstable, or incompetent and unsafe.

    As for why, all I can say is that I have buried three friends that would be alive today if they had been armed. In 1992 during the Los Angeles riots my house was a very popular place for my unarmed friends. And I have personally defended myself against two armed criminals trying to rob my house – and thanks to my being a trained and responsible gun owner, no one was hurt and they went to prison. Had I been unarmed, I would have been lucky if my wife wasn’t raped and I survived to go to the hospital.

    So if you want to know why there are people that are “pro gun rights” all I can say is there are millions of people like me and we know why it’s important. But we ALSO know that too many people are killed or injured with guns and that too many of the wrong people have them and we want to fix that.

    It is deeply depressing that the extremists on the left and the right prevent reasonable actions that could actually help.

    Friday, March 29, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Permalink
  11. Jon wrote:

    If the reason we own firearms is for protection against the possibility of a tyrannical government, then why are weapons that could actually be effective against such a government already banned? And, since they are already banned, why keep kidding ourselves? We own guns because they make the most paranoid among us feel safe.

    Besides, the fact that we’re paranoid does NOT necessarily mean there is nobody out to get us.

    Friday, March 29, 2013 at 2:53 pm | Permalink
  12. Austin 3:16 wrote:


    — I have personally defended myself against two armed criminals trying to rob my house —

    Of course with strict gun control that might never have occurred either.

    Crime exists in the whole of the developed world, yet most countries seem to get by without being armed to the teeth.

    Friday, March 29, 2013 at 5:23 pm | Permalink
  13. Austin 3:16 wrote:

    Hey Jon,

    When the USA was founded the most powerful infantry small arm was the brown betty musket. The most powerful military explosive was gunpowder.

    The most powerful small arm a civilian could get their hands on was the brown betty musket and the most powerful civilian explosive was gunpowder.

    So there was some parity between the civilian and the military.

    Nowadays the balance is well and truly in the militaries favour.

    Friday, March 29, 2013 at 5:27 pm | Permalink
  14. Arthanyel wrote:

    Austin – with all due respect, if you think gun control stops people from committing crimes, you live in Fantasyland. All that would change is that thy may have been arme with knives or clubs instead of guns. Of course the idea that CRIMINALS will give up their guns because some law says so is laughable.

    The US has a violence problem. Many developed countries with strict gun control dont have the same violence problem. Some do – have you seen the violence rates in England? And some developed countries with a high volume of gun ownership (Switzerland, for example) have almost no violence.

    The mere presence or abscence of guns, by itself, is not the problem. The problem is violence. And disarming the law abiding and competent citizens assuming that will stop criminals and mentally ill wont work – not to mention commonly available household chemicals and Gasoline can kill FAR MORE people in the hands of a psychopath than a gun.

    Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink
  15. Austin 3:16 wrote:


    I’ve taken a few self defence courses that show you what to do to stop an attacker armed with a knife or club. Never ever heard of one that shows you how to stop an attacker armed with a gun.

    Avg firearms per 100 people
    USA 88.8
    Switzerland 45.7

    (source Guardian newspaper)

    So Switzerland has nearly half the rate of gun ownership of the USA – maybe that’s why they have fewer problems.

    Homicide rate per 100 000 of population
    United States 4.8
    United Kingdom 1.2

    So the United Kingdom has about a quarter of the homicide rate of the United States

    (source wikipedia)

    If Switzerand and the United Kingdom are the best examples you got then your argument is looking pretty thin.

    More guns = more dead people see below.

    Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 6:00 pm | Permalink
  16. Arthanyel wrote:

    Austin – you need to not cherry pick your statistics if you want a real look a violence. The US has more total guns per capita than Switzerland, but a LOWER percentage of houses with guns present, so Switzerland actually has more opportunities for gun violence – and they don’t have it.

    As for homicides per 100,000 (noting of course that violence isn’t only murder) why do you ignore countries like Russia 4 times the US homicide rate) or Brazil (7 times the US rate) where they have strong gun controls? Why do you ignore murder capitals of the world like South Africa and Mexico? Mexico has very stringent gun control, but the criminals don’t seem to be paying attention to it.

    And if the pure reserve of guns automatically means higher murder rates, How do you explain that states with most extreme gun control (DC, for example, or Maryland) have many times the murder rates by guns than states like Idaho or Oregon where there are high per capita gun ownership rates and any law abiding citizen can get a carry permit?

    Both sides use bad stats and propaganda to advance their agenda. Ignore them. Get the facts – which shows that violence is not CAUSED by guns, it is caused by social and economic forces, and criminals will use the most effective weapons available whatever they are.

    As for the US, whether you like it or not, the fact is gun ownership by law abiding citizens is a constitutional right, just as much as free speech, and if you want to take it away all you need to do is change the Constitution.

    Good luck with that.

    Sunday, March 31, 2013 at 10:57 am | Permalink
  17. Arthanyel wrote:

    Also, as for self defense, you try it sometime against someone armed with a baseball bat with nails, a chain, or a knife. The level f training you need to survive such an encounter is a fraction of a percentage point of the population. The winner of a knife fight is the one that gets to go to the hospital.

    As for self defense against someone with a gun, there are thousands of places to get that training and it is usually EASIER to gain the necessary skill with a gun. Criminals often use weapons as a threat and are not expecting a trained counterattack. Sure, you can’t defend yourself against a prepared sniper, but the all your martial arts classes won’t do squat against a prepared attacker with a sword eiher.

    Sunday, March 31, 2013 at 11:03 am | Permalink
  18. Austin 3:16 wrote:


    Wow you’d compare America to places like Brazil and Mexico. Seriously are you guys supposed to be the leaders of the free world of the leaders of the third world ?

    Did you even bother to read that link ? More guns = more homicide.

    I realise that gun ownership in your country is seen as a constitutional right I’m just curious as to what benefit your’re getting out of it apart from more dead people.

    You seem to think that the ability to kill people more easily with less training is somehow a good thing. That’s a bit worrying.

    Sunday, March 31, 2013 at 3:30 pm | Permalink
  19. Arthanyel wrote:

    Austin – I know the study. It is an anti gun piece of propaganda, which has been debunked using their own statistics in many places including here

    Both sides use propaganda and cherry-picking of statistics to make their case. And the anti gun argument uses a classic fallacy – post hoc, ergo proper hoc, which is a false cause fallacy.

    Guns don’t cause violence. Where there is violence, violent people get tools of violence, and law abiding citizens have a greater need for self defense. So you (and the Harvard study) have it backwards. As a FULL examination of the data demonstrates.

    Also, don’t make up insults b misstating MTV point. I don’t think that being able to kill people more easily is a good thing. I think making it easier for law abiding, competent citizens to save the lives of their families and themselves from criminals is a good thing, especially since I have firs hand knowledge on both sides for why.

    Monday, April 1, 2013 at 8:52 am | Permalink
  20. Austin 3:16 wrote:


    — Guns don’t cause violence. —

    Well no, but they do make violence much more lethal.

    — Where there is violence, violent people get tools of violence, —

    They get the tools they can, be it a fist or a knife or a chain or a gun.

    — and law abiding citizens have a greater need for self defense. —

    Only if the violence is directed towards those citizens. Or if you don’t have an effect police force etc.

    AS pointed out earlier crime exists in every developed western nation on earth. Yet only one nation decides that arming themselves to the teeth is a good idea.

    — I don’t think that being able to kill people more easily is a good thing. —

    Yeah you do – because that’s exactly the point you make in your very next sentence.

    Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 11:33 pm | Permalink
  21. Austin 3:16 wrote:

    The UK is apparently quite a violent place – see above. Yet as discussed before their rate of homicide is about 1/4 that of the United States.

    The “violence theory” doesn’t fit that data.

    Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 11:36 pm | Permalink
  22. Arthanyel wrote:

    Austin – Seriously? “Only if the violence is directed towards those citizens”? Who esle would it be directed against, their pets?

    I am sure that Russia, Lithuania, and Brazil would have a complaint about your referring to them as “undeveloped countries”. All have dramatically higher homicide rates than the US.

    And please don’t keep ignoring places like Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, France, Germany (just to name a few) where there is a HIGH PERCENTAGE of households with guns. A higher percentage in Switzerland’s case than the US, and the others are not far off. It is true the US has a huge lead in TOTAL number of guns and average number per person, but that is because the number of gun collectors and single individuals with large numbers of guns is so much higher. Not because there are a higher percentage of INDIVIDUALS with access to a gun.

    And again, please stop missing the point. I do NOT think being able to kill more easily is a good thing. Stopping criminals from hurting or killing your family often doesn’t require killing THEM. It often doesn’t require shooting anyone. Both as a police officer and as a private citizen with PERSONAL experience, you might be surprised how many violent criminals decide to surrender when they hear the racking of a 12 gauge shotgun or see an armed and competent citizen ready to act if they decide to get rowdy.

    Finally, to your point about violence. Apparently (since you cite the UK) you believe that permanent maiming of innocent people is a desirable outcome if it means fewer deaths of the criminals involved. I don’t. The UK is very lucky to have extreme gun controls, because based on their rate of violence, if they did NOT their homicide rate would be much higher than the US.

    The existence of guns does mean more incidents of violence result in death as opposed to permanent maiming. I personally think we should be trying to contain and reduce all violence, and that given the already existing situation in the US that taking the tools of defense away from the law abiding citizens isn’t the way to accomplish that goal.

    Monday, April 8, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink
  23. Austin 3:16 wrote:


    You realise that a lot of criminal activity is directed at other criminals right?

    — how many violent criminals decide to surrender when they hear the racking of a 12 gauge shotgun —

    And why might they do that ? Hmm oh let me guess it’s because they could very easily be killed.

    That’s what guns do it’s really the whole point of guns they allow you to kill people (and animals) much more easily than you otherwise would be able to.

    –The existence of guns does mean more incidents of violence result in death as opposed to permanent maiming.–

    I can’t see anything mentioned about rates of permanent maiming. Why are you making stuff up?

    But given the choice which would you prefer happen to yourself or a loved one? Would you prefer a child missing an ear – or dead?

    — Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, France, Germany —

    For a guy who complained earlier about cherry picking of statistics you sure do make an art form of it.

    Interesting to note that you haven’t provided a single source for all those cherry picked stats you through out.

    But lets take the Swiss for example, how many of those households have guns as militia issue? And how many of those would be long-arms stored without ammunition? And how would that compare to the USA ?

    Tuesday, April 9, 2013 at 4:30 am | Permalink

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