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America’s Culture War Takes a Surprising Jog to the Right

November 16, 2003

“We’re not losing” isn’t much of a battle cry, but an article in the policy magazine City Journal with that modest message is attracting a lot of attention. The article, “We’re Not Losing the Culture Wars Anymore” by senior editor Brian Anderson, argues that the left’s near monopoly in the entertainment and news media is “skidding to a startlingly swift halt.”

Much of Anderson’s evidence — the rise of Fox News, talk radio and conservative bloggers — is familiar, but the article argues that a corner has been turned and the culture war is a far more even struggle now. This news may come as a shock to conservatives. It’s certainly a shock to Tim Noah, a liberal commentator at Slate. Noah read Anderson’s article, watched as the Reagan miniseries was pulled, then wrote glumly that the right has won the culture wars.

Hardly. The liberal worldview still dominates the news business, the arts, the entertainment world, publishing, the campuses and all levels of schooling. It’s the media and educational status quo. But five years ago, CBS probably could have gotten away with a cheap-shot miniseries on the Reagans. Now it can’t. This is partly because of market forces, as conservative columnist Robert Bartley and liberal columnist Richard Reeves both pointed out. Reeves called the miniseries “commercially insane.” Large conservative audiences no longer accept many liberal products, so those products are adapted or abandoned.

The other reason for the ditching of the Reagan miniseries is that the conservative media world is now good at gang-tackling. From Matt Drudge’s “Drudge Report” (which framed the issue of the miniseries) to Fox, the bloggers, talk radio hosts and the columnists, everybody piled on. New York Times columnist David Brooks touched on this point some time ago, writing that the new conservative media have “cohered to form a dazzlingly efficient ideology delivery system that swamps liberal efforts to get their ideas out.” For liberals, this is an ominous development.

The unfamiliar part of Anderson’s article is the rising conservative impact on pop culture. In comedy, it’s not just Dennis Miller, the first major comedian fully identified with the right. On cable, conservative humor — or at least, anti-liberal humor — pops up all the time. Colin Quinn, like Miller a veteran of “Saturday Night Live,” skewers liberal pieties regularly on Comedy Central’s popular “Tough Crowd.” I once asked a thoughtful liberal friend: “Why does the message of the left seem to penetrate the whole of pop culture?” His answer — “We make the culture; you don’t” — doesn’t seem so obvious now.

The showpiece of anti-liberal humor is one that appalls a good many conservatives: “South Park,” Comedy Central’s wildly popular cartoon saga of four crude and incredibly foulmouthed little boys. The show mocks mindless lefty celebrities and takes swipes at the gay lobby and the abortion lobby. Some examples: “Getting Gay With Kids” is a homosexual choir that descends on the school. And the mother of one South Parker decides she wants to abort him (“It’s my body”), despite the fact that he’s 8 years old. The weekly disclaimer on the show says it is so offensive “it should not be viewed by anyone.” This is a new paradigm in pop culture: Conventional liberalism is the old, rigid establishment. The anti-liberals are brash, funny and cool. Who would have thought?

Some of the new conservative success is due to the rise of a large crop of commentators the left has not been able to match. Mostly young and often very funny, they include Mark Steyn, Jonah Goldberg, Michelle Malkin and Jeff Jacoby. But most of the conservative gains have been in new media. Fox News’ large audience skews young, and half its viewers are either liberal or centrist. So Fox isn’t just preaching to the choir. It’s exposing nonconservatives to conservative ideas.

As mentioned here several times, the “blogosphere” — the world of Internet commentators — tilts strongly to the right. Bloggers like Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus and Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit have a heavy impact. No excess of the liberal media seems to escape their attention. Among other things, they have mercilessly attacked Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist and idol of America’s angriest liberals. It has been an amazing and, I think, largely successful campaign of informed detraction.

It was obvious that the democratization of the media would bring new voices into the field, but who knew that so many of those voices would be conservative, libertarian or just cantankerously opposed to entrenched liberal doctrine? The conservative side is far from winning the culture wars, but the debate is broader and fairer now. The near monopoly is over.

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