Every year brings yet another bracing poll revealing a fairly massive amount of civic ignorance. In the aftermath of the most eagerly-awaited Supreme Court decision in a generation, we find out that most Americans don’t even know there are nine Supreme Court justices, and even though the Left has been hammering at bankers for three solid years, only 14 percent can identify Jamie Dimon (7 percent think he’s an X-Games skateboarder). As a practical matter, culture is far more critical than politics.
None of this should surprise anyone, but it is always worth remembering that the intense political debates of our day take place in a small, relatively marginalized corner of the cultural world. The rest of America pays attention only sporadically — and when it does, the nature of our ever-expanding government means that we conservatives participate on increasingly disadvantageous ground. Check out this chart from the liberal think tank, Third Way. As federal spending on entitlements explodes — far outstripping spending on roads, defense, science, or other “investments” that used to dominate the (much smaller) federal budget — increasing millions of Americans are interacting with government only as a provider of money, food, health care, or other services. In other words, they may not know much, but they know who signs their check. (And, as I’ve pointed out before, even rank-and- file tea partiers are reluctant to tackle these entitlements.)
Of course all this ignorance and entitlement spending doesn’t mean that we’ve somehow repealed the basic laws of economics. Victor Davis Hanson’s snapshots of a decaying California provide us with perhaps a look at national finances in ten years. Yet California — a state largely captured by the liberal culture — just keeps doubling down to the left.
Cultural reform will have to precede political reform, yet our conservative cultural institutions are under relentless assault. Here’s the invaluable Ross Douthat writing yesterday in the New York Times about the multi-pronged attack on the church and religious liberty:
It may seem strange that anyone could look around the pornography-saturated, fertility-challenged, family-breakdown-plagued West and see a society menaced by a repressive puritanism. But it’s clear that this perspective is widely and sincerely held.
Exactly so. While America remains a land of vast potential, and cultural revival is always possible, our present trends bring to mind the words of House Stark: “Winter is coming.”