Politics & Policy

Why Politics Is Culture

(Tom Williams/Getty)
No retreat, baby, no surrender

Bobby Jindal, in an act of real leadership, went deep into enemy territory to make an announcement: He will not retreat on defending our right to make a living, even if we disagree on marriage — my right and yours, too, although yours (if you support gay marriage) is not really in question right now:

I plan in this legislative session to fight for passage of the Marriage and Conscience Act.

The legislation would prohibit the state from denying a person, company or nonprofit group a license, accreditation, employment or contract — or taking other “adverse action” — based on the person or entity’s religious views on the institution of marriage.

Some corporations have already contacted me and asked me to oppose this law. I am certain that other companies, under pressure from radical liberals, will do the same. They are free to voice their opinions, but they will not deter me.

A similar act was introduced in Congress by Representative Raul Labrador (R., Idaho) and Senator Mike Lee (R., Utah). Senator Ted Cruz was a co-sponsor, as was Senator Marco Rubio. Senator Rand Paul? Not yet. Governor Scott Walker has declined to defend state RFRAs, staying mum when the Left and big corporations attacked Indiana for trying to protect a few little guys from economic devastation. Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee are both heroes on this. 

So I am heartened to hear David French declare that cultural conservatives have not yet begun to fight.

But Governor Bobby Jindal’s leadership and courage have thrown down a gauntlet here that will answer the question, Will other candidates move to match not only his promise but his rigor in fighting? If not, will money and resources flow from cultural conservatives directly to the candidates who have stood up to defend them?

If not, our declarations of fighting are merely posturing. If we keep pouring money into non- or semi-political strategies, or keep valuing other issues above the crisis we now face, we will deserve what we will surely get: our exclusion from the public square based on our choice of an idea and an ideology that progressives have dubbed the moral and legal equivalent of racism. Many gay people I know do not believe this, but the power is not necessarily in their hands, it is in ours.

Unlike David French, I do not believe the heart of what Rod Dreher means by the Benedict Option is a retreat from politics. He means answering the question, How do we raise our kids to be Christians? Do we not need to create intensive small communities to support our values? (Yes, and I would add: economic and political networks to protect those small communities, and to provide avenues for prolific and joyful cultural and intellectual creation.) Joseph Bottum is not wrong to say that progressivism has become a religion that not only brooks no dissent but seeks to exorcise as inhumane and demonic those who dare to disagree. He is wrong only in imagining that because intellectual argument is not enough, it is not necessary. Or that because making movies or otherwise telling stories, building audiences, and creating financial networks to support the artists is not enough, it is not necessary.

Or that politics, because it is not enough, is not necessary.

If I could strike one truism from the cultural-conservative vocabulary it would be the phrase “culture is upstream of politics.” No, no, no, and no. Politics is merely one form of culture, one way in which we engage the question of what is real, and true, and good. For cultural conservatives, it is disproportionately important because it is the way we prevent the Left from redefining us as outside the mainstream.

Here’s the most important question to which we need to find the right answer: Why are we so weak? Call us cultural conservatives or Christian conservatives, or the coalition of the orthodox — there are millions of us out there in America. There are far more of us than there are LGBT individuals. The answer is that we have not built and invested enough in institutions that make our view of the world visible: in the academy, in the media, in the arts, and, yes, in politics.

#related#The problem is not that we have invested too much money, time, and effort in politics. It is that we have only pretended to do so, without actually building political institutions. We have created 501(c)3s instead of political-action committees. We have sought secular messiahs who would rise up and change the culture. That is just silly, even though having a president who shares our values can be helpful, if he is willing to speak and fight for them. But a president will do so primarily in a political way, which means supporting particular legislation, not preaching.

And that is why Bobby Jindal’s support of viewpoint-neutral legislation that will protect the bakers, the florists, the marriage counselors, our schools (and the occasional fire chief), and even the adoption agencies is so important. It gives us a concrete goal we can build institutions around, if we choose.

With apologies to Bruce Springsteen (who, yes, I know, supports gay marriage), no retreat, baby, no surrender. Not only because it would be wrong, but because they will follow us into our retreats and find a way to shut us down, just as they are going after Gordon College students and as they have gone after Christian clubs in colleges; they will impose their new morality on us. 

Maybe they will. But not with my consent, I say. And at this point, silence and retreat is consent.

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