As a social liberal, Frank Rich is feeling his oats. The New York Times columnist has declared the culture wars (one-sided affairs waged only by conservatives) to be over. But in his March 14 New York Times column, he couldn’t resist a last gloating shot at the “ayatollahs” and “family-values dinosaurs” that have the temerity to suggest there’s a place for traditional morality in the American public square.
"Here, at last, is one piece of good news in our global economic meltdown," wrote Rich. "Americans have less and less patience for the intrusive and divisive moral scolds who thrived in the bubbles of the Clinton and Bush years. Culture wars are a luxury the country — the G.O.P. included — can no longer afford."
So the recession not only brought Obama to power, it shut up those pesky Christians with their tedious morality. This isn’t the first time economics put a well-deserved double-whammy on the hated right. Rich drew a comparison to Prohibition-era society, with Obama predictably cast as FDR and social conservatives as the Temperance League. "Having lost plenty in the Depression," he wrote, "the public did not want to surrender any more freedoms to the noisy minority that had shut down the nation’s saloons." Fast-forward to 2009. When Obama overturned Bush’s stem-cell policies, there was "No hysteria from politicians, the news media or the public." Ditto with Obama’s “earlier reversal of Bush restrictions on the use of federal money by organizations offering abortions overseas.” And Rich cheerfully predicted that, “When the administration tardily ends “don’t ask, don’t tell,” you can bet that this action, too, will be greeted by more yawns than howls.”
Finally, some peace and quiet so we can get on with the business of remaking America in the image of Manhattan. Why has it been so quiet? "So many of them [conservative politicians] don’t want to confront the obsolescence of culture wars as a political crutch," Rich wrote. To Rich, Obama’s many socially liberal actions – the stem cells and abortion funding orders, nominating a pro-abortion extremist to HHS secretary, threatening to remove legal protections from medical personnel who refuse to perform morally objectionable procedures, and yes, his promise to end "don’t ask don’t tell" – aren’t shots in the ongoing culture wars. Again, they’re only culture wars if conservatives wage them. Rich and others on the left are complaisant, and with good reason. They have a very liberal president, very liberal leadership of a Democrat congress, and comforting polling that fewer American are religious.
According to Rich, “This, too, is a replay of the Great Depression. ‘One might have expected that in such a crisis great numbers of these people would have turned to the consolations of and inspirations of religion,’ wrote Frederick Lewis Allen in ‘Since Yesterday,’ his history of the 1930s published in 1940. But that did not happen: ‘The long slow retreat of the churches into less and less significance in the life of the country, and even in the lives of the majority of their members, continued almost unabated.’ The new American faith, Allen wrote, was the ‘secular religion of social consciousness.’ Sounds like, er, heaven. And for Rich, it may be something close. “[S]o far Obama has far more moral authority than any religious leader in America with the possible exception of his sometime ally, the Rev. Rick Warren.” Sure, probably won’t be banished forever, Rich acknowledged, but “In our tough times, when any happy news can be counted as a miracle, a 40-year exodus for these ayatollahs can pass for an answer to America’s prayers.”