Culture War Redux?

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culture war.jpgEleanor Clift’s latest Newsweek piece is “Palin Reignites the Culture War,” and there’s no doubt that the Alaska governor has been like catnip to both the religious right and its foes. But contrary to conventional wisdom, when it comes to party politics, the culture war has been bubbling along quite nicely, thank you. Take Tom Davis’s word for it. In Peter Baker’s profile of the retiring onetime GOP wundercongressman from Virginia in tomorrow’s New York Times Magazine, Davis makes it clear that his own deviation from the norms of social conservatism cost him as he sought to climb the greasy leadership poll: “The party leadership has kind of signaled that since I was not a hard-core social conservative, any advancement was going to be over them, not with them.” Davis contrasts the current situation with his congressional salad days of the mid-1990s, when (he says) Speaker Gingrich and President Clinton worked together. That is not exactly the received view of that era, but in fact Gingrich is not and has never been one of the hard-core social conservatives. During his speakership they were a strong but not the controlling force in the Republican coalition (and in any case he recognized after the failed government shutdown of 1995 that it would be necessary for the GOP House leadership to work with the Democratic administration). The point, however, is that from the Lewinsky Affair until today, the social conservatives have had the whip hand in the party, and come election time have never been hesitant to use it. It isn’t that Sarah Palin has brought us the culture war but the other way around.