Thursday, May 28, 2015

American Conservative Culture Wars: Wins, Losses, and Why

Over the last four years, the culture wars in the United States have been revealing some unique outcomes, and should encourage conservatives to engage a wider perspective of what is going on in the world. Whiles some trends may seem alarming and induce a sense of defeat, conservatives should embrace key victories on other pressing issues.

On one side, gay marriage is getting wider acceptance. Who would have seen this eruption of forced change from the outside-in against an institution, one which has stood the tests of time? Minimum wage hikes are striking states and cities, sometimes through popular initiative, in more recent cases by council vote (Seattle, then Los Angeles). Why would voters and their representatives make it easier for workers to stay out of work and harder for businesses to say in business?

On the other hand, more libertarian proposals like right-to-work and concealed-carry are also gaining staying power. Second Amendment advocates are winning at the state and federal level. Right-to-life is also getting stronger, as an outright majority of Americans now consider themselves pro-life. Documentaries are exposing the criminal behavior of some abortion doctors (Gosnell), while technology has opened the eyes of the most ardent pro-abortion advocates to acknowledge that indeed, life begins at conception.

Another issue, the slow decriminalization of controlled substances like marijuana, can be pegged as slow descent to hedonistic, solipsistic anarchy, or a step towards individual liberty free from government-imposed morality, which never succeeds.

Now the bigger question: why have some liberal issues won the day, while other conservative causes gain traction in the United States over the past four years?

Individualism, whether trending toward license or liberty, has become the order of the day. The preeminence of individual preference, for better or for worse, has precipitated the diverse outcomes in today's culture wars.

Let's look at the license issue. Men and women want to abide by their own standards, free from the collective dictates of tradition or even truth. "Faith" has become a buzzword to mean "mental assent to my own preferences". Because individuals are more in tune to their own choices, without heeding the consequences, institutions like marriage are losing their prestige. Why does marriage matter? What difference does it make if I marry someone of the same sex?

What about the minimum wage hikes taking effect all over the country. The lingering impact of a sluggish economy has wrought the immediate, real pain of low, stagnant wages, thus hurting entry-level workers. Combined with their lack of economic understanding and ongoing unemployment, and a perfect storm of street protests and ardent demands for easy pay increases has erupted. Of course, the push for higher entry level wages, coupled with fearful unions fighting to remain alive as well as relevant have pushed this unsound fiscal policy, too.

Now, on the trend of broadening individual liberty.

From the cohort of individual workers struggling to make ends meet, they realize that labor unions, both their causes and their dues, are not helping them. Today, California labor unions who were lobbying for $15 an hour now want exemptions from LA City's latest minimum wage hikes. Their latest win has become another step toward their final defeat. Unions have not only become antiquated, but anti-worker, benefiting only the dwindling number of old-timers and administrative heads at the expense of those still seeking employment.

For decades, labor unions could get away with anti-market agendas. As long as the United States was the only industrial power-house in the world, unions could demand and win labor negotiations. Now that emerging nations are harnessing their own economic prowess (Japan, Germany, China), corporations can take their business elsewhere, if labor unions insist on their terms without budging.

Today, Americans workers earn small paychecks, in part because of coerced dues siphoned away to prop up collective bargaining units, which in turn support causes hurting working Americans: environmental regulations, health care mandates, higher taxes on wealth creators. And of course, forced minimum wage hikes, which drive up costs, drive out potential hires, and drive away businesses.

Legal challenges on behalf of individual workers have hurt unions, too. State and federal courts are also striking down forced membership and agency fees. The individual temperament which induces people to define marriage as they please also asserts "Why are you taking my money without giving me a choice?" Public sector unions are bankrupting cities and states, as well, and forcing new public employee hires to settle for lower pay and higher benefits costs. These new terms are inherently unfair, and new employees forced into these negotiations under the same collective bargaining units are chafing under the unequal terms of employment.

As for the Second Amendment, the sacrosanct right of self-protection is not up for grabs. The legacy of gun rights defines the core of this country, and the century-plus history of the National Rifle Association should assure conservatives and dissuade liberals that the government is not going to infringe, let alone take away entirely, this crucial right.

What about the marijuana debate? Both sides, whether license or liberty, can claim a win here. For those promoting temporal feelings and instant gratification, the decline of prohibition on controlled substances (and the end of the War on Drugs) merely signals an further inroad to doing whatever one wants to. Conservatives, values advocates, and pro-family elements shake their heads as the prospect of more people getting high increases.

For those who adhere to promoting individual liberty and accountability, coupled with freedom of enterprise and limited government, the dissipating War on Drugs signals a compelling narrative of government giving up its untenable role of moral authority over individual choice. From the statistics in decriminalized countries, to the cost-saving outcomes, to the diminution of federal bureaucratic power, the decriminalization of marijuana.

As in all political ventures, there are wins and losses, but conservatives should feel emboldened that on a number of issues -- life, the Second Amendment, labor reforms -- free markets, free enterprise, and limited government outcomes are winning decisively.

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