It’s the Culture, Stupid

What do we do now? The center-right hand-wringing in the wake of Mitt Romney’s loss to Barack Obama exceeds any in modern memory. Frankly, that’s a not such a bad thing. The voters of the United States last month re-elected one of the worst Presidents in history, and all who recognize that sad situation ought to think long and hard about why.

In the spring of 2012, as Mr. Romney was fending off Republican attacks on his supposed “vulture capitalism”, the primary-opponentless Obama campaign told the American people the story of Julia, a fictitious woman who depends on Big Brother from the time when her parents enroll her in Head Start at the age of three until she “retire[s] comfortably” on Social Security at age 67, after which her fate becomes unclear. Julia is a sort of composite of real women, like the young, articulate, celebrated Sandra Fluke, who explained to U.S. Representatives that the federal government should force Georgetown University to pay for her contraception, and the middle-aged, screechy, unidentified “Obama-phone” woman, who shrieked her desire to “keep Obama in President” because, she insisted, he gave her a cell phone. What these women share in common is an impoverished brand of self-respect, which manifests itself in the personally degrading and societally devastating combination of a sense of entitlement to modern luxuries and no shame, no shame at being unable—or unwilling—to provide these things for themselves, no shame at always depending on the (coerced) kindness of strangers, and no shame at publicly declaring both.

Having fallen on the road to the White House, some of Mr. Romney’s erstwhile supporters are looking back at his campaign with sudden 20/20 vision and complaining that he did not, in Reagan-esque manner, convincingly make the point that economic freedom, protected by limited government in a culture of personal responsibility, would foster the economic growth that would mean better lives for these women, materially richer lives blessed with affordable necessities and luxuries, spiritually richer lives of the true fulfillment that comes from meeting challenges, starting with the challenge of providing for oneself. Instead, grasping the lamppost of an oft-cited statistic that 47 percent of Americans pay no income tax, Mr. Romney pivoted to the notion that 47 percent were contentedly dependent on the government, and then stumbled to the conclusion that they’d never vote for him anyway.

Well, nobody’s perfect. Yes, Mr. Romney should have done a better job of countering the entitlement mentality that is smothering America as she gasps for recovery. But so should we all. Indeed, a presidential candidate shouldn’t have to explain why women should pay for their own communication and contraception devices, rather than demand that Big Brother force others to provide them. He shouldn’t have to explain it because the notion of such dependency should be anathema to a great nation.

A great nation requires a citizenry of individuals and families who look first to themselves for care and support, not to the state. That spirit is still alive in America today. Opposition to the bank and auto bail-outs was ferocious. Obama-“care” remains unpopular. And even those laying claim to such enshrined “entitlements” as Social Security and Medicare appeal to the perception that they themselves have paid for their own “benefits”. America is still great; it’s the policies that got small.

This is not to say that we don’t have an entitlement-mentality problem. We do. We have a vocal minority shrilling shrieking for cell phones or tranquilly testifying for contraception or placidly presuming just about everything else. And we have another vocal minority, the smug elitists who agree with the sad self-assessment of the first minority that they simply can’t take care of themselves, but can’t handle the truth that Big Brother—as shown by his failures from public education to the “war on poverty”—can’t take care of them either.

And it is elitists like these who control the culture-shaping institutions. These institutions propagate cultural memes from hysterical claims about a war on women to hypocritical greed-is-good demonizations of financial success, while symbolically annihilating America’s principles and the individual dignity and virtue necessary to maintain them, and conservatives have done an inadequate job of responding. What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.

And this is where the battle lies. First, the big scale. Conservatives like to complain about media bias, in both the news and entertainment realms, and they’re right, but complaining does little good. We need people of substantial means to step up and produce broadly appealing publications and programs that illuminate both the principles of liberty and the virtue that liberty requires. We also need to pay more attention to the fine arts, and more support for right-thinking artists, as this realm has a unique power to inspire, to reach the soul, and to reinforce the knowledge of the head, in ways that politicians and position papers simply can’t. Through these different means, conservatives must communicate the ideas and ideals required to counter the entitlement mentality and re-invigorate American character.

For example, America’s founding principles, such as the principle that the purpose of civil government is to secure inalienable rights (see: Declaration of Independence), are being lost in the cacophony of cries for government coddling, and we need on-going reminders of those principles. We also need education in how the market economy works and how economic freedom fosters prosperity. We need news reports and analyses that measure proposed policy initiatives against these philosophical and practical principles. And we need to see the devastating results that so often occur when government’s delusions of competency draw it beyond its proper place revealed, explicated, and mocked.

But this education in political and economic principles, while necessary, will not be sufficient to revive American culture. Freedom requires virtue, and so we also need thoughtful arguments in favor of vital virtues like honesty, personal and familial responsibility, and hard work. And we need stories, fiction as well as non-fiction–and visual representations too–that inspire good character, stories, for example, like biographies of Revolutionary heroes and of honest business giants and tales of ordinary people who face adversity with dignity and character, responding with reason more than emotion, who turn in times of trouble to self, family, church, and community, with a spirit of humility– rather than toward the federal government, with a sense of entitlement. George Bernard Shaw famously observed that those who would rob Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul. But Shaw was only correct if Paul has poor character. And so we must forge a culture that inspires Paul to develop good character. An estimated several billion dollars were spent on the 2012 campaigns. How much better off would we be today if a good chunk of that money had gone toward long-term cultural renewal efforts?

There is also much that those of us with more limited means can do. While few of us have the means to purchase or produce publications, anyone can submit op-eds and letters to the editor. We can also call talk-radio stations and advocate personal responsibility and small government. Social networking is an ever-evolving field of opportunity for conservative arguments and examples of virtue. Solid books are one area where the right excels the left, and their reach can be magnified by neighborhood discussion groups.

Conservatives also like to complain about public education, and once again they’re right. Indeed, media bias would be far less effective if Americans were better taught knowledge and better educated to think critically. But here again action is more effective than complaining. To wit: 1) pull your children out and put them in private (including home) schools, or 2) become involved in your local school board and ensure solid learning that doesn’t undermine private virtue. But above all else, wherever they’re formally educated, teach your children well yourself, every time, every way you can, to become American citizens of good character, who live out individual virtue in private and in public, who take the responsibilities of voting and other forms of civic engagement seriously enough to think critically about politicians’ policies and promises, and who have enough self-respect to reject most of them as offers they must refuse.

Mr. Obama famously called Ms. Fluke and said that her parents should be proud of her. Maybe they are; maybe they aren’t. But plenty of parents would be horrified if one of their daughters had testified that 1) she expected the federal government to force others to pony up for the contraceptives required by 2) her, uh, vibrant sex life.

As caricatures of dependency like Ms. Fluke and cartoons like Julia show, conservatives have ceded much ground in the culture. It is not too late to turn things around, but it is too late to give up any more ground. By the time she’s 67, Julia may well have grandchildren. Their future depends on what we do now.

  • Interesting kickoff for conversation. I am no longer convinced that we are going to win the “culture war” — and here’s why.

    When conservatives lose a political battle, the end game is that we simply have to work harder. When liberals lose a political battle, the results are very clear — someone is going to lose a job, their benefits are getting cut, their program ends, the spending stops, the kickbacks end, and so forth.

    To them, victory at the polls is a matter of life and death. To us, victory is about as meaningful as the next football game. Better luck next year…

    Perhaps the “grand strategy” of the culture war has been off all along? It’s clear at this point that we have reached the magical “Bastiat moment” where 50% of society believes it can steal from the productive half of society. We get to negotiations, and conservatives do what conservatives do best — pitch in, and thereby make themselves part of the problem.

    There is not a sane person in the world that argues that we are not headed for fiscal calamity in 5-10 years. Debt is out of control, spending is up, and those benefiting from our social welfare state have already taken to the streets to attack even modest “austerity” measures — liberals have the education system, the civil service, the consumer class, health care, the media, a coterie of think tanks, a propaganda machine to crank out the talking points, and the willingness to invest in victory.

    Conservatives have none of this. Outspent 20:1 on digital media, we are unwilling to invest in victory. To make matters worse, our institutions that once made us so great — churches, clubs, community organizations, small business entrepreneurship, the American producer, and above all else the family — these have all been weakened to the point of rot.

    Let’s dive further into this: pop culture reigns, education is sloughed off to the government, food comes from a bag, and most Americans (nevermind conservatives) don’t have a productive trade to offer this world much less a profession. If the average American took seriously their “live free or die” bona fides… they’d be dead in a month. Most of us are no better than the 16 year old most American parents scoff at around the kitchen table over coffee: mentally immature, incapable of providing for themselves, and utterly reliant upon others for their well being.

    So what’s the fix? I am not convinced the fix is a political one anymore. It is most certainly a cultural one, but to be very honest about it — we’re heading off the cliff. When the liberal and progressive endgame arrives, it will remain to a new majority to pick up the pieces.

    Rand Paul’s argument that the Republican Party needs to become more individualistic and libertarian is probably spot on. Virtue comes from citizens, not government. Social conservatives will have to be content to simply remove the government from the argument. Fiscal conservatives will have to be content to remove the corporate structure from the argument and return that power to the individual producer. Libertarians will have to define the line between license and liberty. Tea Partiers — what few remain — will have to now walk their walk and set aside the hyper-parasitic ideal that they can live free simply through what amounts to modern day banditry. Seriously: how many people are tired of being introduced to the organic foods, the herbal teas, the truly nutty stuff that came along with the Tea Party? you know it exists… the Xboxer who thinks they are going to survive the “zombie apocalypse” by ironically becoming the zombie.

    People forget that America was built. By hand.

    The culture that replaces the one that is about to die will require a new mindset to conquer the mass media, psychologically ill society we have mass consumed ourselves into. Bastiat was right… but it will take a mix of financial tough love and a true living up to our own standards to remedy the problem addressed here.

    My US$0.02.

    • Brilliant

    • EricMcGrane

      I’d like to explore your comments on the tea party a bit. I’m assuming that your comments (hyper-parasitic) are directed at the older folks regarding previous polls that indicate an unwillingness to depart from social security and medicare? If so, I think your blanket denigration is unfair…our older folks paid into a system and were promised benefits. From discussion and what I’ve seen, most tea partiers understand that entitlements can’t persist and are more than willing to discuss establishing a new cutoff age, all while trying to ensure that our oldest and most vulnerable do not suffer greatly.

      And as far as the “nutty” stuff goes, I’d love to see where you find evidence of this on say….the Richmond Tea Party sites or the Virginia Federation sites. If you mean that some tea party members can be a little nutty, sure. And you can find nutty people in every single organization with more than like 100 members. Its really not required to attack the very people you’ll need to make a difference.

      • OK — let’s explore it.

        Eric McGrane: are you living up to your own principles? Self-employed or a part of a firm you co-own? Is your trade useful to society? Your neighbors? Do you have a profession? Are you debt-free? Do you own your own property? Should we achieve Libertopia, would you be able to live without government assistance (mortgage tax exemption, Medicare, Social Security)?

        This gets right back to the true maxim of “Socialism sucks until it works for you.” All these false patriots who rail against their government… until it becomes their pension, their benefits, their tax credits, their exemptions, their business, their grant, their subsidized benefit that gets put on the table.

        …and we’ve all met the parasites within the Tea Party, and they know who they are. Which is why they take such offense when those who have been in the trenches for years defending those principles point them out. They can go take a flying leap for all I care… or perhaps, learn a useful trade.

        • LarryG

          but there is nothing wrong with Social Security. It continues to be self-financing and in fact cannot pay out more than it takes in in FICA.

          SS is an individual mandate – the defacto standard in every single industrialized country on the planet to include places like Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Australia.

          If people WANT social security and are willing to pay into it then why is it wrong to do what people want and support?

          You cannot impose on people your view of how things should work if you want to govern. You have to reflect and represent what they want or convince them otherwise but at the end of the day – you must be up to the task of governing or admit that you are not capable of it and should not be in the business of governing.

          • Social Security is nowhere near solvent… anyone who thinks it will pay out what it’s paying out today is lying to themselves.


            Medicare, OTOH, is a massive unfunded liability. There is mathematically no possible way to afford that entitlement system.

            Add on to the stack state and local pensions, defense spending, Obamacare, interest on the national debt, the utter failure of American education to compete in the world economy, and the general insolvency of the US dollar… and we’re in deep trouble, folks.

          • LarryG

            SS is totally “solvent” because by law it cannot pay out more than FICA generates – without some changes like was done when Ronald Reagan was POTUS.

            re: ”

            but you can only divide the pie so thin..”

            and the actuarials say 75% unless reforms are made – reforms that are easy compared to what has to be done for the rest of the budget.

            you cannot have a “massive unfunded liability” if the law says you cannot pay more out in benefits than FICA generates in revenue.

            the military has the same exact problem with their pensions.

            then we go on to … local pensions, defense spending, etc, etc, etc… “we are doomed no matter what” conflating…

            the current budget is a trillion in deficit and SS has nothing to do with it so why is SS a priority instead of the things that ARE in the budget?

          • Social Security is not solvent. Those who defend Social Security by calling it “solvent” are only referring to the present year cash in/cash out. The problem is that the cash in includes everything, while the cash out doesn’t include the responsibilities due to come.

            The Social Security Administration’s own trustee’s report shows this. In the most recent one for 2012 you can read Table IV.B6, which is the long-run balance sheet for Social Security. The Trustees record that the system’s $88.9 trillion in liabilities exceed its $68.4 trillion in assets by $20.5 trillion.

            The liabilities are the present value of the system’s projected benefit payments, whereas the assets are the system’s $2.7 trillion trust fund plus $65.7 trillion in projected taxes, also valued in the present.

            Thus, this $20.5 trillion fiscal gap separating Social Security’s liabilities and assets (its unfunded liability) — is huge. it is 1.4x the U.S. GDP and 34x annual SS taxes.

            Because $20.5 trillion is equal to 31 percent of the projected taxes, the system is 31 percent underfunded. One solution to paying all promised benefits would require immediately and permanently raising Social Security’s 12.4 percent payroll tax (split evenly between employer and employee) by 31 percent, or 3.9 percentage points. There are other things that can be done, but just for the sake of quantifiable data/solutions — that is the enormity of the problem.

          • LarryG

            re:solvent – the program by law cannot pay out more than it takes in from FICA. While one can say it’s technically not solvent – it does not affect the current budget and let me ask how many other govt spending is actuarially calculated for a 75-year horizon?

            there is no “gap” in Social Security because there are no unfunded liabilities – BECAUSE – BY LAW it cannot pay out more than FICA brings in. Show me in the report where it says “unfunded liabilities”.

            and tell me WHY this is an urgent problem right now when we have a trillion dollar deficit of which Social Security is not a part of?

            why the emphasis on SS? Is there a similar 75-year emphasis on the “unfunded liabilities” and “solvency” of military pensions?

            here are the 30 reform options for Social Security:


            where are the reform options for other govt spending like military and DOD pensions?

        • EricMcGrane

          Wow….I think you just had a moment.

          I’m not really sure if you meant ME specifically, or society in general….but I’m positioning my family to be independent in retirement, if you’re curious. In fact, I tell everyone (when it comes up) to be prepared to survive without SS and medicare, because it won’t be there.

          I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that your comments are really directed to a segment of tea party supporters who defend dependency, and not all tea party supporters as a blanket statement.

          Have you seen many polls of tea party supporters younger than say…around 50 or so that support entitlements/dependency as you suggest? Most folks I talk to understand that they are unsustainable. But then again, I’m actively engaged with active tea party supporters, so my position isn’t based on what the media tells me to think.

          • LarryG

            SS will “be there” as long as FICA tax is collected. look at this:


            until or unless FICA is repealed, SS will be there.

          • EricMcGrane

            The demographics dictate otherwise. The aging population with continue to demand more and more tax revenue. At some point its unrealistic to tax income at 150%.

          • LarryG

            you have the same exact problem with retired military which is twice as many as active duty.

            SS has been changed over the years to deal with issue like this – cost of living, retirement age, means-testing, etc.

            the real point is that by law SS cannot pay out more than FICA generates so worst case is that people get but 75% of scheduled benefits. We should be so lucky as to have the rest of govt operate this way.

            tell me of the major industrialized countries in the world to include places like Singapore and Hong Kong that do not have mandatory payroll taxes and social security type systems.

            the only countries that do not have this are 3rd world.

          • …but you can only divide the pie so thin…

          • LarryG

            social security will become technically insolvent in 2033. That’s the point where benefits will have to reduce to 75% if no other reforms are made.

            Now look at the current budget and ask yourself what the debt will be in 2033 if we do not do something – and that “something” will have nothing to do with social security. In 2033, our debt if nothing is done will be 36 trillion dollars.

            Now I ask again – why is Social Security a priority right now if it has virtually nothing to do with the current budget?

            this is the kind of thing that makes me wonder what we are talking about right now and why.

            it’s not like we already don’t have other, more serious issues to deal with so why are we so fixated on things that can be dealt with downstream?

            It’s as if we want to have everything in a near-term disaster orientation .. but why?

            and I go back to my earlier comment which is do the Conservatives want to govern or rule? If you want to govern it will require you to actually want to understand the needs of those whom you seek their votes and to govern. Otherwise, if you just are going to write them off and seek to rule – you’ve got a really tough row to hoe because the demographics are against you.

            so again, you have to decide whether you want to govern – or rule.

            I do not think you can fool the populace as to your motivations.

            you will have to honestly come in front of America with your intentions.

  • Excellent post, Leslie and great points by both you and Shaun. This is the conversation to have – its important to have it.

  • Culture change starts with the individual:

    – Throw out your television, it’s full of garbage, lies, and examples of bad behavior
    – Pull your kids from government schools.
    – If you have kids, make sure someone is home for them, even if you have to go from two-earner to one-earner, or have someone work from home, or have their grandparents around – being there for your children is important than money.
    – Go out of your way to meet with and be good to your neighbors. Know their names and talents and rebuild your local community.
    – Have the courage to challenge lies and nonsense when you hear it.
    – Keep away from psych drugs, and for God’s sake don’t put your kids on those things.
    – Rebuild church and other local community organization memberships
    – Minimize taxable events in your life.
    – Consume less.
    – Spend more time with the people you love.
    – Judge yourself and others by good works, not by accumulation of stuff.
    – Treat all others with the dignity due to the divine spirit that lies within each of us.
    – Respect wisdom above wealth.
    – Save your worry for the problems of the here and now.

    In short, live your life outside the rancid, spiritually empty materialist culture, and be an example to others of how a person can live and be happy without what advertising tells you is necessary for your self-esteem.

    If YOU make this change for yourself and stick to it, you will start to see that change spread to everything you are in contact with. Be the change you want to see in the world and it will happen. Plant the seeds of a better future, water them carefully, and have the patience to let them grow.

  • LarryG

    Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the “culture” has gone sideways. What positive message is the right bringing to convince Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, that the GOP has their best interest in mind and to support the GOP to bring about the things that will benefit that demographic?

    So far, it sounds like you don’t accept the realities or that you do but you reject that new demographics.

    If the GOP wants to make itself relevant to the “culture” you have to do something besides scaring the bejesus out of people whom you seem to characterize as all being “takers”.

    There are lots of conservative, family-values, hard-working ethic folks who also decry the “culture” but you have the job of winning them over not running them off.

    Then there are those of us who lean towards fiscal conservatism but cannot stand racism and want it resolutely disavowed as part of the Conservative ethic.

    • Please point to the racism in the GOP. That sounds more like bugaboo than reality, Larry.

      OTOH, you have the party of slavery, sharecropping, segregation, Jim Crow, welfare, Medicare, and abortion — a party that has done more violence and injustice to minorities than any loose cannon in the party opposite. Democrats have a lot to own up to, and the application of more government is resented by many.

      The problem is that Republicans have been watering down the alternatives. Between socialism and socialism-lite, it’s not a tough choice to make after all…

      …but conservatives are on the right side of history. The solution is for the old guard to die back, and let the new leaders step up. There are plenty of conservatives who are “minorities” (and I genuinely hate that term) that deserve seats at the table — not because they are placeholders, but because they genuinely DESERVE based on the merits.

      If there is a rebirth of the GOP, it will be based around the principles of meritocracy, blind to race or creed, that champions free minds, free speech, and a free society.

      That’s the GOP that will win elections again. Case in point? Reagan, 1980.

      • LarryG

        here’s one:

        there is a LOT MORE and you probably know it. Want me to supply them?

        It’s NOT THE PARTY – it’s the politics – and the Dems of old were essentially the GOP of today just with a different affiliation.

        re: The GOP and “watering down”.

        you have to decide if you want to govern by representing people or whether you want to impose your own beliefs on those who would be governed.

        do you want to govern? Reagan DID want to govern.

        I’m a fiscal conservative but I cannot support a party who makes social conservatism mandatory and leaves minorities feeling like the GOP considers most of them “takers” and ‘illegals”.

        ya’ll have to decide if you really want to govern – or rule.

        • The Democrats of yesterday are the Democrats of today. Government is still manufacturing social ills; and Democrats still believe the application of more government will resolve these social ills.

          The definition of insanity, again?

          • LarryG

            forget Democrats. Can you tell me which countries in the world do not believe in Govt addressing these issues. Name the top 3.

          • You familiar with logical fallacies, Larry? You just committed two — admirable in one sense, but c’mon…

        • …and I’ll remind you, this pejorative and prejudiced view of Republicans as waging war on illegals? C’mon… you don’t read much Bearing Drift, do you? 🙂

          • larryg

            I do watch how many Latinos vote GOP though.

  • Susan G

    Mrs. Carbone, your self-loathing writing exercise presents your readers the same message that the 2012 Republican campaign delivered to the American electorate- the problems in our society are copulating, demanding women. You began your argument with Fluke and you ended with her. The Republicans are doomed if they continue to “preach” against women’s reproductive rights.

    • LarryG

      not only women. blacks, gays, Latinos, asians, teachers, union members, “takers”, etc. The GOP has to fundamentally decide if they are going to recognize the realities of the demographics and social landscape and seek to govern – with leadership or if they are essentially going to blame everyone but their hard core base and attempt to get elected on false pretenses and impose their beliefs on everyone.

      • In other words, be more like Democrats? If that’s your opinion, there’s a party that already embraces your ideas, Larry…

        • LarryGross

          the vast majority of Dems are not supportive of abortion on demand but they do not want to see it totally removed as an option of last resort.

          You GOPer types continue to demonize the issue – on purpose – because of your own fundamentalist beliefs and would impose those beliefs on everyone no matter their views.

          You cannot successfully GOVERN this way and the larger voting populace in the US realizes this.

          If you guys could get off your ideological rigidity and purity and seek some middle ground and use some leadership to lead the country to a world will less and less abortions – you might win but your approach is basically to condemn those you disagree with and you end up clinging to a smaller and smaller base that is shrinking.

          A lot of us highly value responsible fiscal conservatism but the social conservatism has gotten out of control and to be honest, it simply
          does not represent most of America.

          I say again – you party has to decide if they want to GOVERN or they want to RULE. The latter option is just not going to work.

        • LarryGross

          re: “be more like Democrats”. NO! there are exceptionally legitimate Conservative values that need to be advocated for and legislated but it has to be in a governing context.

          Reagan was excellent at that. He knew how far to push and when to take a half loaf and then get back to the rest of it.

          Most of all, he did not get up an vocalize blame and perceived hatred towards those he had philosophical or even political differences with.

          Reagan knew the difference between Governing and Ruling.

          ya’ll have forgot that lesson and it’s a detriment to us all because we do need a countervailing force to pure Dem thinking.

    • Oh come off it… Democrats haven’t used freewheeling abortion as a winning issue since the 1970s. Dismantling the abortion industry’s government funding is a winning issue for common sense Americans — only the truly barbaric continue to support abortion on demand.

      • Susan G

        “Dismantling the abortion industry’s government funding.”? Please clarify the source and amount of this funding.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.