Are the 1990s Culture Wars Over?
I'm old enough to remember watching the 1992 convention speech by Pat Buchanan in which he described a culture war taking place in America. Twenty-two years later, are those battles on their way to being settled?
That night in Houston in 1992, Buchanan highlighted a couple social
issues of great concern, directly contrasting George Bush with candidate Clinton. Buchanan described Bush as "a defender of right-to-life, and a champion of the
Judeo-Christian values and beliefs upon which America was
founded." On the other hand, Clinton would impose "abortion on demand, a
litmus test for the Supreme Court" and "homosexual rights."
Progressives (who were called liberals back then) feigned shock at the idea there was a culture war taking place, though Buchanan and many who heard him that night probably felt their side was merely playing defense in that conflict.
Twenty-two years later the ground has shifted on both of those issues. Gay marriage (which has been a major goal for gay rights advocates) was supported by 27 percent of Americans in 1996, four years after Buchanan's speech. This year that number had risen to 54 percent, exactly double what it was. And since the young tend to consider gay rights a given rather than an issue to be debated, the trend will likely continue.
On abortion, the shift has been less sweeping but it is clearly there. According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans who called themselves pro-life
was at about 33 percent in 1996. In 2012, that figure hit 50 percent versus 41 percent who considered themselves pro-choice. The young tend to be more pro-life than their elders, meaning that trend will also likely continue.
State laws and Supreme Court decisions insure both of these issues will be tied up in courts for another decade or more. But as of right now the momentum is pretty clear. It appears the country has decided to split the difference on the 90's culture wars. That may be little consolation to either side but it does seem worth pointing out that the popular momentum has swung pretty clearly on both issues.