“A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier,” said Baltimore satirist H.L. Mencken. As a daily reader and subscriber to the Washington Post, I sometimes fear its residual effect on my intellect. Such was the case reading WaPo film critic Ann Hornaday’s Sept. 21 column, in which she claims the left’s aggressive cultural strategy hasn’t resulted in significant political victories.
The left, says Hornaday, has focused too much on culture, instead of politics. The entertainment industry releases popular movies and television programming aimed at shifting popular opinion on immigration, sexuality, abortion, and many other issues, explains Hornaday.
Yet, she mourns, “largely liberal audiences were attending largely liberal movies in order for their largely liberal views to be largely endorsed” while conservatives expertly secured political victories. “Hollywood pats itself on the back for making yet another urgent call to action or plea for tolerance,” she observes, while conservatives solidify “control over levers of power.”
Hornaday is either being forgetful or disingenuous. In truth, conservative political reactions to leftist cultural ideology have been motivated by the left’s overwhelming political success.
As William F. Buckley Jr. noted in his 1951 “God and Man at Yale,” leftist dominance over academia for generations — which is effectively rent-seeking — has influenced the political opinions and voting decisions of millions of Americans who rejected their parents’ conservatism as backward and bigoted. Leftist control of mass media — and the fact that the vast majority of journalists are left-leaning — means they get to dictate our daily political conversations.
Leftist control of the entertainment industry in turn has dramatically affected cultural and political opinions on a host of issues, especially those related to sexuality. A plurality of Americans didn’t support same-sex marriage until as recently as 2009, influenced by a great degree by shows like “Will & Grace” and “Ellen” that normalized homosexuality in the family rooms of millions of American voters. A 2019 survey found that 62 percent of Americans said they had become more supportive of transgender rights in the last five years.
Many political victories proceed precisely from these shifting opinions. In 1996, Congress passed the bipartisan Defense of Marriage Act, signed by Democrat President Bill Clinton, defining marriage for federal purposes as the union of one man and one woman, and allowing states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted under the laws of other states.
Yet the Supreme Court in 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges guaranteed same-sex couples the right to marriage. Please don’t insult our intelligence and tell us the left’s cultural propaganda campaign had nothing to do with a political shift that occurred in less than 20 years.
When North Carolina in 2016 sought to prevent transgender persons from using bathrooms other than those matching their biological sex, national sports organizations and corporations quickly declared their opposition and announced plans to boycott. Woke capital’s threats were legitimate: an Associated Press review found the law would cost the state upward of $3.7 billion in sports/entertainment and business revenue over 12 years. In 2017, North Carolina caved. Again, the impact of the left’s cultural program on American politics was obvious.
Now, through the influence of the 1619 Project and Black Lives Matter, education curricula across the United States have been radically revised to focus on America’s allegedly essential racist character and history. Even the very founders of the country are now vilified, their monuments disgraced or removed.
An entire generation of American schoolchildren are educated in leftist pedagogy that teaches them to view their nation in simplistic binaries of oppressor and oppressed that condemns “the patriarchy.” This summer’s violence on our streets was a crash course in the effects of liberal pedagogy. But, says Hornaday, conservatives are the ones holding the best political cards and accumulating disproportionate amounts of power.
Her argument becomes even more absurd when considering supposedly underhanded conservative politicking. Reflecting on the life of deceased Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Hornaday notes Ginsburg’s “most fervent wish . . . that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” Yet, Hornaday mourns, “it’s unlikely that such niceties will be observed by a party and administration that has made the shredding of once-settled norms and sacred traditions just another day at the office.”
Norms and traditions? What about Democrats’ treatment of Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork in 1987? Or how about their 1991 smear campaign against Clarence Thomas? Or the inexcusable treatment of Brett Kavanaugh by leftist media and the Democrats? Yet if we are to believe Hornaday, it is conservatives and Republicans who represent an unequivocal assault on “institutional integrity.” This is gaslighting at its best.
Hornaday’s indictment of the Right reaches its most risible in her portrayal of conservative political strategizing to win political races. She writes: “The right-wing has been systematically institutionalizing its agenda by way of an incrementalism strategy aimed at capturing governorships, statehouses, and the courts, and radically reshaping the entire national legal infrastructure.”
This is more-or-less accurate. But it’s also a bit rich to criticize conservatives for focusing on winning elections to pursue policy objectives. Isn’t that the whole point of democracy?
Moreover, the GOP doesn’t exert anything remotely resembling overwhelming dominance. A total of 26 states have a Republican governor, and 29 out of 50 state legislatures (58 percent) have Republican-controlled statehouses. Of a total of 13 federal appeals courts, Republican appointees are a majority on seven courts, while Democrat appointees are a majority on six. Seven district court jurisdictions are majority Democrat-appointed, and five are majority Republican.
Hornaday wants readers to believe in a fabricated dichotomy in which well-meaning liberals focus on culture to change hearts and minds while conniving conservatives focus on politics. The left’s significant political victories in the last few decades — largely driven by cultural propaganda — is enough to prove this binary fundamentally erroneous.
Perhaps Mencken was right about newspapers making the crazy crazier. Certainly, for those who are actually persuaded by Hornaday’s reasoning, consuming the daily paper is liable to make one ignorant.