The Potency of Culture

by on January 5th, 2008

There are elections where the seminal issue takes months to evolve and this year’s may well be one of them. With the war in Iraq simmering on the back burner and the economy performing far better than meets the media’s eye, issues of culture may slowly work their way to the electoral surface.

Peggy Noonan wrote as much in her opinion piece in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, and Mark Steyn drove the point home with his usual mix of humor and caustic analysis in today’s Orange County Register. Unlike the economy or the war, both of which are target rich environments for our liberal media which effortlessly whips them into a feverish froth for easy public consumption, cultural issues are latent and subtle, but they are the omnipresent genetic carriers of a republic’s life blood.

Indeed, culture is the civic equivalent of the background hum of the universe, a timeless reminder that the failure to faithfully transfer the tacit lessons of each generation to the next may tectonically signal the demise of a great nation. As Mr. Steyn observes of many mainstream Americans:

“They’re tired of the artificial and, indeed, creepily coercive secular multiculti pseudo-religion imposed on American grade schools. I’m sympathetic to this pitch myself. Unlike Miss Noonan, I think it’s actually connected to the jihad, in the sense that radical Islamism is an opportunist enemy that has arisen in the wake of the Western world’s one-way multiculturalism.

In the long run, the relativist mush peddled in our grade schools is a national security threat. But, even in the short term, it’s a form of child abuse that cuts off America’s next generation from the glories of their inheritance.”

It’s this kind of bold but clear-eyed thinking that is never expressed in polite political company and yet is so very important for people to hear that is conspicuous by its absence thus far in our national debate. Those with school-age children have horror stories of their kids being taught that homosexuality and bisexuality are merely choices on the sexual spectrum and that experimenting is an integral part of our education, or, more fundamentally, that America’s sins on the world stage are both innumerable and unforgivable.

By obfuscating our Republic’s history, which is unambiguously replete with examples of civic and national magnanimity, and by fabricating in its stead an apparently endless list of foibles, our public education system is at once severing our rich intellectual legacy from our children and creating a secular edifice that they will one day understand is a wholly unsatisfactory substitute for our hallowed traditions, most crucially, a resilient religious belief.

Despite these arguments, a civic conundrum remains, and that is how one revives or reanimates those cultural underpinnings that silently girded our nation for so many decades? Indeed, is that the role of a president? The answer is that behavior, rather than the bully pulpit, is the best antidote, because although oratory is important, examples of real leadership–Reagan and Thatcher come to mind–are ultimately predicated on action.

Philip Mella