As the culture wars make a mess of politics today, progressives are making a mess of the culture wars. There are some lessons to be learned about sensible policymaking in all of this.
The culture war fevers on the political right deservedly get a lot of coverage, but progressives are doing worse damage to themselves as they obsess about issues ordinary Americans in inflationary America don’t care about. Joe Biden’s continuously dismal approval ratings will remain where they are if he stays in his doom loop over there to the left of where most rank-and-file Democrats live. When analysts ponder in November why Democrats took it on the chin in this year’s midterms, this disconnect will offer the most plausible explanation.
A case in point is the recent Harvard-Harris poll showing that most Americans still have a fairly moderate view of abortion while the left is busily interpreting the majority of Americans’ opposition to the Dobbs decision as support for an extreme abortion policy. This overreach—just like Biden’s overreaching “transformational” agenda in 2021 when Americans just wanted a return to normal or the congressional Democrats’ overreaching social spending plans on programs too few people wanted—will backfire, as it always does.
In a previous essay for The Dispatch I wrote about the ideological heartland, a dispositional place in which roughly 70 percent of Americans live. It is inhabited by domestic realists who are far less likely than zealous progressives and conservatives, who account for less than a quarter of the population, to care about hot-button culture-war issues. They are more interested in sensible solutions to everyday problems like housing affordability, school quality, public safety, and job quality. They have opinions on hot-button issues, but they don’t want to go to war over them. The zealous progressives who disproportionately advise politicians and work in the media seem congenitally unable to grasp this point.