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Alan Pell Crawford
Alan Pell Crawford

Alan Pell Crawford is the author, most recently, of Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson, a Book of the Month Club selection and Washington Post Best Seller. A journalist and political analyst, a former U.S. Senate speechwriter and congressional press secretary, Crawford is also an accomplished public speaker and has addressed audiences throughout the United States.

What ‘Culture War’?

Alan Pell Crawford

The controversy over gay marriage provides the opportunity for Robert Murphy, in the American Conservative, to offer a valuable explanation of the “culture wars.” They are in part an inevitable result of the expansion of governmental power. Consider President Obama’s “evolution” on the issue:

If the federal government were a minor institution in society—charged with repelling foreign armies, negotiating treaties, and not much else, then nobody would care much what the president of the United States thought about gay marriage.

We care deeply about what the President thinks only

… because the federal government sticks its nose into all areas of our lives. If federal officials think the globe is warming too quickly, that women aren’t paid enough, that speculators are pushing up the price of oil, that Americans are too obese, that a foreign ruler isn’t treating his dissidents properly, or a million other things, then find your kids and hang onto your wallets. Infused with vast power over us, the opinions of federal officials come to be tremendously important to us.

The kept intellectuals of Washington are forever telling us how “polarized” we are, as if they had nothing to do with it. But for all this ferocious disagreement, we manage for the most part, remarkably enough, to live in peace. Neighbors share a cold drink on our front porches in summer. We shovel a shut-in’s walk in winter. We don’t lie down in front of someone’s car when they try to go to a church whose doctrines we find incomprehensible, and while we might gossip about someone else’s peculiar romantic inclinations, we don’t try to interfere with them.

It is only when we worry about what the government might do about any of this that we feel we might find ourselves at each other’s throats—at least while watching cable TV. Once the show’s over, we’re at peace with our neighbors again.

If the government did less in these areas, we’d get along even better.


Sources: Robert P. Murphy, “Statism Means Culture War,” The American Conservative, June 4, 2012.
*Photo CC courtesy of Giovanni Dall’Orto.