I was heartened, at the end of May, to see George Packer’s review-essay “The Fall of Conservatism” in the New Yorker. Packer argues that this “era of American politics,” which was “born in 1966,” is now dying, in part because although “conservatives knew how to win elections; however, they turned out not to be very interested in governing.” As a result, Packer writes, “conservatives will have to spend some years or even decades wandering across a bleak political landscape of losing campaigns and rebranding efforts and earnest policy retreats, much as liberals did after 1968, before they can hope to re-establish dominance.”
I certainly hope so. The first presidential election in which I could vote took place in 1980. My college buddies and I planned a long evening of cards and beverages as the returns came in, but Carter conceded before we even got started. Politically, I’ve spent my adult life in the opposition, as the conservatism movement waxed. Even the setback of George H. W. Bush’s failed re-election campaign ended up damaging liberalism, and the Clinton presidency was seemingly hobbled from the start.
How I would love to watch the waning of conservatism and the waxing of liberalism over the next thirty years!
I was further heartened by the Newsweek poll in late June that showed Barack Obama with a 15-point lead over John McCain.
But today’s lead article in salon.com is the surest sign yet that American conservatism is a dying ideology. Written by Louis Bayard, the article is called “Jesus loves you — and your orgasm,” and it’s a discussion of Dagmar Herzog’s new book Sex in Crisis: The New Sexual Revolution and the Future of American Politics.
Here’s the publisher’s blurb about the book:
The Religious Right has fractured, the pundits tell us, and its power is waning. Is it true – have evangelical Christians lost their political clout? When the subject is sex, the answer is definitively no.
Only three decades after the legalization of abortion, the broad gains of the feminist movement, and the emergence of the gay rights movement, Americans appear to be doing the time warp again. It’s 1950s redux. Politicians–including many Democrats–insist that abstinence is the only acceptable form of birth control. Fully fifty percent of American high schools teach a “sex education” curriculum that includes deceptive information about the prevalence of STDs and the failure rates of condoms. Students are taught that homosexuality is curable, and that premarital sex ruins future marital happiness. Afraid of sounding godless, American liberals have failed to challenge these retrograde orthodoxies.
The truth is Americans have not become anti-sex, but they have become increasingly anxious about sex–not least due to the stratagems of the Religious Right. There has been a war on sex in America–a war conservative evangelicals have in large part already won.
How did the Religious Right score so many successes? Historian Dagmar Herzog argues that conservative evangelicals appropriated the lessons of the first sexual revolution far more effectively than liberals. With the support of a multimillion-dollar Christian sex industry, evangelicals crafted an astonishingly graphic and effective pitch for the pleasures of “hot monogamy” — for married, heterosexual couples only. This potent message enabled them to win elections and seduce souls, with disastrous political consequences.
Huh? The “multimillion-dollar Christian sex industry”? “Hot monogamy”? According to Bayard, Herzog’s book goes on to describe what she calls “Christian porn,” in which evangelically minded sex experts offer advice to help their married and monogamous readers achieve a “soulgasm,” promising that “magnificent sex will be yours forever.”
Okay, wait: isn’t “Christian porn” supposed to be an oxymoron? I typed “Christian porn” into Google, and this was the first hit: www.sexinchrist.com/pornography.html.
Herzog seems to take all of this this as a sign that liberalism is in trouble. I think it’s more likely the other way around. When the right has to takes its cues from pornography …