Barack Obama ran and won a vigorous social issues campaign. He is now the first man elected president to have endorsed same-sex unions or have made contraception a major campaign theme. (He was already the only man elected president to have voted in favor of partial-birth abortion.) Obama blurred the specifics, but he by no means kept his broad views hush-hush. “Contraceptive access,” “reproductive health,” and “marriage equality” became campaign ads and applause lines. Obama is the greatest culture warrior of our time.
After tonight’s victory, liberal voters will no longer tolerate Clintonian pussyfooting—“safe, legal, rare,” “don’t ask, don’t tell.” They can point to Obama’s success in demanding that future Democrats (or Republicans, for that matter) prosecute the culture war. Traditionalists can expect escalation, a change they already should be preparing for given the rise of the “Nones.” They are, among other things, a new cohort of culture warriors who vote Democratic even more reliably than white evangelical Protestants vote Republican, in no small part based on social issues.
Despite this, the conservative views on social issues remain popular. Gallup’s recent polling finds slightly more than half of Americans identifying as prolife, and while support for gay marriage continues to increase, the issue motivates far more conservative than liberal voters. There’s a large intensity gap that should continue to tip the issue to the right for some time even if current trends hold.
Candidates with traditional views, though, must get better at discussing them. They cannot rely on a sympathetic media and so will need to be especially disciplined in presenting their message. We’ll see many obituaries written for the religious right in the coming days, no doubt. But a cultural liberalism buried by Reagan and eulogized by Clinton now is risen indeed. There’s no reason to think that cultural traditionalism won’t soon see its own Lazarus moment.