In response to the weekend's murder of George Tiller, MSNBC's lead thought this morning was that the "culture wars" have returned.
Not to always be the irritating know it all sitting in the first row of class or anything, but I have news for MSNBC. The culture wars never left American politics. In fact, they will always be with us. We are never going to enter a period as a nation where our cultural differences fail to have an impact on our political choices.
The only way we will ever enter into a post-culture war phase of American politics is if there is no longer an statistical significance in both partisan and ideological self-identification between people of different ethnic, gender and lifestyle demographics. To put it more bluntly, we will end move past the culture ways when cultural factors are no longer proving to have statistically significant impacts on partisan and ideological self-identification. As soon as there is no ideological and partisan gender gap, no difference ideological and partisan gap among people of different races, or between people who are straight and those who are not, or between gun owners and non-gun owners, and no difference between the way people with different religious identifications and attendance habits, then we will have entered the post-culture war period.
Problem is, that is never going to happen. It certainly has never happened before in American politics. Cultural factors like religion, ethnicity, and lifestyle have always had a statistically significant impact partisan and ideological self-identification. Irish-American Catholics and white southerners used to be overwhelmingly Democratic, for example.
In fact, cultural identity actually has a larger impact on how people vote than income. This difference had been eroding somewhat before 2008, but it actually increased dramatically in last year's elections. Voting patterns in the Democratic primary were almost entirely based on factors like gender and ethnicity. In the general election, according to exit polls, ethnicity played a significantly greater role in determining how people voted than did income. Future projections indicate that these cultural partisan tendencies will actually continue to increase, rather than decline.
It is worth considering if, when people call for an end to partisanship and ideology in politics, they are actually calling for an end to cultural differences in America. I doubt there is often a self-conscious connection between the two. The case of the David Broder's of the world, it is probably a symptom of living in a hermetically sealed demographic bubble for a while. In the case of the Obama administration and Obama campaign, it probably is / was a case of sending out code that "it's OK to trust me even if you think I am different." Also, it might be connected to an understandable desire to enter an era when cultural differences won't divide us as badly. However, given just how central cultural differences always have been, and always will be, to our partisan and ideological divides, it is still an unattainable goal.