Vermeer painting 'The Artist in His Studio'
The political exile of the modern American right can be traced to a failure to make a positive impact in the cultural influence professions, TAC correspondent Mike D’Virgilio writes.

In the aftermath of the Republican drubbing at the polls, members of the various factions of the right are busily assessing blame and offering solutions to what ails the conservative movement, broadly defined. This debate is important and necessary, but it is not sufficient. Without understanding the role of culture and making it part of a grand strategic vision, the right will be trying to push a boulder up a hill for the foreseeable future. The left’s indoctrination of the American people through various aspects of the culture will continue unabated.

First, let us talk of principles. There seems to be a severe dividing line between conservatives.

One set, which appears to be the majority, could be classified as Classical Liberals, meaning they take their political and social philosophy from the Founding Fathers.

The other group has accepted the statist assumptions of the modern liberal welfare state and believes it is unrealistic to think Americans will even again not be dependent on government for many of their social and economic needs. Thus, the latter say, we must embrace these assumptions and run these programs in a more conservative way.

Down that road lies ruin for the conservative movement, because that is not conservatism at all.

The American people in this election did not move left. As the Wall Street Journal noted,

Assorted pundits of the left and right keep telling us that the tax issue has lost its political power. They must not have been paying attention to the Presidential campaign, and especially not to Barack Obama. One of the Democrat’s main political feats this year has been to portray himself as a more formidable tax cutter than John McCain.

Interestingly, a recent poll showed that more people identify themselves today as conservative than did eight years ago. Eight years ago, conservatives made a pact with the devil by hitching their wagons to the “compassionate” conservative, George W. Bush. Thanks to that compassion and the big spending it brought on, Democrats, who for much or modern history had been tagged as profligate “big spending liberals” were now able to run as fiscally prudent taxpayer watchdogs.

The vote in California shows the real power of conservative values. As a result of a state referendum, the tyranny of a handful of judges was not successful in imposing same-sex marriage on the people of that state—Prop 8 won by a vote of 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent among the same people who voted 61 percent to 37 percent for Barack Obama for President.

Similar propositions passed by even larger majorities in Arizona and Florida. In all, voters in thirty-one states have rejected same-sex marriage and not one state has affirmed it. As these votes show, conservative values are ingrained in the majority of the American people in spite of their immersion in a culture hostile to such values.

Most Americans are thus quite open to the message of the nation’s classical liberal foundational values, and if these principles are articulated correctly, people can be persuaded that ordering our society around them is far better than a continued adherence to the statist nostrums promoted by the left.

Selling these values to a people daily indoctrinated by a culture profoundly controlled by the left is extremely difficult. Yet in all the discussions about the way forward to reclaiming conservatism that I have read or heard, I have come across only one brief comment acknowledging the primacy of culture in shaping the thoughts of the American people.

Talk radio, the blogosphere, think tanks, and conservative publications are shouting into the void if they think they can persuade Americans to embrace foundational values without also imparting them aggressively through the culture. In strategizing a way forward, then, we must think about how we can engage and penetrate the cultural influence professions (arts, entertainment, education, including legal education, and journalism and media) with a legion of right-thinking individuals who understand and embrace the classical liberal values of our country’s founding.

Given that only a small percentage of Americans truly embrace leftist notions about government and society, a more neutral, liberty-oriented culture would have a huge impact on how average, largely apolitical Americans decide they want to be governed. Thus it is a shame and dereliction of responsibility that the conservative movement has ignored culture for so long.

The conservative movement has to move beyond its decades-long antagonistic and hypercritical approach to culture, and instead begin to work hard to make a positive impact from within those cultural influence professions.

The timing couldn’t be better, or more critical, to make this a top-shelf priority in the years ahead.

Mike D’Virgilio is Executive Director of The Culture Project.