Jewish World Review June 12, 2000/9 Sivan, 5760
Culture wars and conservative warriors
CONSERVATIVES ARE TYPICALLY the Rodney Dangerfields of the culture --- "They don't get no respect.''
At their best they're elitists. At their worst they're stodgy, stiff and humorless.
If a conservative goes to see a psychiatrist, he's the patient on the couch when the doctor tells his
secretary, "I'll take all calls.''
Maybe it's the price of conserving what's been tested to be of value over time, and that makes him
retrograde rather than radical, stuffy rather than hip. Big time celebrities are nearly always liberal or
radical. There are exceptions, of course. But even Charlton Heston is not a lot of laughs. Jack
Nicholson gets considerably more attention despite (or because of) his tacky off-screen exploits.
Tom Wolfe, one of the rare contemporary novelists with a conservative perspective, looks great in
his Dixie dandy's white suits, but he never gets fussed over in print the way, say, Norman Mailer
does. (Maybe it's because he wears white after Labor Day.)
Most contemporary artists push the envelope rather than build on tradition. The same with poets. Of
course, there are exceptions and like any generalizations that create polarities, such statements verge
into oversimplification. But they contain nuggets of truth.
Conservative critics, writes Mike Potemra in the National Review, are dismissed more often than
not as "the whiny bellyaching people who are upset that America doesn't demand that everyone
behave the way conservatives want them to.'' That sounds a lot like H.L. Mencken, who ridiculed
the Puritans as blue-noses afraid somewhere someone was having fun.
But the times, as Bob Dylan noted in the '60s, "they are a-changin.' '' Conservatives are not only
getting serious attention, they're changing the debate. They're getting famous for their wit as well as
Here is Alan Wolfe writing in the liberal New Republic: "The big news out of the conservative
camp is ... the arrival on the scene of writers such as David Brooks and David Frum who are simply
(but smartly) funny.''
David Brooks, an editor at the conservative The Weekly Standard, has written Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There.''" It has been widely praised for its trenchant
humor and irony as the author dissects the hypocrisies of '60s radicals and bourgeois attitudes of the
'80s Yuppies. Bobo refers to the merger of contemporary bohemians and the bourgeoisie,
pleasure-seekers and capitalists, '60s rebels and '80s Reagan pro-growth supporters.
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"The hedonism of Woodstock mythology,'' writes David Brooks, "has been domesticated and
now serves as a management tool for the Fortune 500.'' The capitalist mainstream not only absorbs
the trendy bohemian styles of the left, but sells them back in a more appropriate form enjoyed by
aspiring dot.com entrepreneurs. Bobos buy exotic ethnic (multicultural) clothing with nouveau-riche
price tags at a store pretentiously named Anthropologie. They've fused undergraduate fashion trends
with upper income high-tech careers.
You can't tell the difference between an espresso-sipping artist, a cappuccino-gulping banker, a
wheat-grass-juice-imbibing Yoga master or a sparkling-water back-packing techie. The high- brow
culture-lover requires a high tax bracket to support his expensive tastes. Language reflects a
marriage of values in phrases such as "intellectual capital'' and "the culture industry.'' New money
replaces old wealth and status is based on a meritocracy with money.
But Mr. Brooks is wrong in his belief that the culture war is over. It may be over for Bobos
flourishing in a world of affluence, but on the college campuses the goofy academic liberals still reign
and remain a threat to excellence and learning.
Someone seeking intellectual balance might read "The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of
the 1960s Changed America,'' by Roger Kimball, an old-fashioned conservative critic who is
considerably less sanguine than David Brooks. He's especially critical of conservatives who suffer
moral and aesthetic amnesia and have lost the ability to distinguish between civilization and its
discontents. Where, he asks, are the bourgeois values that emphasize church, community, country,
family, and moral honor?
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"The success of America's recent cultural revolution can be measured not in toppled governments
but in shattered values,'' he writes. "If we often forget what great changes the revolution brought in
its wake, that, too, is a sign of its success: Having changed ourselves, we no longer perceive the
extent of our
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05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
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05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
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05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
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04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
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03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
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02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
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12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
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11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
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10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
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10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
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09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
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©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate