Over the past several decades, partisan identities in the United States have become increasingly aligned with other salient social, cultural, and political divisions in American society.
According to the professors, part of the reason for this polarization is that in American society, being Republican or Democrat is increasingly reflected in people’s social characteristics and values. A person who does yoga and orders almond milk lattes and says they value LGBT rights? We could probably all assume that person is a Democrat, even if they don’t publicly identify with the Democratic Party, and very often be correct.
It is both fascinating and troubling that our party affiliation is that closely aligned with our social and cultural preferences. That may be the single biggest piece of evidence of government having grown too big that I have yet to encounter.
I have mentioned before the book “Apostles of Reason.” It makes the case the that Evangelicals are of limited cultural and social influence because of a lack of organization, rooted in a crisis of authority. I have been pondering lately, with our plethora of presidential candidates, if the GOP is not suffering a bit of the same malady. At this juncture it is just a hypothesis, but this assertion by the Emory profs seems to bear it out. If our politics and culture are increasingly indistinct, then such cross pollination seems inevitable.
But back to government being too big. The oft heard phrase “limited government” means that government is intended to do only those things that cannot be done by other means. – defense, large scale infrastructure, things of this sort. It was never intended to define our culture; that was supposed to be left up to things like religion, academia and the arts. On the local level, representative government means that government is supposed to reflect culture, not define it. Further it means that government is supposed to be the mechanism by which competing culture finds commonality – at least in those limited areas necessary for the common good. It was never intended that our political leanings would be reflected in our exercise habits or our beverage of choice, for those things do not extend into the realm of places where government would have to act for the common good. And yet, here we are.
It is difficult to say which came first here, whether government stuck its nose in where it did not belong and people moved aside and made room, or whether people abandoned space and government, hating a vacuum, stepped in. Like most things, it is probably some of both – highly dependent on which area of culture we are discussing.
Politicians are going to look at this and learn that they have to broadcast cultural clues to get certain groups of voters to get elected. That is their job after all and we should not fault them for doing it.
What is clear; however, is that if we are going to push government back within its boundaries other culture shaping forces have to step up and push it out. Political action is good and necessary, but we cannot vest solely in it. We cannot turn to it with our cultural complaints or we feed the beast when it needs to be starved. It is not enough to elect a “small government” president unless we support big church, independent education, and other things that can push government out of the purely cultural spaces.
So, while you are asking which of the dozen or more GOP contenders you are going to support, are you donating to your church, school, museum or orchestra? If not, you should think about it just as hard.