McCarthy goes on to argue that the culture wars are simply hangovers from the Vietnam era and only make sense to baby boomers.
The “culture war” that Pat Buchanan spoke of at the 1992 Republican convention was, among other things, a symptom of Vietnam syndrome: a chance to right the wrongs of the 1960s and 1970s, if not in the rice paddies of Indochina then in the hearts and minds of Americans, turning back the clock to a more wholesome time before the war and its cultural coattails.
For younger voter cohorts, this couldn’t make sense. They were a postwar generation, culturally as well as militarily, and the idea of winning back what had been lost in the wars of the 1960s was emotionally incomprehensible. These voters lacked the psychological backdrop that pulled the Boomers toward the GOP after Vietnam. And over the next 20 years, as talk radio and Fox News continued to pitch the Republican message to Boomer ears, Americans born after 1975 simply tuned out.
It might be worth it to point out that people born from the mid 1970s on out could be construed as a postwar generation not simply in terms of Vietnam but as a generation that hit adolescence during a period when the Cold War ended. This has far-reaching implications that influence even basic interpretation of pop cultural artificats. Let's take Alan Moore's comic Watchmen. Anyone who interprets Veidt's save-the-world plan as both necessary and effective may not understand the fatalistic doom with which progressives considered nuclear war, a thing that was inevitable unless complete disarmament took place. Grant Morrison framed this vital bit of cultural/narrative understanding in Supergods. He pointed out that by making the reader the one who reads entries from Rorschach's journal Alan Moore shows that the journal went public in the end anyway and that all the work Veidt did, all the millions he killed, did not necessarily make the world a safer or saner place, after all. Osterman told Veidt "nothing ever ends" but Osterman had by then passed beyond death and life in normal human terms after becoming Dr. Manhatten.
People in their 20s now may not entirely realize how pervasive the fear of global thermonuclear war was in the days of Reagan, that other cowboy president that progressives thought might destroy both America and the world. That didn't come to pass and when that didn't come to pass it didn't mean that a whole generation really retroactively reinterpreted classic comics like Watchmen in light of that observation. Just as End Times true-believers keep recalculating because they're sure they will live to experience a Secret Rapture, so some people will still believe that certain things are inevitable, like certain politicians destroying whatever makes America great.
And older conservatives, seeing that generation’s disdain for the culture war, are apt to write them off completely. If you’re not outraged by same-sex marriage, how can you be any kind of conservative?
But the reason even young conservatives aren’t interested in those kinds of battles is that they’re fighting others closer to home. Americans born after 1975 have grown up in an environment in which, Todd Gitlin admits, “only the most sentimental ex-hippie could fail to recognize the prices paid on the road to the new freedom: the booming teenage pregnancy rate; the dread diseases that accompanied the surge in promiscuity; the damage done by drugs; the undermining of family commitment…”
Young adults who have come from home backgrounds marked by divorce, or from intact families that nonetheless never sat down at a dinner table, want to form stronger bonds than their parents did. Boomers who view post-Boomer attitudes toward sex in light of a “revolution” are doing it wrong. It was the Boomers, or at least a key cohort among them, who believed in free love as a salvific concept. Young American have grown up with promiscuity and knowledge of drugs, aren’t panicked about these things, but don’t see them as possessing redemptive significance either. Even most young progressives do not believe in personal “liberation” of the sort that was at the core of the ’60s left—just as no one today believes in the kind of “liberation” once associated with Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh.
What seems to have happened is that a kind of libertarianism has taken hold among younger people who in the past might have been more traditional conservatives. Gulf War 2 is actually a significant point at which neo-conservatives and libertarians will likely continue to disagree. I've seen and heard more than just a handful of debates among groups of men who might have been united in the Reagan era but, as D. G. Hart and others have proposed, the Reagan coalition was a one-off, non-replicable coalition that began to fracture once the Cold War was over.
To swerve back into pop cultural terms, people who have read a lot of Wenatchee The Hatchet may recall that I explained that The Simpsons and Batman: the animated series can be taken as some of the seminal truly post-Cold War pop culture landmarks in animation. We were shown cartoons that were not merely for kids and that introduced heretofore inconceivable levels of moral ambiguity in a cartoon that was for kids on the one hand and a level of pointed satire of Cold War family ideals in cartoon form for adults. The 1990s can be looked back on as a decade in which American pop culture looked back on the victory that we were told we got and wondered if "winning" the Cold War was really worth the price we paid along the way. With this in mind the answer that Fox Mulder and Scully kept scrambling toward was the answer "No", we'd sold our souls to win a battle that may not need to have been fought or that was against the wrong enemy.
If Hart's right (and I admit I'm not entirely sure about that, or the authors he refers to) then the GOP bungled Gulf War 2 in a way comparable to Democrats bungling Vietnam. I do think Hart is generally right about how and why the Right fractured after the Cold War. The likelihood that traditional conservatives, neo-conservatives (aka formerly anti-communists who can be considered pro-war-on-terror) and libertarians will actually manage to reconcile any of their policy interests. I recall that Joan Didion mentioned years ago that she voted ardently for Barry Goldwater and did not consider Reagan an actual conservative. There are those who consider Reagan a conservative relative to where even Republicans were going with fiscal policy. If that's the case then, well, perhaps the GOP has foundered in several ways because of a kind of conservative grade inflation.