Jonah Goldberg

Behold the cultural contradictions of progressivism.

Barack Obama's victory was a huge win for self-described progressives. Arguably the most liberal presidential nominee in American history, Obama has given some very old ideas an aura of new coolness. Congrats on all that. Hope it works out for you.

But something interesting happened on Election Day that didn't get much attention. Bans on gay marriage were on ballots in several states, and they all won. In fact, gay marriage bans have ultimately passed in all 30 of the states in which they were on the ballot.

The ban in California was particularly intriguing. Proposition 8 would have failed in the Golden State if it were up to white voters, who opposed it by a 51-49 ratio. What carried it over the top was enormous support from black voters, with about 70 percent of them backing it. Hispanics also supported the ban by significant, though smaller, margins. In Florida, where a similar ban required a 60 percent margin, Amendment 2 just barely passed, getting 60 percent of the white vote. The cushion came from blacks, who voted 71 percent in favor, and Latinos, who voted 64 percent in favor.

In other words, Obama had some major un-progressive coattails. The tidal wave of black and Hispanic voters who came out to support Obama voted in enormous numbers against what most white liberals consider to be the foremost civil rights issue of the day.

Put aside the substance of the gay marriage debate; what's fascinating is how these returns expose the underlying weakness, or at least vulnerability, of progressivism.

As a matter of practical politics, contemporary liberalism amounts to a coalitional ideology, while conservatism remains an ideological coalition. The Democratic Party is the party of various groups promising to scratch each other's backs. Gay rights activists and longshoreman coexist in the same party because they promise support on each other's issues.

The Republican Party is different. It says to voters, if you believe seven, eight or even 10 out of the 10 things we believe, you should be a Republican. Obviously, there are coalitions on the right and ideologues on the left, but I think the generalization remains valid.

But sometimes a tactical orientation can be confused for an ideological principle. That's why the left places such high value on unity, solidarity and a no-enemies-on-the-left mentality. That's why Obama preached endlessly about unity and the evils of being "divisive" or "distracted" from what really matters.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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