The consequences of these trends have been benign. We have seen decreases in child poverty and children in one-parent families even as abortion has plunged. And we have seen decreases in crime even as gun ownership has risen. Economist John Lott has shown that violent-crime rates have declined when concealed-carry laws are passed -- evidently criminals are less willing to assault people who may be armed. In contrast, when Great Britain and Australia recently passed laws banning gun ownership, crime sharply increased.
Neither of these trends is surprising in a country where many people believe they have a right to an abortion (the Supreme Court says so) and a right to bear arms (the Second Amendment says so). What is interesting is that even as these issues disappear, the composition of both parties' coalitions -- the two armies in the culture wars -- has remained very much the same. New cultural issues have appeared. Democrats in Boston talked a lot about Bush's supposed ban on stem-cell research (he actually restricted federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research). Republicans in New York may talk a lot about upholding traditional marriage (Kerry opposes same-sex marriage but backs civil unions). But stem-cell research, much of it privately funded, is likely to increase, and same-sex unions, legally sanctioned or not, will probably become more numerous. As on abortions and guns, Americans are free to live as they want, whatever politicians say.
The non-economic issues both parties are talking most about are Iraq and foreign policy -- legitimate issues with pretty clear differences between the candidates. But few voters on either side of the culture war seem to have changed sides. We're still divided, and both parties are concentrating on rallying the troops on their side.
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