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End of an era

Yes, but the outsider has an advantage

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"This Republican project has exhausted itself," David Axelrod, Barack Obama's chief strategist, told U.S. News & World Report. "We are at the end of a historical epoch that started with Ronald Reagan's election in 1980."

Headlines after the financial bailout of Wall Street tell the same tale: "Financial Crisis Bailout Marks End of Reagan Revolution" (U.S. News & World Report). "Is Era of Dominance Over for Conservatives?" (The New York Times). "The End of American Capitalism?" (The Washington Post).

That the Reagan era-with its free markets, deregulation, and small government-is over does not depend on whether the Democrats win the presidential election. It was a Republican administration that nationalized financial institutions and spent a trillion dollars to bail out the holders of bad investments. We expect socialists to nationalize companies and liberals to practice Keynesian economics. When the heirs of Ronald Reagan do those things, his era must be over.

If the conservative era is over, what era are we entering? PBS journalist Gwen Ifill has written a book with a subtitle that hails the "Age of Obama." Reagan got only an era. Obama, not even elected yet, has an "age."

An Obama presidency would mean a major change for America. Bill Clinton was a Democrat, but he was stuck with a Republican Congress after 1994. The Clinton administration was a time of welfare reform, free trade agreements, and an unfettered computer industry.

President Obama would likely work with a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate. With possibly as many as three Supreme Court vacancies to fill in his administration, the executive, the legislative, and the judicial branches could fall under the control of Democrats. Liberals would rule, unchecked and unbalanced.

This is not just a matter of politics but also culture. In the Reagan era, the liberal media, the entertainment industry, and academia were on the outside looking in. They criticized and satirized the Republican establishment. In the Age of Obama, they would be insiders, the rulers. They would be in the position of defending the governing establishment, criticizing and satirizing the outsiders.

Conservative Christians will be among the outsiders, but they should admit that they never really had the power and influence that Republicans told them they had. And they must not give up and retreat from political and cultural engagement. They must still fight abortion, attacks on the family, and moral corruption. Fighting such battles may be more difficult than before, but that should be a call to greater action, not less.

Actually, Christians may be more effective fighting the culture wars from the outside. For all of the political virtues of the Reagan era, the culture continued to deteriorate. The church became part of the culture that it tried to criticize. In many circles, the church lost its credibility, while the evils of the culture ran amok.

To stand apart from the government, at least for awhile, may be helpful in the long run for conservative Christians. They can regroup, rebuild their integrity, and sharpen their differences from the status quo. Christians can build on their larger perspective, knowing that the Word of God remains forever, even as eras and ages come and go.

Comments? Email Ed Veith at gveith@worldmag.com.

Gene Edward Veith Gene is a former WORLD culture editor.


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