WASHINGTON -- Social conservatives could be excused for thinking they had won the culture war, but now they must wonder if it was a hollow victory.
Last year, they persuaded a number of states to ban gay marriages; they elected many of their number to Congress; they were making progress on getting religion back into the schools; and regulators and lawmakers were poised to crack down on dirty words.
Social conservatives may believe that gays should be neither seen nor heard, but this year they will see two cable channels aimed at gays, lesbians and transsexuals on the air, one called Here and the other Logo. Logo is owned by industry giant Viacom and is a basic channel already said to reach 10 million homes.
"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" is already a cable hit, and it would surprise no one if a future episode had the gay band doing a makeover of the House Republican leadership.
There is trouble even within the social conservatives' own ranks. They generally consider Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., the embodiment of all liberal evil, and conservative political operative Arthur Finkelstein has vowed to bring her down with a campaign called "Stop Her Now." It turns out that Finkelstein got married in Massachusetts last December -- to a man.
That wasn't the only problem within the ranks. The drive to purge the airwaves of dirty words was picking up steam when, last June, Vice President Cheney told Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to go perform what is delicately described as an anatomically impossible act. And, in the kind of me-tooism that defined his presidential campaign, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., threw around a few F-bombs during the election season.
You can imagine a little kid saying, "Mommy, if the vice president can say it, why can't I?" Well, the little tyke can and probably does. A Washington Post story, under the headline, "More and More, Kids Say the Foulest Things," describes the battles schools are fighting to clean up the language of their increasingly foul-mouthed charges. "The kids swear almost incessantly," said one Illinois high-school teacher.
This comes as two lawmakers introduced bills that would ban seven of the naughtiest words from all radio and TV broadcasts. Pressure from social conservatives forced the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider its decision clearing the singer Bono of illegal use of a naughty participle during a televised awards ceremony. The FCC ruled that in the context the word was not sexual but an overly exuberant adjective modifying "brilliant." And some members of Congress are threatening to overturn the FCC ruling if the FCC doesn't do so itself.
That might sound like a victory, but the audience is heading in droves to satellite and cable, where folks can swear all they want -- and do on HBO's hit Western "Deadwood," which features the aptly named character Al Swearengen.
If there is a religious revival, which social conservatives say there is, apparently Generation Y -- those born between 1980 and 2000 -- didn't get the memo if a recent survey is to be believed. It found that 23 percent of Generation Yers, coming of age as social conservatism flourished, do not belong to a religious denomination or believe in God, twice the percentage of nonbelievers among the baby boomers who gave us the hedonistic '60s and the anarchic '70s.
It all must make social conservatives wonder how many more victories they can stand.
Scripps Howard News Service