So said Pat Buchanan 20 years ago at the Republican National Convention in a speech bitterly criticized by the mainstream media (which was essentially the only media then). And the division it supposedly caused was widely considered to be a principal reason for the defeat of incumbent George H.W. Bush at the hands of Bill Clinton (along with the economy).
While conventional wisdom is that the 2012 elections will be all about the economy, the words of the two presidential candidates in the last week might force us to reconsider that proposition, and whether culture, broadly defined, might not be even more critical.
The battle over culture bubbled to the surface and was almost perfectly framed in the last week, when Barack Obama emerged from the pro-gay marriage closet, and Mitt Romney delivered what may come to be considered a seminal speech on Saturday at Liberty University.
Romney"s address is likely to have started the process of granting permission for social conservatives to rally to his side, if only because of the alternative and his now pronounced position on gay marriage which is anathema and entirely non-negotiable in the conservative evangelical orbit.
So the battle is joined as never before when it comes to culture (though it might be valid to argue that the landslide re-election of Richard Nixon over George McGovern in 1972 was an equally significant cultural election, given the depiction of McGovern as a far-left extremist who supported the radical culture of the time).
The world views of Obama and Romney are essentially bookends in a nation now in the throes of a metaphysical decision: are we to be what made us what we are? Or are we to transform ourselves - or, at a minimum, continue evolving - into an entirely different nation?
This is a fundamental cultural issue more than it is an economic one. And one gets the sense that voters understand that this presidential election represents more than simply a referendum on the president’s handling of the economy.
Viewed in a larger context, the question of gay marriage represents a generational divide. Traditional values of family, faith and freedom versus progressive views of what is normative. Are conservatives “stuck” in former times? Are progressives a “threat to all that so many Americans hold dear?”
The statement of John F. Kennedy in his memorable inaugural speech can now be placed in the form of a question: has the torch passed to a new generation? A more free lance generation animated by the online world and untethered from the man in the grey flannel suit. A generation largely uninformed about, and unaffected by, the bilateral, black and white world of freedom and communism, which dominated our worldview for decades. A more socially libertarian generation largely unquestioning of the validity of diverse lifestyles, signified at its extreme by same-sex marriage.
Romney himself placed down a marker on the centrality of culture in his speech at Liberty, proclaiming that "culture makes all the difference. Not natural resources, not geography, but what people believe and value."
Whether he or the president benefits from this essential truth is what may well ultimately decide this most pivotal election of our lives.