Much like the first World War, this election drags on in a wearying, demoralizing, and ultimately pointless struggle for a victory which neither side will find to be as decisive as it hopes. To be sure, an Obama victory would lurch this nation jarringly to the left, probably accelerating the hopeless accumulation of our debt and spelling certain doom for a handful more of our cherished values. Mitt Romney doesn’t offer much hope either. He might undo some of Obama’s most outrageous policies and slow the growth of the debt, but, ultimately, he will never undo all of Obama’s policies, nor will he (as a human being lacking godlike powers) be able to do anything about the debt. Cuts will be made here and there in discretionary spending, but it seems unlikely that politicians in either party will dare suggest that entitlements, by far the largest expense in the federal budget, need to be reformed. Regardless of who wins the election, the this country will be worse off in 2015 than it was in 2010.

Meanwhile, the degeneration of Western culture can be plainly seen on TV, heard on the radio or read on Twitter. One can really begin to see how far we have fallen when we consider the lyrics of Nicki Minaj’s hit song “You a Stupid Hoe.”

“You a stupid hoe, you a, you a stupid hoe [x3] You a stupid hoe, (yeah) you a, you a stupid hoe You a stupid hoe, you a, you a stupid hoe (stupid, stupid)”

There seems no denying that today’s youth is crude and entitled (see Occupy Wall Street). Most conservatives recognize this problem, diagnosing it as a product of bad government policy. They certainly have a point. Entitlement programs certainly disincentivize character-building hard work while leading citizens to expect that things will simply be provided to them. In this sense, conservatives often argue that bad policy leads to bad culture, and therefore good policy will reintroduce good culture.

This is a pleasing lens through which to view politics because it gives its adherent the idea that we can change things by voting for the right people. The reality is much more complex. Most western systems of government require statesmen to stand for election and reelection in order to make decisions for the nation. This limits their decision making to what is largely considered acceptable by the general population, which in turn is a product of the nation’s culture. As left or right wing as any politician can be, they must still operate within the range of cultural acceptability or be thrown out of office. The Conservative Party in Britain recently announced that it favored the legalization of gay marriage and will doubtlessly pursue policy to that effect. Members of the Conservative party might or might not embrace this agenda but must still face the reality that it is no longer culturally acceptable to challenge gay marriage in Britain. Similarly, the Republican Party’s most aggressive deficit cutting plan makes only paltry changes to entitlement spending and barely touches Social Security in any meaningful way. Republicans realize that drastic change to these policies would fall outside of the range of acceptability for the culture that has emerged since their creation.

A culture of entitlement will breed an a economy of entitlement just as a culture without firm values will breed a valueless government. Culture determines the just how left or right wing a politician can be. Elections don’t matter in this sense, since candidates will only reflect two ends of a relatively narrow section of the political spectrum. Conservatives who suggest that good policy can make up for bad culture may be right, but I doubt they will ever get the chance to see. No matter how much we might wish our politicians to undo bad policy, they will not try it unless it becomes culturally acceptable to do so.

The culture war cannot be ignored. The left is not ignoring it; indeed they are winning it. Winning it with campaigns of “social justice” victim-hood and class rivalry which many conservatives know no better than to accept. Let conservatives take heed and think twice before they abandon cultural issues for a pure focus on the economy or elections lest we lose the real battle.

William McMahon | University of Missouri | Columbia, Missouri | @WilliamAMcMahon