Published July 29, 2022
Six Republican Senators — Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, Marsha Blackburn, Josh Hawley, Mike Lee, and Marco Rubio — just did something important and clever by way of a letter they sent to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. The senators’ letter poses a series of questions about Cardona’s plan to treat Title IX’s ban on discrimination by “sex” as a ban on discrimination against “gender identity.” The questions posed by the senators draw on a series of recent incidents — punishments of students and teachers who refuse to use preferred pronouns; Florida’s new law protecting K–3 students from instruction on “gender identity;” the decision by schools to treat a biological girl as a boy, against her parents’ wishes; schools that withhold information about a child’s supposed “gender transition” from parents; the rape of a girl by a boy able to use the girl’s bathroom because he claims he is “gender fluid,” etc.
The ten very pointed questions in the senators’ letter are clever — and wise — in more ways than one. (Read them here.) Every question is a policy and political land-mine. The Secretary must be pressed to answer all ten, or held to account for refusing to do so.
Beyond the immediate policy and politics of the proposed change to Title IX, however, the letter and its questions hold a broader lesson about the culture war. For a couple of decades — from about the 1990s to the aught decade of the 2000s — it was argued by many that the culture war didn’t really exist, or that if it did exist it would soon be over. Now that the culture war is everywhere — and increasingly seems to rope in just about everything — you hear dismissive talk about the culture war less and less. For a long time, for example, many people believed that national recognition of gay marriage would effectively spell the end of the culture war. It hasn’t worked out that way.
Instead, gay marriage has emboldened the left, unleashing a series of demands around “gender identity” that are bound to clash with a wide variety of established legal and cultural principles. The letter from the senators summarizes by telling Secretary Cardona that the referenced incidents “suggest how your interpretation of Title IX could erode women’s rights, free-speech rights, parental rights, and children’s safety and innocence.” The contradiction between the new “gender identity” regime and these deeply rooted rights and goods is not about to disappear anytime soon. On the contrary, the logic of dispensing with the male/female dichotomy seems to generate new cultural conflicts with regularity. The same expansive principle lies behind the “plus” in the ever-growing LGBTQ+ litany of letters.
The culture war is, and always was, real. The economy may still be at the center of our politics, but the culture war’s share seems to grow each year. The ten questions from Senators Cotton, Cruz, Blackburn, Hawley, Lee, and Rubio provide a snapshot of where we are and where we’re headed in this culture war. So long as the current administration is in place, where we’re headed is down a very steep and slippery slope.
Stanley Kurtz is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. On a wide range of issues, from K-12 and higher education reform, to the challenges of democratization abroad, to urban-suburban policies, to the shaping of the American left’s agenda, Mr. Kurtz is a key contributor to American public debates. Mr. Kurtz has written on these and other issues for various journals, particularly National Review Online (where he is a contributing editor).