HAS America lost its moral compass?
The evidence, conservatives say, is all around. Vulgar, violent movies. Television rife with promiscuous sex. Schools without values. Broken homes. Widespread abortion. Growing contempt for American culture.
Alarmed, conservatives call for a "culture war" to put America back on track. They charge that Hollywood producers, Washington liberals, and self-serving educators are dragging the United States toward an ignoble end.
A number of conservative Republicans say that moral and social issues could form the foundation for a rejuvenated GOP, which could soon take back the White House and Congress.
"Culture is the Ho Chi Minh Trail to power" for conservatives, says commentator Patrick Buchanan. "We can win this war, even as we won the cold war," he says.
Citing examples of "anti-Christian art" and "schlock sculpture," Mr. Buchanan wants to "depollute and detoxify the culture so that Middle America can again drink freely from it and be nurtured and enriched, not nauseated and poisoned."
About 300 conservatives rallied over the weekend, at Buchanan's behest, to hear speakers beat up on Hollywood, TV network executives, the National Education Association, and timid religious leaders who shrink from battle with the purveyors of immorality.
Dr. Mary Kay Clark, a leader in the home-school movement, told the group that in recent years, the public schools have become "the training camp of the enemy" of high moral values.
Movie critic Michael Medved, author of "Hollwood vs. America," claimed that many leaders of the motion-picture industry "are embarrassed by their own work." He scoffed at the popular notion that Hollywood merely gives Americans what they want. Even though Hollywood makes mostly profanity-filled "R"-rated movies, "PG" movies actually earn more money, per show, by a ratio of $3 to $1.
As for television's corrupting influence on children, Mr. Medved says there is an easy solution for parents: Turn it off. He notes that the typical American watches 28.5 hours of TV per week, which for someone who lives to be 78 years old would amount to 13 years of watching television.
Conservatives like Buchanan want moral issues at the top of the political agenda. He has opposed expanded rights for homosexuals. He favors school choice, including federal funding for parochial schools. He wants the Republican Party to fight abortion.
The social agenda makes some Republicans uneasy, however. Sen. Alan Simpson (R) of Wyoming notes: "I've been pro-choice [on abortion] forever." Abortion is so "deeply personal" that "it does not belong in the public domain." Nor does he think men should be telling women what to do on this difficult question.
Rep. David Dreier (R) of California would like to see conservatives put their primary emphasis on economic, not social, issues. He explains: "With the diversity amongst Republicans, it would seem to me the basis upon which we should build our party's platform should be the issues of economic growth, fiscal responsibility, and individual initiative and responsibility."