For the past decade, conservative culture warriors have claimed that the only reason there is still any visible, or audible, dissent in America is because of the aging New Leftists and Carter-era appointees entrenched in the taxpayer-subsidized enclaves of public education, academia, and the official cultural institutions (i.e., the National Endowments, PBS, and the like). The Right has always claimed that it is patently unfair that taxpayers' money goes to subsidize the promulgation of views and values offensive to the American mainstream.
It's a neat theory. But, as usual, the Rightists are wrong. They're wrong about the sources of dissent, and wrong about the American mainstream.
As the Gulf war demonstrated yet again, there are two primary institutional homes for dissent in America, even during a popular war. And they are not in the academy or the officially subsidized cultural establishment. They are in two well-known clusters of voluntary associations, both privately funded by entrepreneurial means. And they are both squarely in the mainstream of Main Street American life.
As all readers of this magazine know, one of these base camps of dissent is found in the mainline Protestant denominations and large sectors of the Catholic Church. The other, as readers of this column should know by now, is in the popular arts -- most clearly in the pop-music world of rock and roll, hip-hop, etc., but also in prominent quarters of Hollywood. To really root out dissent in America, you'd have to stop the public from passing the plate and buying discs and tapes. Religious dissent on the Gulf war has been well-covered in these pages. So let's look now at what Paul Harvey would call "the rest of the story."