Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Wedge Issues to the (Religious) Right

Part of the success of the Republican party was its ability to use "wedge" issues to splinter groups from the Democratic party and then pick up the pieces.

Democrats are in a position now to do the same thing. This is appreciated in the split between "social conservatives" and "economic conservatives", but it has proven hard for us to pick up positions to appeal to either side without being seen as pandering. Part of the problem lies in the fact that too many Democrats think we need to move to the right or at least moderate to attract conservatives when the solution, used by Republicans a generation ago, is to show how the ideas of your party's lunatic fringe actually address the concerns of particular groups in the mainstream of the other party: you don't move to the mainstream, you move the mainstream to you. For example, we shouldn't try to attract social conservatives by moving to the right on social issues -- this will only be correctly seen as pandering and why should a social conservative vote for us when the Republicans already represent them as social conservatives? Instead we should use our social liberalism (and our newly established support for fiscal responsibility -- support which resonates politically because it did not come about via pandering but by reconsideration of how fiscal responsibility fits in with our own ideals) to attract economic conservatives. To attract social conservatives, we should use our economic liberalism and address their real needs -- they will agree to disagree with us on gay married terrorists having abortions so long as we can deliver on promises to bring home the bread and bacon, even if they know we prefer to eat pitas and tofu amongst ourselves.

But one thing most Democrats, even those who get the above concept, miss is that social conservatives themselves are a very diverse group that can be further split by wedge issues. We tend to focus, for example, on the opposition of social conservatives to abortion and access to birth control by unmarried individuals. But while they are united in this sort of issue, they are divided in others in way that, if we press the right political buttons, some elements of the "religious right" will scare other elements right to us.

For example -- do people realize that, on birth control, your typical socially conservative Catholic stands right in the middle of two camps in the Protestant religious right that are at complete odds?

While the politically powerful nuts who are wont to get into bed politically with the religious right don't quite feel this way, most socially conservative Catholics simply don't want the state to be seen as doing or even approving of something that contradicts their religious views (funny -- many don't have this sensativity on behalf of others when it comes to the religious views of people like me: do they feel squeemish about the state being seen as approving Christianity by allowing displays of creches on public property?): they don't want public resources involved in handing out condoms, but they don't want them banned either. And while they want to ban abortion, they also want to at least put a moratorium on the death penalty. So a Democratic candidate that doesn't seem like s/he wants to promote pre-marital sex (just be pragmatic about it's existence) and opposes the death penalty and generally wants to address underlying concerns about poverty, etc (although the term "social justice" doesn't necessarily play well with this camp) will do well -- and by emphasizing opposition to the death penalty, long thought to be a loser for Dems, the pro-death penalty elements of the religious right will get so riled up, they'll scare away the Catholics.

OTOH, there are elements of the Protestant religious right that would just assume ban condoms for all people, not just try to restrict their distribution to single-'uns. And they go further in believing "every sperm is sacred" than any Catholic, except for maybe Rick Santorum. If we do bring up birth control -- and heck, bring up masturbation -- we can get these people so riled up they'll scare away even the Catholics. They'll certainly scare away a group which most liberals don't realize exists: the "I'll purchase a condom, for I am a Protestant" crowd.

Yes -- not everyone in the religious right who believes "all your uteri belong to us" is against birth control, at least when it comes to married couples. And many of these people also believe that one way to avoid fornication is to -- ummm ... relieve those urges on your lonesome.

Bring back Dr. J. Elders or someone of that sort. It'll get the whackos in the religious right hopping mad ... so mad they'll scare away those who start to think: "well yes, I believe abortion is murder and I don't want to 'encourage' premarital sex by handing kids condoms, but I ought to have the right to, if I wanted to, go to the drug store and purchase a condom ... for I am a Protestant living in a Protestant country".

In general, what the Democrats fail to realize about wedge issues is that you cannot drive a wedge into the other party by being bland, trying to win over a few moderates with pandering DLC "centrism" and trying not to scare people away. In order for a wedge issue to work, some people have to hate your opinion about it. The Republicans were not successful with wedge issues 'cause they made themselves bland and less scary to social conservatives and Southrons. They were successful because they scared (anyone remember the 1964 campaign of the "scary" Barry Goldwater? did that mark the end of the Republican party due to the hijacking of the party by the right or rather did it mark the beginning of the re-emergence of the Republican party) the bejeebers out of us liberals, which made the social conservatives start to wonder about us liberals.

Wedge issues can be a successful strategy, but they are not for bland wimps. So when will our side stop worrying about what the media (who are not our friends no matter how liberal they claim to be) will say and simply be less bland and more wedgy-edgy?

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