Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Mother of All Wedge Issues


I would like to think that this will be the last time I will feel the need to write about this topic. But I know it won't be. Because there is always someone who is ready to throw some more gasoline on the fire.

In this case, it is someone I have long admired — Jimmy Carter. I'm sorry, Mr. President. I disagree.

"That racism inclination still exists, and I think it's bubbled up to the surface because of belief among many white people — not just in the South but around the country — that African–Americans are not qualified to lead this great country," Carter told NBC's "Nightly News" yesterday.

Carter agrees with the point I made yesterday, that South Carolina's racial history makes it likely that racism played a role in Joe Wilson's outburst during Barack Obama's speech last week.

But I think he and Maureen Dowd and the rest of those on the left go too far when they see racism behind every criticism. As I have written before, it is a convenient scapegoat, the perfect wedge issue for a group that became all too familiar with the down side of wedge issues in the heyday of the George W. Bush–Karl Rove presidency.

Obama's supporters apparently thought they had a handle on this wedge issue thing because it was used so effectively in the campaign against Hillary Clinton. What they didn't understand was that the race wedge issue simply worked better than the gender wedge issue — in no small part because Democrats had concluded, based on the Bush experience, that political dynasties were a bad idea in America.

But that was — pardon the expression — bush league. Intramural squabbling. Now they're in the big leagues of wedge issues.

Wedge issues work in two ways. They work for the side that uses them by aligning that side with something that (presumably) everyone is for. And they work against the other side by implying that side is against whatever everyone else is for.

Fear is a major factor.

Republicans have learned to accept defeat when it is inevitable and reserve resources for battles in which the outcome is not certain. Democrats have not learned this lesson. They apply the "racist" label to anyone who objects to anything Obama and the Democrats are for. After eight months, it's wearing thin.

Obama continues to lose ground on health care reform for the same reasons Clinton did in 1993. Republicans know how to exploit fear of change better than Democrats do.

And this time, Democrats have handed the Republicans the mother of all distractions.

When Democrats are playing the race card, they are not responding to fears about changes to the health care industry. When voters' concerns are not addressed, it is only natural for them to oppose any change. Better the devil you know than the devil you don't.

Focusing on race plays into the Republicans' hands.

When Dowd writes about a racist word she didn't hear, when President Carter says "[t]here is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African–American should not be president," when House Democrats insist on a predictable, party–line vote to censure Wilson instead of using their majority to promote job creation ...

It opens the door — flings it wide open — for Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele to complain, "This isn't about race. It is about policy."

And then Steele, who is also black, can say, "Injecting race into the debate over critical issues facing American families doesn't create jobs, reform our health care system or reduce the growing deficit. It only divides Americans rather than uniting us to find solutions to challenges facing our nation."

That makes the Republicans look like the responsible ones who are trying to find answers to problems. And it makes the Democrats look radical, extreme, out of control.

And then, who sounds reasonable and who sounds shrill?

1 comment:

slashingtonguedotcom said...

Excellent article. Very un biased. I like that. I love the question at the end too...