Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Gay Marriage: The New Liberal Wedge Issue?

In 2004, George W. Bush and his slimy adviser, Karl Rove, used gay marriage as a wedge issue to turn out the knuckle dragging elements of the GOP base and the Christian Right.  Fast forward 12 years and some believe that gay marriage can again be a wedge issue, but this time for liberals and progressives.   If this is true, the Republican candidate for the White House - and various other offices - may find himself trapped between the demands of the spittle flecked Christofascists in the GOP and the rest of the electorate that has done a 180 degree turn on the issue.  A piece in The Daily Beast looks at this premise, which, if true, would be sweet indeed.  Here are excerpts:

Gallup has just found that on social issues, the country is now equally split between liberals and conservatives. The question was: “Thinking about social issues, would you say your views are” very conservative, conservative, liberal, or very liberal? . . . Just five years ago, the conservative edge on social issues was 39 to 22 percent. Now it’s totally wiped out. The implications for our electoral politics are obvious and enormous, and I mean good-enormous.

Gay marriage was a great wedge issue for Dubya and Rove in 2004, as you’ll recall. They got anti-gay marriage initiatives on the ballot in 11 states, many of them key swing states; studies have tended to find that in Ohio, which Bush carried and which was the difference between victory and defeat in the Electoral College, the initiative did goose evangelical turnout a bit . . . 

Well, in 2016, same-sex marriage can be a wedge issue again, but this time, for our team. The numbers are now so decisive that surely in the key swing states with the bushels of electoral votes, the likely Democratic candidate can cast shame upon the head of her opponent. In Florida, support for gay marriage was 57 percent a year ago, and it’s probably a little higher now. In Ohio, support-to-opposition was 52-37 in 2012, and that’s surely higher now. In Virginia in 2013, support registered at 56 percent. The issue isn’t a loser in any important swing state, with the possible exception of North Carolina, which of course is just icing for the Democrats anyway.

How could Hillary Clinton and her party use this, exactly? That gets a little harder to say. The thing that makes a wedge issue a wedge issue is that, historically anyway, it’s been about fear. The blacks are coming. The gays are coming. The anti-gun nuts are going to be pounding on your door, warrant in hand. As has often been said, it’s the best motivator in politics.

So, what are people (not just liberals, but average, quasi-informed people) thinking about conservatives right now? I’d suggest it’s that they’re just out of it. Out of touch with the times. Holding us back.

Certainly this is so with respect to same-sex marriage, although the problem is hardly limited to that by a long shot. One issue I’d really love to see Clinton and the Democrats plop down smack in the middle of the table this election is the way conservatism today just strangles opportunity for middle-class people, and for young people in particular, in the name of their messianic tax-cutting.

TPM ran a great piece Friday on how the Republican governors who are running for president are destroying their higher education systems in the name of cutting state income taxes and never, ever raising another tax of any kind. Bobby Jindal has cut taxes six times in Louisiana, which has produced a $1.6 billion shortfall. To plug the gap, he’s cutting higher ed funding by as much as $600 million, which is 82 percent of state higher-ed aid. Scott Walker’s half-a-billion dollars in tax cuts in Wisconsin have led to a $2 billion shortfall, so he’s slashing higher ed by $300 million.

These, too, are wedge issues, if you ask me. Republicans send their kids to college too. Yes, they like their tax cuts. But I would assume that they don’t like whopping tuition hikes, or their kids having to drop out of college altogether, any more than Democrats or independents do.

If the Democrats can connect these dots in the right way—on this and a whole range of Warrenesque “household economics” issues—they can peel off a decent chunk of voters who have been traditionally Republican. 

Republicans will still roll out their wedge issues, but it seems that the pickings are pretty slim. Fear just isn’t selling.  . . . fear just doesn’t travel well anymore outside the right-wing base. Muslim-bashing may be the exception to that, but even that won’t work without a triggering event of some kind. Republicans might actually have to talk about issues. Which of course is even worse for them.

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