Friday, March 24, 2006

Shift the debate and Republicans lose

By The (liberal)Girl Next Door

Republicans have used wedge issues to catapult themselves into power. All of those tax breaks, regulatory rollbacks, and corporate welfare programs that have been doled out to the elite and well-connected could never have occurred without the religious and social conservatives who went to the polls in support of Republican candidates. The problem for Republicans is, most of the social conservatives who helped put them in power are not amongst the connected elite, and while they may agree with Republican rhetoric about gay marriage and abortion, they are being hit just as hard as the rest of us in their pocketbooks. This is exactly what the Democrats need to take advantage of. It’s easy to vote your morality when you have a job, your kids are being educated, you have access to healthcare, and you can keep up with the mortgage payments. When that is no longer the case, social concerns have a way of taking a back seat.


According to a Pew Research Poll released Wednesday, opposition to gay marriage has dropped from 63% in February 2004 to 51% today, and those who said they opposed gay marriage “strongly” has dropped from 42% to 28%. That’s a pretty significant shift in the national attitude on this issue. It may be that the more people think about it the less they care, but it also may be that other issues have been moved to the front burner. Polls consistently show that the war in Iraq, healthcare, jobs, education, and the economy rank highest on the priority list of most Americans. This is good news for Democrats, considering that under total Republican control Iraq is a disaster, healthcare is less affordable and accessible, job creation has been slow or non-existent, public education is withering under No Child Left Behind, and the economy -- well, it may look good on paper, but for average working Americans statistics mean little when they’re working harder for less money since the Republicans took hold of the reigns of power.

Also in the Pew Research Poll were interesting numbers on abortion. While the majority of voters, 58%, oppose a South Dakota-style ban on abortion, most people aren’t paying much attention. Only 28% consider abortion a “critical issue,” and the group most likely to feel this way are white evangelical Protestants. Even amongst those who strongly oppose a ban on abortion, most consider the issue “one of many” or “not that important”. This tells me that Republicans HAVE to talk about abortion, while Democrats don’t: They can say they’re pro-choice and move on. The Democrats are much better off talking about the real issues and disengaging from the wedge-issue discussion all together, or at least only engage in the most dismissive manner possible: “Of course I believe in a woman’s right to choose, now let’s talk about jobs.”

Shifting the debate to what matters most to working people will be a winning strategy for the Democrats and a big loser for Republicans who rely on the crutch of social intolerance to get re-elected. Whether good or bad, most of the country doesn’t care much about abortion or gay marriage, although they do tend to fall more on the side of civil unions and a woman’s right to choose. That should tell the Democrats that they have taken the right position on both all along and that now they must focus on the issues that are concerning voters most: health care, family-wage jobs, birth to college education, retirement security, and making sure that all of those things are available to all of our citizens so that poverty is no longer our dirty little secret and dignity in life is secured for every American.

Let the Republicans ply their base with rhetoric. They’ll turn off the moderate voters all by themselves -- no need to join them in alienating the majority of the country. Better to stand back and give those moderates a place to go. And we don’t have to move to the right to attract middle America. They are already on their way over, driven in our direction by a Republican Party with only the fear and intolerance card left to play. It may have worked for them in the past, but it looks like it might finally be played out.

(Cross-posted at The (liberal)Girl Next Door.)

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