Wedge Issues

WEDGE ISSUES….Noam Scheiber writes today about the Hillary Clinton/NARAL tactic of seeking common ground with anti-abortion activists in the area of reducing unwanted pregnancies. No matter what you think about abortion rights, after all, everyone’s in favor of trying to reduce the need for abortion. Right?

In a word, no. Carol Tobias, political director for the National Right to Life Foundation, said her group took no position in the debate over birth control and declined NARAL’s offer:

Takes no position? That’s it? That’s your response? As far as I can tell, the only way you could be an anti-abortion activist and not think of birth control as directly relevant to what you do is if you really weren’t interested in preventing unwanted pregnancies. Maybe that’s the case. But it would be a pretty alarming admission.

This is classic wedge politics, and it’s how the game is played. There are plenty of anti-abortion conservatives who think that reducing unwanted pregnancies is an excellent idea, and NARAL’s stance is likely to drive a wedge between them and the hardline abortion activists who view abortion primarily as another bludgeon in the culture war (itself a hodgepodege of conservative wedge issues).

Conversely, it’s a freebie for liberals. No matter how they feel about abortion, liberals unanimously support programs that make contraception more widely available and reduce the rate of unwanted pregnancies.

Want another example? I posted this morning about an identify theft problem at ChoicePoint, and this is an area that’s ripe for liberals to turn into a wedge issue. Identify theft is scary stuff, and it’s becoming common enough that many of us have either suffered from it ourselves or know someone who has. Broaden this into the wider issue of privacy rights and you have an ideal wedge issue.

Here’s why. There are plenty of conservatives who agree that our continuing loss of privacy is important and that both corporations and the government need to be reined in. At the same time, this requires corporate regulation, and there are plenty of conservatives who are simply unwilling to consider this.

Like the issue of unwanted pregnancies, however, this is a freebie for liberals. From both a populist perspective and a civil rights perspective there’s wide agreement that individuals should enjoy more control over their own records and their own privacy ? and should have the right to challenge anyone who infringes it. And since we don’t have an ideological bias against sensible corporate regulation, advocating this doesn’t cause us any heartburn.

We need more issues like this. Republicans have used the culture wars to divide liberals and moderates for decades, and we need issues of our own that divide conservatives and moderates. In the end, the best way to win the culture wars is probably to switch gears and force conservatives to fight on an entirely different set of subjects. After all, time is on our side on most culture war issues anyway, and putting conservatives on the defensive in other areas may be a better way to win than a headlong assault.