A BRIGHT SHINING WEDGE ISSUE….Why did we invade Iraq? Henry Farrell highlights a paper today that says it’s because the Republican leadership needed a new wedge issue and 9/11 gave them one:

Larry Bartels calculates that the Republicans’ electoral payoff of the abortion issue has declined among non-college-educated white voters since 1996. Among this group, the impact of seven cultural wedge issues — abortion, gun control, school vouchers, gay marriage, the death penalty, immigration, and gender — on voting in the 2004 election was about two-thirds that of a comparable set of economic issues. In contrast, defense spending and military intervention ranked near the top of the list of politically potent issues. Empire became the new wedge issue, picking up where social issues left off.

….Their instinctive response to the terrorist attack was grounded in ideological sincerity but also in routine practices of wedge issue politics. From conviction and from tactical habit, successful Republican politicians had learned that polarizing on non-economic issues is a political necessity in a country where most voters want costly welfare-state policies that are at odds with the upper-income tax cuts that are the bread and butter of the Republicans’ central constituency.

In other words, abortion wasn’t cutting the mustard anymore anymore so the war on terror became the GOP’s boffo new wedge issue for peeling off a few culturally conservative moderates into their coalition. I’m not sure why it takes a 26-page academic paper to come to this conclusion, but there you have it, complete with supporting data and 98 footnotes: Republican leaders deliberately politicized the war on terror as a way of winning elections, and for a while it worked. But, the authors say, not for much longer:

They discuss how public opinion among Bush supporters is increasingly out of touch with empirical reality, and cite to a public opinion scholar who argues that “this echoes Leon Festinger’s research on the psychology of ‘cognitive dissonance’ in millenarian sects that believed more strongly in the impending end of the world after their prophecies had failed.” [Italics mine.] [The authors] suggest that it is likely on the balance of the evidence that elite driven ideology is leading Republicans to become “so ideological in their view of foreign affairs that they are impervious to information.”

“Leading”? I’d say that that the hard core of the Republican Party became impervious to information from Iraq some time ago. Just how much more evidence do we need on this score?

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