Every day I'm getting emails from President Obama, the Democratic Party leadership, and supporters, asking for my support for gun control. Sign this petition, call that congressman. Sure, I sign. Sure, I support them. Sure, I'm absolutely disgusted at the way the Banana Republicans and a few fearful rural-state Democrats allowed a filibuster to block even the most trivial reforms.
But reading Daily Kos as often as I do, I'm seeing two White Houses. One is backing gun control and other social issues to the hilt. Not always successfully, but they're good at hitting on our emotional hot-button issues. The other is pushing neoliberal budget that cuts social security, raises the middle class' share of taxation, and protects the banksters. It's economic Reaganism, which was seen as extremely right-wing thirty years ago but is to the left of the current teabagger-heavy Banana Republican Party.
So are we with the President or are we opposed?
That's a trick question. Maybe it's all part of a political strategy. The Bush regime got great results pushing ridiculous social-conservative positions that hurt the economic interests of the peasants who backed them. They used opposition to gay marriage, and teh gay in general, to rally support. They pushed church-state integration, opposition to abortion, and other issues that rang the rank and file's bells, even as they were picking the same people's pockets.
It just looks too familiar. Is the White House using gun control to deflect Democratic opposition to their economic and justice policies? Is gun control being used as a wedge issue?
A wedge issue is a controversial issue chosen because it divides the electorate. It rallies the base and brings in people who side with that issue and who otherwise might not be too attuned to politics. It was a big part of the Lee Atwater strategy that helped the Republicans so much in the Reagan era.
The mother of all wedge issues is, of course, abortion. In 1973, the Roman Catholic church was strenuously opposed to all abortion, birth control, and divorce -- the trifecta of sex. Few protestants cared about it. When Roe v. Wade was announced, the Southern Baptist Convention supported it! Revisionists now suggest that the Court may have gone too far with Roe, but it didn't look that way at the time; it just defused an issue that was dividing a lot of state legislatures, especially dividing Democrats.
Paul Weyrich was a Catholic who, with Jerry Fallwell, co-founded the Moral Majority after splitting from another Christian-right group in 1978. He and Richard Viguerie were looking for an issue that could rally southern evangelicals to the Republican party and divide the democrats. He convinced Fallwell to make abortion a key issue. This is explained, btw, in the book Before Roe v. Wade by Greenhouse and Siegel. The Southern Baptist Convention had in 1978 been taken over by a hard-right faction and was receptive. They turned the "Catholic issue" into an evangelical one and helped turn the South Republican.
Gay marriage became the right's wedge issue of the 2000s, though it has run its course. The left was never very good at it, though. Wedge politics is just a little too dirty for our sensibility. Democrats all too often would rather lose than play by the Republican's rules. But now Obama is in trouble. He got reelected on a platform that supported Social Security and sought to tax the 1%, but in power became the Great Compromiser (great cartoon). And that doesn't make him a good compromiser, since a smart one makes the other side take the political heat. Obama stepped in it deep and smells very bad now. So how can he raise his personal rating? A wedge issue!
So that's why I am just a bit suspicious of all of the effort going into such weak-tea symbolic gun legislation. If even the Manchin-Toomey variety can't get past a filibuster, meaningful controls are a remote dream. We could and should press the Overton window to get them back on the table: Real national gun registration would be useful, but Democrats don't know how to work the window. So instead of that, we get the emotion. We get great speeches about guns. But then we get chained CPI and banksters given even more perks. I'm getting deja vu, only it's coming from our side now.