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Sunday, July 25, 2004

Delivering the Wedgie 

For years now, Republicans have been using wedge issues to divide and conquer traditional Democratic constituencies, and the lovable bumblers at the top of the party fall for it every goddam time (e.g., l'affaire Goldberg: alleged comedian likens Bush to bush; firestorm of faux-outrage erupts; candidate Kerry, fearful of losing the bluenose vote, grovels and apologizes for Whoopi's salty crack, alienating the free-speech contingent). Thus the party of Girly Men/Go Fuck Yourself/Do As I Say, Not As I Do scores yet another win.)

Meanwhile, under Bush & co., the GOP is no model of perfect unity. After forty years of carefully-engineered rightward movement, the former lunatic fringe is now running the party (and the nation); there are plenty of social moderates and traditional conservatives who feel left behind. So why can't the Democrats drive a wedge or two into the Republican base? As Rick Perlstein explains in the L.A. Times, the possibilities are obvious:
Take something President Bush said in a 1993 Houston Post article: Heaven is open only to those who accept Jesus Christ.

An aggressive campaign by Kerry and the Democrats would pressure Bush to explain whether he still believes that. As it happens, Bush has an answer: Billy Graham told him not to "play God." But thereby hangs the wedge.

Put the issue in Bush's face again, forcing him — Chop! — to choose whether to offend one party segment or another. Republican voters who believe you have to be Christian to go to heaven, and want their president to believe the same, fall to the right side of the hatchet. Moderate Republicans, who like Bush for his tax policies but are embarrassed to be associated with intolerance, fall to the left . . . .

The problem is that no force in the Democratic Party seems to be probing the architecture of the Republicans in this way: figuring out which of its bulkheads lean most precariously against another, what cracks lay bare its weakening structural integrity at the foundation.

There are plenty. Here's one:

Family-owned manufacturing companies have always been the bedrock of the Republican coalition — and its most reliable donors. They're wobbly now. "I'm very conservative," a factory owner in Rockford, Ill., told me. "Always voted Republican. But I'm extremely concerned with what I hear from this current administration."

He's disgusted at how Republicans always side with giant corporations, like Wal-Mart, that ruthlessly run U.S. plants out of business with their unsustainable obsession with radical cost-cutting among suppliers, devastating communities like Rockford.

Another Rockford manufacturer told me that a Democratic presidential candidate "who steps forward and says we're going to make manufacturing a priority in this country" would get a $2,000 donation from him. Some habitual Republican voters on his shop floor mentioned the same reasons for switching to the Democrats.

The retreat of manufacturing in the United States, or fair compensation for low-skill jobs, should be turned into a political disaster for Republicans. Force Bush into the no-win choice: Chop! Are you with Wal-Mart or are you with the U.S. manufacturers that Wal-Mart is putting out of business?
While we're at it, here's a freebie that Perlstein missed.

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