A GOP Self-Wedge?

In their new way of turning state elections into national ones and pursuing steam-roller politics, has the GOP, masters of manipulating such wedge-issues (and perhaps Frank Luntz invented the term, who knows?) as abortion, “defense of marriage,” and “gun-rights” (although the rights belong to people, not guns), wedged themselves? It’s a possibility. Consider:

Wild Bill has forwarded me an op-ed in the NYTIMES (March 22) by historian William Cronon, who notes, among other things, that Wisconsin not only has a distinctive progressive history but a bi-partisan progressive history, which includes the following:

Republicans and Democrats supported the unionization of state and federal workers decades ago–the main reason being efficiency and consistency in negotiations.

Wisconsin professors helped design Social Security.

Republicans and Democrats worked together to design the state health plan.

Republicans and Democrats worked together to design the state’s unusual open-meeting laws and other measures aimed at transparency.

Cronon’s point is that Governor Walker is not simply a radical targeting groups he and Rove don’t like, but he is also in effect attacking a history of progressive bipartisanship.

Now that Cronon has published his op-ed, Republicans want to get hold of his emails. That’s right: they’re retaliating against a professor with an opinion. About this retaliation, NY Times columnist Bob Herbert wrote (a few days after Cronon’s piece appeared):

Professors are not just ordinary state employees. As J. Harvie Wilkinson III, a conservative federal judge on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, noted in a similar case, state university faculty members are “employed professionally to test ideas and propose solutions, to deepen knowledge and refresh perspectives.” A political fishing expedition through a professor’s files would make it substantially harder to conduct research and communicate openly with colleagues. And it makes the Republican Party appear both vengeful and ridiculous.

Herbert may be right that Wisconsin’s (and Indiana’s and Ohio’s) GOP appear vengeful and ridiculous, but in advancing a national effort to break unions and dismantle health-care, via the election of governors, the GOP may have finally inserted a wedge between itself and “regular people.” A key to the political success of Nixon and Reagan (and of GOPers after Reagan) was to appear to represent (white) working folks. Nixon attracted men who wore flag-decals on their hard-hats. Reagan played his role as average guy beautifully. “Well, aw shucks.”

Of course, both did the bidding of Big Money (as do Democrats). But as a result of the grand Rovian design to use thuggish governors to break unions, take money away from education and healthcare, and never, ever examine the revenue-side by increasing taxes on wealthy persons, there is a chance the GOP has shined a bright light on its disdain for wage-earners, working families, run-of-the-mill (so to speak) union members, farmers, senior citizens, and so on. Luntzian re-labeling (“death panels,” “defense of marriage,” “right to work”) may not be so effective in this context, and the old wedge-issues may not overcome the new
solidarity Walker and others may have created accidentally.

So it’s not just that the GOP my look vengeful and ridiculous, but it’s also that they may finally look like who they are. I don’t think that’s supposed to happen to politicians from either Party. They’re supposed to look like who they wants us to see.

Because the GOP has so much money (Rove’s alleged target is 120 billion from his billionaires club) and is so good at running campaigns (if not running governments and parts thereof), one would still have to think they will succeed. But the possibility that they are wedging themselves away from big parts of the electorate is substantial enough to ponder. If you’re a professor who sometimes ponders in print and happen to live in a state current hosting one of these new-GOP-governors, I reckon you have to expect some retaliation. Professor are so very dangerous, you know.


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