Politics & Policy

Giving Al a Wedgie


I normally don’t read stuff about Y2K. But I’ve been working on a piece about — tighten your sphincters everybody — Y2K liability. So I decided to read this morning’s story in the Washington Post headlined “Battle Lines on Y2K Liability Catch Gore in Crossfire.” Written by Thomas Edsall and Stephen Barr, it’s an interesting piece on how Gore is stuck between two dearly beloved constituencies: the trial lawyers and Silicon Valley. The trial lawyers are perennially among the top three contributors to the Democratic Party; Silicon Valley lets Al play with their computers. So he doesn’t want to make either side angry. Unfortunately the trial lawyers want to sue everything containing electric current when the millennial counter flips to double zero. Silicon Valley would really prefer not to see that happen.

Now, the Republicans, with ample merit, believe they are the party of the entrepreneur. They never liked watching Al sneaking onto the hi-tech industry’s lawn and throwing flirtatious pebbles at their window. So, the GOP is pointing out to CEOs that not only does Al favor the market constricting measures he thinks are necessary to resurrect the Midgard Serpent or whatever mythical Earth God he worships these days, but the Vice President also believes that trial lawyers are the worker bees of a healthy society.

So, Chris Lehane, Gore’s spokesman and prime hatchet thrower, ominously tells the Post that Republicans are “trying to create a wedge issue with the explicit desire to inflict … political damage on the Vice President.”

Dum dum duh!!! (that’s my attempt at putting “and the murderer is…” music in the file). Don’t you understand? The Republicans are trying to woo back a natural constituency and at the same time inflictpoliticaldamage! Sweet Georgia brown, has any one called the cops?

Perhaps some clarification is needed. “Wedge issue” is a Democratic code for illegitimate, craven, unfair and demagogic attempt to split Democratic support. William Safire’s political dictionary defines it as a “’Hot button’ subject that splits a coalition or constituency.”

That is more generous than the Democrats’ definition. Willie Horton, affirmative action and quotas, abortion, gay rights (to an extent) are wedge issues in the eyes of Democrats. In an attempt to catch up with the popularity of the California Civil Rights Initiative (the referendum repealing affirmative action) President Clinton announced he would review his administration’s race policies, but he wanted to keep the issue “from becoming another cheap political emotional wedge issue.” In 1992 James Carville declared that Republicans had no agenda so they had to “dust off the Republican manual, which is go to the wedge issues: ‘We can’t lead this country so maybe we can divide it.’”

Indeed, one could argue that the rhetoric of Clintonism is nothing more than an attempt to defuse wedge issues. “The false choices” offered by previous administrations were to Democrats an unfair Republican attempt to steal their voters. Are you pro-life? Well, that’s no reason to leave the Democratic Party and shame on the GOP for saying otherwise. Are you opposed to race-based hiring? Well, you should stay quiet about that. Do you think that convicted and incarcerated murderers and rapists shouldn’t be allowed to stretch their legs in your neighborhood? You get the picture.

“Wedge issues” should be properly understood as, well, issues. Or, let’s be fair, Republican issues. It takes a fundamental faith in government and a dislike of democracy to bemoan “wedge issues.” Hillary Clinton believed that opposition to her health care plan was the result of people with bad faith. Her abiding conviction of the rightness of government meddling blinded her to the possibility that her critics might have a legitimate point. In almost every speech she and her husband give they announce that the America should put away divisive issues and commit themselves to the work we have in common. Before the applause even fades, they then proceed to demonize: gun owners, gun manufacturers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, pro-lifers, and every one else who doesn’t agree with their definition of consensus or what the meaning of “is” is. When they say “consensus” they mean. “government should do more.”

So now the Gore campaign thinks it’s unfair to be expected to come clean about his position on the most straightforward of policy questions. Can firms be sued for Y2K related defects? This, according to the Clintonista rapid response worldview, is akin to asking such allegedly racists wedge issues as Willie Horton and quotas.

Pretty soon, Republicans will be considered fascists for beginning their sentences with “But…”


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