Friday Talking Points -- As The Wedgie Turns

Half a year ago, we decided it was time to coin a new political term. We did so in these pages, as a matter of fact, in our "Friday Talking Points [257]" column. But while the concept is indeed now being noticed more and more by others, our neologism doesn't seem to be catching on nearly as well. So we'll repeat the definition we gave it, back in May (once again helpfully pointing anyone who is not aware of the literal, non-political definition of "wedgie" to ask your local sixth-grader to explain and demonstrate, if necessary):

Wedgie: When a political party's "wedge" issue turns on them and instead of dividing the other party, begins to divide their own.

Usage: "Boy, the Republicans are really getting a giant wedgie on immigration, aren't they?"

This week, that example would have read: "Boy, the Republicans are really getting a giant wedgie on gay rights, aren't they?"

I speak, of course, of the Senate passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (or "ENDA") on a bipartisan vote of 64-32. That's pretty impressive, since it's a perfect 2-to-1 split. Ten Republicans voted for the bill, as well as every Democrat who voted. Astonishingly, when the floor debate happened, not a single Republican rose to speak against the bill, even though 32 of them voted "nay." Speaker of the House John Boehner is so far saying he's not in favor of the bill, meaning it likely won't be coming up for a vote any time soon.

Let's just deconstruct what is really going on for a moment, shall we?

Pretty much ever since gay rights became a national political issue (say, the 1980s or so), Republicans have been working overtime making political hay out of it. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Republicans were downright eager to put anti-gay ballot measures up for popular vote, and were outspoken (to put it mildly) in their scorn for advancing any gay rights whatsoever. It was a reliable Republican wedge issue of enormous proportions, in fact, for over two whole decades.

Now this wedge has turned. Not only is marriage equality now winning at the ballot box (as well as, this week, in both the Hawai'i and Illinois legislatures), but the public has finally gotten disgusted with the Republican position on the issue of gay rights. The younger the voter, the more this is true. Harry Reid summed this up brilliantly this week, explaining this generational shift in memorable fashion:

I have three adult grandchildren now, in addition to my adult children. For me to feel any different about [gay rights and ENDA in particular], they wouldn't be proud of their grandfather. It's just with my five children, it's a non-issue. But for my three adult grandchildren, it's a non-non-issue. They can't imagine why anyone gives a damn.

But the real turn of the wedge can be seen in the dog that didn't bark on the floors of Congress. When the Senate called for those who wanted to speak out against ENDA, not a single senator stood up to speak. Now that the bill has been handed off to the House, John Boehner will not even bring it up for debate. A Salon article pointed this out this week, ending with: "Yes, gay rights have officially become a wedge issue -- that Democrats leverage against Republicans."

In short, a political wedgie. Republicans are now scared to even bring the issue up, for the most part. That is a downright tectonic shift in their political platform. They're still just as anti-gay-rights, but they would prefer not to talk about it now -- because they are fully aware that it is now a losing issue for them (especially among young voters). This is after essentially creating the issue as wedge way back when, because Democrats used to shy away from even wanting to discuss such things.

There's a larger picture to see here, too. Democrats (especially in the Senate) have -- astonishingly, to some longtime political observers -- suddenly seemed to have learned a basic "Politics 101" lesson: in times of divided government, push your best issues hard and hold the votes and pass the bills that you can -- in order to embarrass the other side. This way, you force one of three possible outcomes, all of which are good for you and your party. Pushing the issue could force the other chamber of Congress to hold an open a debate on the merits and then a vote. This rarely happens, but it is a remote possibility. The second possibility is that you force the other party to capitulate, embrace your position, and pass the bill you want to see made into law. This is even rarer (at least, without an intervening election to goad such behavior). But even the third possible outcome is a good one -- you pass the bills you can, and then your party uses it as a rhetorical iron-studded club to beat the opposing party's candidates about the ears, in the upcoming election (and, being Washington, there's always an upcoming election for them to worry about).

Republicans have been expertly wielding this political weapon for decades now. But for the first time in quite a while, Democrats are discovering the tactic on their own. The Senate has now passed -- in true bipartisan fashion, mind you -- a big bill on immigration reform and a big bill on non-discrimination for gay people in the workplace. The House is ignoring both. Salon pointed out (in a different article) that, in addition, "Democrats want bills pertaining to minority voting rights and equal pay for women on Boehner's desk before election season." To this list might be added a big raise in the minimum wage, which President Obama just explicitly endorsed.

The Republican Party's 2014 campaign strategy can be summed up in two words, really: "Obamacare bad." That's really all they've got left to work with. Democrats, on the other hand, are lining up a much better platform which sees a brighter future -- "This is what we'll do if you give us control of the House: immigration reform, equal workplace rights for all, protecting voting rights, equal pay for women, and a minimum wage hike."

This ain't exactly rocket science, folks. As mentioned, it's really just Politics 101. But for much too long, Democrats haven't really played this game very well. Increasing the pressure on John Boehner and the House Republicans is the smartest thing Democrats could do right now. Much to everyone's surprise, this appears to be exactly what they are doing right now. The delicious irony is how many of the things on that campaign platform list can be classified as wedgies -- issues that Republicans used in elections past to whip up the public in the opposite direction. Wedgies that are digging deeper and more painful each day, relentlessly dividing the two sagging, elephantine hemispheres of the Republican Party.

Well, OK, maybe that was a bit too graphic a metaphorical leap. We apologize for the mental image, really we do. Ahem. Let's just quickly move along to the awards, shall we?


Both Senators Ted Kennedy and Jeff Merkley deserve at least Honorable Mention awards this week. Kennedy, for being the original champion of the ENDA legislation (he introduced the bill in 1994), and Merkley for stepping in when Kennedy asked him to (when Kennedy knew he wasn't going to live to see it passed). Both deserve praise for an effort that spanned two decades.

But we also had an election this week, even if it was an off-off-year contest with no overwhelming national implications (no matter what the inside-the-Beltway chattering class thought).

We have to say, New York City Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio's win on Tuesday was beyond impressive. He won a whopping 73-to-24 percent victory over the sacrificial Republican candidate. That's almost a 50 percent margin!

De Blasio ran an unashamedly liberal class-conscious "two cities" campaign, and won big time. New Yorkers are tired of the Bloomberg era, and they made their feelings crystal clear. Progressivism won, liberalism won, and for racking up such an outsized victory margin, Bill de Blasio is the clear winner of this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Congratulations are definitely in order!

[Congratulate Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio via his campaign page (for now), to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


This doesn't qualify, being in another country, but it's at least worth mentioning that somewhere Marion Barry must be laughing long and hard. America's own original "crack-smokin' mayor," Barry can now be seen as a real trend-setter now. America's late-night comics turned their political attentions this week to our northern neighbor -- specifically, Toronto's mayor, Rob Ford. Ford has been the gift that keeps on giving, at least to the professional comics, all week long. No more really needs be said, to be honest.

Looking a little closer to home, though, the biggest disappointment this week was, strangely enough, also a victory on election night. Virginia voted Terry McAuliffe in as governor, but they obviously weren't very excited about doing so. McAuliffe was polling much higher than the 2.5 percentage points that he won by, and even though he ran a relentlessly lefty campaign, he almost lost the race to a fire-breathing Tea Partier. This election was supposed to put a nail in the coffin of Tea Partyism, giving Establishment Republicans leverage over the Tea Party by showing how ultra-Tea Party candidates fail badly at the polls.

Now, though, they can't really make that case. In the first place, the polls showed McAuliffe up by something like 6-to-9 points, which did not turn out to be the case Tuesday. Secondly, there was a third-party Libertarian challenger who garnered 6 points of the vote, meaning that McAuliffe fell short of the combined Libertarian and Republican vote totals.

All in all, a disappointment. While Democrats can celebrate taking Virginia's governorship, it would have been a much bigger celebration if a better Democratic candidate had crushed a Tea Party candidate by 10 or 15 points. That didn't happen. Which is why Terry McAuliffe -- while we still do congratulate him on his narrow win, mind you -- is our choice for Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. The good news is that there weren't any other disappointments in an election week -- to find a winner for MDDOTW, we had to consider someone who actually won his race. That's a good thing, in the larger-picture sense.

[Contact Governor-Elect Terry McAuliffe on his campaign page (for now), to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Volume 281 (11/8/13)

For the first time in a number of weeks, we're not going to have any Obamacare talking points. The subject has reached overload, and if any Democrat is asked, they should respond with something along the lines of:

"Obama apologized, the tech guy responsible is quickly retiring from his job, and now they're even blaming traffic problems on Obamacare. I mean, really, let's wait until the end of the month to see how things work out, OK?"

But we've got plenty of other things to address this week, especially since there was an election involved. So without further ado, let's get to the talking points of the week, designed for Democrats everywhere to freely use, from your workplace's water cooler to the interviews of politicians on Sunday morning.


   Tea Party losses

While it's easy to find opinions all over the map about "who won" and "trends" from Tuesday's election, there is one clear lesson to arise from it. If asked for election analysis, this needs to be pointed out.

"It's clear that whatever you think of the winners of this week's election, the losers are pretty obvious. The Tea Party ran their candidates -- pure Tea Partiers, mind you, not a hint of impurity to be found among them -- and they lost. They lost the races for governor and lieutenant governor in Virginia, and they lost against an Establishment Republican candidate in Alabama. So whether they were running against Democrats or against other Republicans, it was a clear loss all around for the Tea Party this year. Hopefully, more and more Republicans will figure out how poisonous Tea Partiers are to more and more voters across the country. But probably not before they lose some other big elections with the purest-of-the-pure Tea Party candidates, that's my guess."


   Republicans vote to condemn Republican votes

Sounds like a tongue-twister, but instead the literal truth. [Note: scroll down to number 4 if you follow the link, to see the reference.]

"Remember when Republicans taunted that John Kerry was 'for the bill before he was against it'? Well, just recently we had the spectacle of Republicans in the Senate voting to denounce the vote that they had just cast, almost immediately afterwards. To end the debt ceiling showdown, 27 Republican senators voted with Democrats to pass a bill. Then they turned around -- all 27 of them -- and voted for a resolution condemning the bill that they had just voted for. That's how terrified Republicans are of the Tea Party right now -- they're trying to provide political cover with this flip-flop, even though anyone with half a brain can see through such naked political gymnastics. One week, 27 Republicans vote for a bill, the next week, they vote their disapproval of themselves for voting for it. They've truly gone down a rabbit hole, folks."


   Rand Paul says...

This one is just too easy a shot. But it's also too tantalizing to pass up, really. Can be used by just about any Democrat, in response to just about any question. As long as your comedic timing is good enough to pull it off, that is.

"Well, as Rand Paul said... or, rather, as Rand Paul plagiarized someone else, who said... " [pause for laughter]


   Don't let up on ENDA

Democrats have to bring the pressure to John Boehner on ENDA. So far, they're doing a pretty good job (at least, on the Huffington Post blogs), from President Obama to Al Franken. But Harry Reid's been outdoing himself on the issue. In fact, we've got two (for the price of one!) comments from Reid to highlight this week. The first came in response to the Senate passing ENDA, where he absolutely dares Boehner not to take action:

I think the House is going to have to capitulate, if they have any hope of having a president that can be a viable candidate or they think they can elect some Republicans and they want to hang onto the House.

Pretty snarky, eh? But that wasn't the snarkiest thing from Reid this week. After Boehner predicted a flood of "frivolous lawsuits" if ENDA passed, Reid shot back on Twitter:

Speaker Boehner opposes ENDA for fear of frivolous lawsuits? He led a frivolous lawsuit defending DOMA that cost taxpayers over $2 million!

Give 'em hell, Harry!


   Seriously, though, it's about freedom and liberty

In a more serious vein, Senator Jeff Merkley proudly described what the win for ENDA really means.

Today's vote was a historic vote for equality and freedom. Deeply embedded in the Constitution are notions of freedom and liberty, and discrimination is the antithesis of those founding values. Everyone should have the right to work hard and earn a living. No one should be fired for who they are or who they love. The Senate said today in a strong bipartisan voice that discrimination is just plain wrong. We are one step closer to equality for our LGBT friends and family.


   Someone take the Cheetos away from Hickenlooper, please

Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado -- a man who made his fortune selling mind-altering drugs to adults (he was a mini beer baron) -- simply has got to put down the Cheetos metaphors.

"Democrats ignore the growing acceptance of marijuana use by the American electorate at their peril. We saw not only the first city on the East Coast to legalize recreational marijuana use in this week's election, we also saw Colorado pass a tax measure for its own legal recreational marijuana marketplace. Colorado's governor responded by once again joking about, quote, Cheetos and Goldfish, unquote, on Twitter. Sooner or later Democratic politicians need to realize that they should begin following where the people are clearly leading on responsible marijuana use by adults, and stop treating the whole issue as a big joke."


   Wedgies all around!

OK, this one's just purely selfish of me, I fully admit. I'm attempting to push the meme. Make it go viral. Or are there more up-to-date hip internet terms I should be using? Heh.

"Have you heard the new term for a wedge issue which turns against the party which created it? It's now a political 'wedgie' when the wedge turns ugly on you. Republicans scapegoating immigration to win votes? Now it's a wedgie the Democrats are using against them at the ballot box. Want another one? Republicans used the wedge of gay rights for years, but now all they've got left to show for it is a big old wedgie. And it couldn't have happened to a more deserving party, don't you think?"


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