The Wedge

Wedge issues are to politics like bread is to butter. Politicians absolutely love wedge issues. What is not to love about them. They create a natural constituency.As a result, politicians would be stupid to do anything to actually solve a problem over a wedge issue.


Abortion is probably the biggest wedge issue of the last few generations. In 1973, the Supreme Court decided that a woman can terminate her pregnancy for any reason up to the point of viability. I don’t plan on going in the the crux of the debate over viability. Suffice to say, I’m pro-choice, meaning I believe in the right of any individual to decide for themselves what they want to do with their own bodies. I’m also pro-life, I think it’s wrong to terminate a pregnancy. I’m also a man, so my pro-life views are pretty much meaningless, since my wife feels the same way and it would ultimately be her decision anyway. What I do want to address is how politicians are using the abortion as a wedge issue.

Pro-Choice vs Pro-Life

The names of the two sides don’t tell you the whole story here. The pro-choice groups try to paint the other side as trying to deny women their right to reproduce. The pro-lifers try to paint all pro-choice groups as baby killers. Both suffer from the logical fallacy of false dilemma. Politicians love the black vs white style of debate. They can play both sides against each other. Obama is an expert at doing just that. Since the groups fall into a natural constituency, Democrats take up the mantle of choice and Republicans take up the mantle of life. It’s a win-win for both parties.

Life and choice are both fundamental principles of the United States. That gives both parties ample reason to beat their chest over which side is right, always their own. And since choice and life are so intertwined in our culture, the debate will never be settled. Niether side will  acknowledge that there might be a  middle ground, or gray area. So politicians will never lose a voting bloc. Ask yourself this, do you think NARAL will ever support a Republican candidate? Thinking along those lines, do you think a Democrat will ever vote for any middle ground?

Why should they, they will lose their voting bloc. As it is now, abortion is a huge club that Democratic groups such as NARAL, and EMILY’s list can use to keep women from voting Republican. It’s become more of a method of control than anything else. You can tell by the rhetoric being used against each other. If a woman, or a man to a certain extent, were to chose a GOP or any candidate that didn’t rate high on either NARAL’s or EMILY’s List rating system, they are labeled anti-choice. Who wants to be anti-choice? It’s another fallacy of false dilemma, since very few is directly advocating that women have absolutely no choice. Ironically, it’s the ones that are “pro-choice” that are trying to deny women a choice, by the use of such ad hominums. Again, politicians love it, particularly Democratic party politicians. It’s a voting bloc they don’t have to worry about, they will always be there to vote for them. Unless something happens to disrupt the status quo.

Gay Rights

Gay rights is another wedge issue. I’m firmly in the group that supports gay rights. To me it’s an issue of equal protection under the law. Democrats play the pro-gay side and Republican play up the traditional marriage groups. Neither side will ever want anything to actually get done. Politicians like to talk tough about gay marriage, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, but in reality they don’t want to see gay marriage pass and they really don’t want to repeal DADT. Again, think about the natural constituency. Why would a Democrat really want to repeal DADT? It’s one less wedge issue they can use to bring in the votes. Republicans don’t want to lose the “traditional” vote, and repealing DADT will surely lose them a few of those votes.

This is exactly what we’ve seen in the Obama administration, so far. Obama came in talking big on repealing DADT during the election, they promptly put it on the back-burner. This pissed of a lot of gay rights advocates, especially on the back of Prop 8, but to Obama it was just good politics. We can see why now. Now that Obama’s poll numbers have tanked, he is again using DADT as bait and a wedge. He is trying to bait back some of those gay rights advocates into supporting him again, by talking big about DADT again. Of course he made the same promise back in October as well.

Of course there are more wedge issues that politicians like to play one against another. Immigration, Affirmative action, and Global Warming are a few more issues that politicians like to play one segment of the population against the other over. One thing about them is that in some sense, politicians will never really want those issues to be solved, or at least come to some sort of conclusion. Contrary to popular belief, politicians are not stupid. They do what they do for a reason. That reason almost always involves staying in power, which means getting more votes than the other guy. So when talking about the HCR debate and the apparent incompetence in the leadership of the democrats in charge, you need to ask yourself, was it incompetence or where they trying to keep a wedge issue alive?

There have been books and Nobel Prizes won over why politicians do what they do, it’s called Public Choice Theory.

  1. yttik
    February 9, 2010 at 14:46

    I don’t like wedge issues because they remind me of how easily people are played, brainwashed really, in a creepy kind of science fiction way. When you debate with some people you start bumping up against talking points and rhetoric that is so strong, people’s ability to think for themselves has left the building. It’s true regardless of political party or leanings.

    As to the abortion wedge, people have been so programmed to believe that choice equals women’s rights, that they are one and the same. Slap that label on your sleeve and you are automatically worthy of a magazine cover that says “this is what a feminist looks like.” John Edwards is prochoice, but does that mean he supports women? Well yeah, a couple of them, allegedly with campaign funds, too. Claiming to be prochoice is meaningless if you aren’t motivated by the right things.

    Over time I’ve come to believe that character is more important then issues. Politicians can lie on the campaign trail and support any issue you want them to. What they do once elected is a whole other matter. I no longer care about issues so much as I care about intent, motivations, and character.

  2. Woodhull
    February 9, 2010 at 21:06

    ” John Edwards is prochoice, but does that mean he supports women? Well yeah, a couple of them, allegedly with campaign funds, too.”

    ha ha. Good one.

    What really galled me was that as a (former) Dem you came to expect the use of this wedge from the opposition — but come on! from your own party??! This is when the scales were replaced by magnifying glasses. This is when I started saying “Stockholm Syndrome” about the young(er), hip and cool, urbane, uber-educated sorority girls who referred to other women over 40 as “old, white b******” whenever we came up against their adoration for bo. “How could we?”, they demanded. Kara and I have tried to start this discussion a few times — having to do with young(er) women not grasping the idea that as a voting bloc, they have a lot more power sticking with those of us who have already been in the trenches on womens’ rights — most visibly over abortion rights. And while we’re on the subject, let’s just call it what it is “abortion rights” and not hide behind the benign label of “pro-choice”. If “abortion rights” is too harsh or not as “sell-able”, why was the campaign name changed?

    • PJ
      February 9, 2010 at 22:49

      Great rant Woodhull! I am still too disgusted by our younger sisters’ behavior (during the primaries) to join in any discussion, but I would love it if you and Kara decided to do that.

  3. Woodhull
    February 10, 2010 at 07:53

    Thanks, P.J. 🙂 I didn’t realize I was ranting. The following is probably going to go all over the place (TL’s charge that I don’t come to any conclusion!):

    The water’s edge of “pro choice” is a lot further out than merely whether a woman has ultimate say of her body. Again, I don’t know the stats and all I have is anecdotal evidence, but the idea of pro choice has changed the mind set and landscape of society and goes hand-in-glove with womens’ rights, generally. Being able to control the timing and number of births, women have been able to compete more fully in a “man’s world.” From being able to finish her Masters to setting her sights on the corner office or simply allowing her to remain an unfettered, single woman; a woman who doesn’t have to worry about a pregancy (and more importantly, children) interrupting her career trajections can take that chip off her competitions’ stack. More about that in a second.

    Conversely, all of society has suffered (but more particularly women) because, let’s face it, eggs get old (but, interestingly, sperm probably survives the grave!), so it’s a double edge sword and a real dilemma for women–secure your future at the risk of not having a progeny to enjoy your efforts. I guess that would mean you really can spend your nonexistent childrens’ inheritance. There are many causes of infertility, but I think the single greatest one is simply that women delay (for too long) the decision to start a family. And we all wonder how men can get away with taking up with someone who’s half their age with impunity. We have a number of laws and societal changes in place now that complement the reality that women cannot compete successfully in the work force if they are discriminated against because they choose to have a child: Family Leave, beefed-up prenatal care and precise anti-discrimination laws in the workplace. However. What cannot be legislated are society’s views toward the traditional role of motherhood–not parenthood–specifically motherhood. Who gets the most heat for latchkey children, the men? Not hardly.

    But here’s where it gets interesting: Enter a pretty, smart woman like Sarah Palin. The first shocker is she is pretty AND a governor! That’s news all by itself. Then, saints alive! she’s got kids, too! And not only does she have kids, she has a lot of kids (not just the two to replace herself and Todd). The frosting on the cake? She was flying all over AK (not an easy thing to do in the first place) while pregnant AND she made the pro-CHOICE of keeping her and her husband’s less-than-physically-perfect child! What a woman! She just kicked big holes in womens’ rights argument that the only way women can compete is by remaining child free. Of course the most handy argument is that not every woman is Sarah Palin, with a husband who supports the family while she pursues her career (never mind that a commercial fisherman is in no position to take his whole brood out to sea every day). Suddenly it isn’t looking so good for women who have used that rationale for abortion, because Sarah is the poster girl for what all women can do if they took womens’ rights seriously. Because if we all did (men and women), poof! no wedge issue. Such a rift would return to its rightful place as an ideological discussion over theism versus atheism, which currently and rightfully has no legitimate place in these discussions.

    There’s a lot more to this conversation and it seems to me that pro choice and pro life supporters have more in common and could have a real dialogue if pols would get out of the conversation. I think HRC sums the whole thing up very well whenever she mades the statement, “God given potential.”

    • February 10, 2010 at 12:05

      Wow great stuff. Do you mind if I use it for another post? Lets keep this going.

      • Woodhull
        February 10, 2010 at 19:07

        ZH: Really?! I’m not sure even I can make sense of what I myself wrote! But I think we should have this conversation because it is such a big wedge issue. I think the Gay rights issue should be hashed over in the same way. Your assertion of these wedges being used to divide and conquer (and only for that purpose) by pols is dead on, balls accurate. And it would be like a fresh breeze blowing through the corn on a hot August day to hear some productive viewpoints that get us closer to understanding and, dare I say it, agreement.

  4. Woodhull
    February 10, 2010 at 08:07

    whenever she mades the statement — should be “whenever she makes the statement..”

  5. yttik
    February 10, 2010 at 13:39

    It’s kind of ironic, we’re one of the few modern countries that has no standard maternity leave, no universal health care, and no national childcare program. The prolifers are forever tossing around the word “convenience” as if abortion were some sort of convenience. On the other hand the prochoicers are always tossing around the word “choice,” as if this really had anything to do with choice. When women have the method and the means to raise children, then we can start talking about “choice” and “convenience.” I find both terms kind of offensive, almost as offensive as I find politicians who simply use the issue to rally emotion and votes.

    • Woodhull
      February 10, 2010 at 19:19

      It’s not only ironic, it speaks volumes to who we think is solely responsible for the rearing of children — women. And as long as women are dependent upon the overwhelming majority of men (who benefit from women taking care of the home fires along with raising the kids) in government whose priorities do not include women-friendly, family-friendly legislation, then we are screwed.

      There must be a way for us to help women raise their families without making everyone a ward of the state, too. How entitled would you feel about family decision-making about our own child(ren) if the message and method is always disempowering? And one other thing: We’ve got to replace pregancy (either getting pregnant or making pregnant) with something more self-fulfilling as a rite of passage for our kids. We’ve got to teach our girls that love isn’t sex. It’s an age-old problem and one that mass media is directly responsible for — that, and parents who refuse to parent. I have young cousin who, along with showing me a picture of his also teenaged girlfriend, proudly showed the family a copy of her pregnancy test. It was negative, but his tacit declaration was “See, I’m a big boy now.” Good night! Lordy, but I do go on.

  6. PJ
    February 10, 2010 at 17:41

    Well Woodhull, TL made so many charges against people it was hard for me to keep up with all of them. 🙂

    I agree with ZH – great stuff. Many insightful and thought-provoking ideas for me to chew on…

    Good points yttik.

  7. Ferd Berfle
    February 15, 2012 at 18:28

    Gay rights is another wedge issue. I’m firmly in the group that supports gay rights. To me it’s an issue of equal protection under the law.
    And that’s the end of the discussion, Zombie. I am for anything that increases actual rights versus entitlement. I have a gay brother and a gay father in law. Who am I to say how they should live? I mean, really. I’m also for legalization of natural plants and fungi such as cannabis and psilocybin. One should not make our plant friends illegal.

  1. February 13, 2012 at 18:50
  2. February 13, 2012 at 18:51

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