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Wedge politics

Wedge Politics.001Mitt Romney's latest ad is the best example of wedge politics in recent memory.

 In wedge politics, one party uses an emotionally-charged issue to divide the electorate. By definition, wedge politics are divisive.

Wedge politics polarize voters around a single issue, instead of allowing them to consider the pro's and con's of a candidate's positions on other, often more important, issues.

The chart above shows a sample of dependable wedge issues. 

Of course, the media love it because it gives them something to talk about even though they know it's mostly phony and largely irrelevant. Eighty percent of the media coverage of the 1960 presidential campaign was favorable in tone; since 1980, more than half of campaign coverage has been negative.

Romney's latest TV commercial doesn't sink to the Neptunian depths of the famous "Wille Horton" ad of the 1988 presidential campaign. But it illustrates the same basic technique: find an emotional issue that divides people and demonstrare how your opponent is on the wrong side of the issue. Repeat as necessary.

Romney's issue is "welfare" and his proof is a recent administration decision to let some states more leeway in requiring welfare recipients to work.

In reality, the leeway was requested by only a handful of states, including two with Republican governors, and it was granted only on the promise that the changes requested would allow them increase by 20% the number of recipients moving from welfare to work. To top matters off, Romney himself had requested the leeway when he was governor of Massachusetts. 

The whole thing is explained in a Wall Street Journal story that carefully avoids taking sides, while also avoiding an "on the one hand, on the other hand" approach.

But you know what? These "nuances" don't matter. The point of the Romney ad is not to convince Obama supporters to change their mind. It's not even to win the support of the few people who have yet to make up their minds.

The whole point is to continue the campaign of otherizing the president as someone who wants to create a "nation of government dependency." (Romney's words.)

To be fair, the Democrats' cries of "where are your tax returns?" isn't much better. 

Instead of discussing the respective responsibilities of government and business, or what to do about the economy, the candidates are intent on describing their opponents in one-dimensional terms that have little to do with real issues.

It's sad.

 

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