Democrats distracted by wedge issues of their own?

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala) says that Democrats should focus on the economy this year, not immigration or global warming. “One in ten Americans are unemployed. Wages are stagnant. The pace of creation is too slow.”  He concludes that the immigration and global warming issues are “too divisive.”

William Galston of the National Review agrees:

Elementary prudence would seem to dictate that the leadership would quickly pivot to the economy and would sustain that focus through the spring and summer. The small-bore jobs bill was a start, and the far more significant financial reforms will advance the case. But now, the leadership is moving toward, or backing into, months dominated by some combination of immigration and climate change—and of course there will also be a Supreme Court confirmation battle to fight. It is hard to believe that the people will respond favorably.

No doubt strategists on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue will point out that intensity is the key to midterm elections and that right now the intensity gap strongly favors the Republicans. The only way to counter-mobilize a somewhat demoralized Democratic base is to target the issues its components care about the most—immigration for Hispanics, climate change for young people—or so the argument runs.

That sounds too clever by half. In the first place, it’s very unlikely that either immigration or climate change legislation will succeed in this congress. If passing health care did not increase public support for Democrats, why will failing to pass immigration reform or climate change legislation work any better?

Second, Democrats seem to assume that they have nothing left to lose—that all the people who will vote against them this November have already made up their minds—so that focusing on non-economic issues dear to the base will be all gain and no pain. Again, I wonder. Might it not reinforce the message that Democrats are out of touch and unwilling to heed the people’s concerns? Over the past nine months, many independents who supported Democrats in 2006 and 2008 have moved away from the party. More could follow.

So immigration and global warming are, in essence, divisive wedge issues?

Meanwhile, Thomas Frank writes in this week’s Wall Street Journal, that the Republicans are using a particularly divisive social issue to distract from the need to reform the nation’s financial system:

Ever since the dawn of the culture wars, when widespread obscenity seemed to symbolize all that was going wrong with America, no subject has furnished more demagogue gold than pornography. Of course, it backfires against the family values set on a fairly regular basis—the latest example being that Republican National Committee outing to a bondage-themed nightclub in Los Angeles—but for grandstanding purposes nothing can beat it.

Take, for example, the current outrage at the Securities and Exchange Commission, where, according to an inspector general report that was made public late last week, employees spent a great deal of time and used up prodigious amounts of computer resources gazing at Internet pornography. What’s more, their porn habits date back to 2007 and 2008, when the need for an attentive SEC was at its greatest.

The chorus of outrage is being led by California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, who fulminated as follows to the Washington Post last Friday: “This stunning report should make everyone question the wisdom of moving forward with plans to give regulators like the SEC even more widespread authority.”

Of course, pornography has little or nothing to do with financial reform, whereas changing the immigration laws or enacting a carbon tax would have large ramifications, including to the economy.

Still, for Democrats, distraction seems to be the common enemy.

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