by Conor Friedersdorf
This post is directed at Republican voters, especially if you're antagonistic toward the established order in Washington DC, and sympathetic to the Tea Party movement. You've long been upset about the size of government, the national debt, and the budget deficit. In the 2010 midterms and the 2012 general election, you're hoping to elect representatives who'll resist further expansion of federal power, or even shrink government.
What I'd like you to do is to reflect upon the sudden controversy over the construction of a mosque and community center near Ground Zero. Forget about the merits of the issue. Is it good for your agenda that this is suddenly the most controversial matter in America? Doesn't it worry you when the public conversation shifts into culture war territory, where right-of-center politicians can garner votes and support without having to address the issues you ostensibly care about most? A campaign about the bank bailouts, health care reform, and deficit reduction might be more difficult to win, but victory would give the GOP a mandate to reverse the worst excesses of the Obama domestic agenda.
If a new Congressman knows that he owes his election to populist wedge issues like the so-called Ground Zero mosque, is he going to propose tough spending cuts when he gets to Washington DC? Or is he going to become addicted to wedge issues, and never do the hard work of persuading voters that our current fiscal course is unsustainable? Too often we're electing precisely the politicians who are most adept at exploiting wedge issues.