Moreover, Democrats have always used wedge issues just as much as Republicans. Indeed, the Obama administration is a round-the-clock wedge issue machine. Obama's whole economic agenda at this point is hinged on dividing America between the haves and the have-nots. Rhetorically, he defines the haves as "millionaires and billionaires." But his policies set the benchmark lower -- households that make $250,000 a year. He makes it sound like all that's keeping us from prosperity are tax loopholes for corporate-jet patrons. He insists that our unemployment crisis is really an inequality crisis, precisely so he can stoke the flames of populist resentment in the hope that the resulting smoke will conceal his manifest policy failures.
That's why I love the Republican effort to turn the tables on Obama. The White House claims that the Republican plan to pay for extending the payroll tax credit will gut funding for education, veterans and clean energy. This, simply put, is a lie. Even the Washington Post's fact checker, Glenn Kessler, says this spin is dishonest.
The White House opposes the House bill -- the only legislation to extend the tax cut that actually exists -- for two reasons. First, in order to have a theme for 2012, it desperately needs to maintain the fiction that Republicans don't want to help the middle class. Second, House Republicans brilliantly included in their bill the requirement that the White House make a decision on green-lighting the Keystone oil pipeline from Canada. Labor unions support the idea because it will bring thousands of jobs to working-class Americans. Meanwhile, polls show that working-class Americans and independents are in favor of more oil development. But Obama's real base of upscale liberals and petrophobic environmentalists hates it for all the usual reasons.
Tellingly, a senior White House official told reporters on background that the president will veto any bill that forces his hand on the issue. But the White House's public statement didn't even mention the pipeline for fear of signaling to working-class voters and independents that Obama is against it.
In short, Obama hates the pipeline deal because it is both symbolically and concretely an issue that drives a wedge straight through his base and his re-election spin.