This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Ken Blackwell was published July 11, 2011 on the World magazine website.
I wanted to reach over and give Chris Matthews a wedgie. He kept referring to the 2004 Ohio marriage ballot initiative as a “wedge” issue. The host of Hardball on MSNBC seems to think that social issues are all wedge issues. I call them “bridge” issues.
Matthews and many other liberals take their cues from the Thomas Frank book What’s the Matter with Kansas? Frank thinks that wily conservatives use “wedge” issues like life and marriage to duped blue-collar workers so they won’t vote their true “class interest”–with the Democrats. Frank is a Kansan and a liberal and cannot quite stomach the appeals conservatives make to pro-life and pro-marriage voters.
Well, Chris, calling them wedge issues is a way to diminish their importance, suggesting that they are not worthy of serious people’s attention. But I disagree: These matters go to the heart of who we are as a nation. The right to life is “inalienable.” Tens of millions of Americans still believe this, even if our elites are confused about when unborn children are endowed with that inalienable right. A Harvard grad may think such questions are “above my pay grade,” but regular Americans are not so perplexed.
We see in state after state that black Americans, Hispanics, and whites are coming together on the issues of life and marriage. This is why social issues are bridge issues. Those who urge Republicans to avoid these questions are the same folks who so often talk about “reaching out” to minorities. Well, there’s no better example of successful bridging in politics than the 2004 vote in Ohio to sustain marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
A lot of the GOP establishment was nervous about putting that measure on the ballot. Gee, might it bring out a lot of minority voters? Might that make it harder to carry Ohio for George W. Bush?
The results clearly showed that putting marriage on the ballot is why George W. Bush carried the Buckeye State in 2004. And the comfortable margin for Bush was so convincing that even John Kerry quickly conceded the state and the election.
There were the predictable howls from liberals. They tried to make a case that I, as Ohio secretary of state, somehow colluded with inner city Democrats–many of them black–to suppress minority voting in those communities.
Duh? Do liberals ever realize how foolish they really look? Black voters were not likely to have been disenfranchised in the very precincts where they live and vote by their own friends and neighbors. This is why nobody but the Michael Moores was silly enough to place any credence in these complaints.
Just look at what the marriage issue did on the ballot. In Ohio in ’04, Bush won with 50.8 percent of the vote, but marriage scored a thumping 62 percent. Clearly, Bush was helped by the presence of marriage on the ballot. In fact, he would not have won without marriage on the ballot. His 16 percent of black voters in Ohio was his best percentage in this community in the nation.
Marriage on the ballot helped bring out almost 1 million more voters in Ohio in ’04 than had voted in the state in 2000: 5.62 million vs. 4.70 million. Voters care deeply about these issues.
In 2008, John McCain never endorsed the pro-marriage Proposition 8 in California. His family and his campaign staff were opposed to it. Probably nothing could have saved McCain in that state in that year.
But Prop. 8 garnered 52.24 percent approval. That’s in spite of the pro-marriage forces being outspent 10-to-1 by the faux marriage folks. McCain was going down to a 54 percent to 37 percent crushing defeat in the Golden State at the same time marriage was winning.
Black and Hispanic voters may have put Prop. 8 over the top in California, but it was important to all Californians that year. The presidential vote was 13.46 million, while the vote on Prop. 8 was 13.40 million.
These are truly stunning figures. I can tell you as a former secretary of state that it’s virtually unheard of for a ballot proposition to come that close to the presidential vote totals.
This proves how much Americans care. And it shows that social issues are bridge not wedge issues. If conservatives want to win support in minority communities, I say for them to stand strong for life and uphold marriage. That’s the real bridge to the 21st century.