The axiom ‘Divide and conquer’ has roots dating back to Julius Caesar and has been cited by military generals, sovereign leaders, and economists. It is also a political tool for both incumbents and challengers and in its more controversial version: ‘Class Warfare’ in the political arena. On September 17, 2011 in Zuccotti Park, located in New York City's Wall Street financial district, the Occupy Wall Street movement inaugurated a public outrage: the 99% versus the 1%. Citing excessive income disparity and the lack of justice, the OWS movement spread across the globe and in the process set the stage for battle lines between super rich and everyone else. The 99% focused on the Wall Street versus Main Street battle, the lack of prosecutions against those that perpetrated the global economic crisis, and the unfettered greed of the rich and shameless. Progressives and liberals jumped to defend the OWS movement while conservatives mocked and ridiculed the protesters and those that defended their positions. The battle was on.
Questions were asked whether President Obama would embrace the OWS movement and strike a populist tone. A tone that the Tea Party successfully chimed in 2010 that lead to the Republican resurgence in Congress culminating with them retaking the House. The difference between the two movements was the Tea Party singled out government as the enemy while OWS targeted the rich. While President Obama waited to take a public position, Warren Buffett stepped into the fray and declared that the current tax code was so imbalanced in the favor of the rich as exemplified by the fact that he paid a lower effective tax rate than his secretary. The door was open for the President to push his Buffett rule and to promote a populist message. On December 7th, in Oswatomie, Kansas, the President channeled the great American Progressive, President Theodore Roosevelt, and set the tone for his campaign: he was fighting for Main Street. His State of the Union address on January 24th was in effect a campaign speech and he espoused the same message he delivered in Kansas. When Mitch Daniels delivered the Republican response he stated "No feature of the Obama Presidency has been sadder than its constant efforts to divide us." Immediately, the cries of class warfare came ringing from the studious of Fox News and right wing radio of a divisive President, a President out to pit American versus American.
I don’t argue with some of the right wing complaints that the President’s message was to split Independent voters from the conservative block. In today’s politics, the moderate independent center is where elections are won and lost. In 2008, the President defeated John McCain because he captured the center and in 2010 the Tea Party fueled GOP did the same.
What I take umbrage and exception with is the hypocrisy of the Republican Party. Republicans have been playing that game for years and here are some recent examples:
· Republican controlled legislatures and governorships in many states have been pushing legislation to force welfare recipients to pay for and pass their own drug tests in order to receive state aid. The ploy: turn middle class Americans against the poor.
· In Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and Arizona Republican controlled legislatures and governors have tried to separate middle class blue collar private sector workers from public sector workers as they vilified unions. Under the veil of economic freedom, these Republican leaders tried to place unions as evil and its members a threat to ALL workers.
· Voter suppression bills in a dozen states were created to specifically target lower income and immigrant voters who historically backed Democratic candidates. Calling it voter fraud these anti-American state politicians set to divide American citizens against each other.
· Last week’s commotion over the Administration’s mandate that woman’s contraception be free in all health care plans turned into a GOP divide attack to get Catholics to switch support from the President. Unfortunately, for the GOP its attempt to create division not only failed to draw Catholics into its fold, it drove independent women towards the President.
Sometimes, one party doesn’t have to do anything to divide an electorate; the opposition does it for them. In the case of this year’s Republican Party they have attacked women, the LGBT community, immigrants, and blue collar workers. Yes you have divided the nation because you have become almost as exclusive as a 1950’s country club.
Memo to the GOP, your Culture War narrative is no longer effective and you know it and that is why you have moved onto other issues such as labor, immigrants, and the poor. Heck even, Mitt Romney said he didn’t worry about the poor because they had a safety net.
Yes divide and conquer works swimmingly well in politics too and sometimes all you have to do is let your opponent do it for you.