This has been a posting that I have wanted to write for some time. It will be slightly ranty, partially disjointed, somewhat meandering, and above all written with the knowledge that hindsight is always 20/20. The simple point is this, Democrats need to actually grow a pair and not let what they really believe continue to be something cast as faux pas. Politics isn't tea-totaling, it's a war of attrition where you have to beat the snot out of your opposition to win not just the battle, but the war itself. With the state of Wisconsin still being the epicenter of divided electorates during a Presidential Election year, Democrats, Progressives, and Liberals alike need to figure out how in the hell to win. They don't need to just figure out how to win this election, they need to figure out how to win messaging wars, win intellectual arguments, win societal arguments, and win generational voting. Wisconsin's progressive tradition isn't simply locked away during a time period between 1900 and 1914, it is something that was built during that time period and continued to flourish well into the 20th Century. History matters people, and Democrats, Liberals, and Progressives in 2012 better figure that out, otherwise they are going to matter about as much as Democrats mattered in Wisconsin between 1900 and... well, the 1950's. (Fun Wikipedia Search: How many Democratic Governors and Senators did Wisconsin have during that time period?)
One month after the Recall Election of Governor Scott Walker, there have been a few very worthy reads published looking back at what happened, why it happened, and where the "movement" that began on February 14th, 2011 goes from "here" (wherever/whatever that is). First off, here is the link to an article in the Capital Times on July 2nd talking about Progressives not taking the "young vote" for granted: http://host.madison.com/ct/news/local/madison_360/article_f541506a-c3a8-11e1-a5a8-001a4bcf887a.html#ixzz1zVoUZQlV. One of the more interesting passages was this one, talking about polling young voters attitudes about politics and what influence it has in their lives:
Being someone who loves politics, went to school for social science education, and has a passion for trying to make students care about history and politics, this passage hit close to home. The disconnection between young and old voters isn't anything new. Since the passage of the 26th Amendment in 1971 granting those at age 18 the right to vote, politicians and society at large have always bitched and moaned about young people's voting participation. Then again, it seems they always bitch and moan when young people actually give a damn and try to have an influence on policy too. (Ever hear anyone refer to the protesters in 2011 only being college students who trashed the Capitol Building to the tune of $7 Million?)
I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist, (*Alert), but I find it pretty damn funny that one of the things that No Child Left Behind, the ACT, the SAT, and pretty much all of the modern educational "reform" movements leave out of their "assessments" are things related to history and poly-sci. Sure, nobody likes just memorizing a bunch of "useless" facts, but I'll be damned if they don't tell the story of where we've come as a country and the lessons we as a society should have learned. I find it awfully convenient that school districts' hands are forced to cut these programs, along with arts, tech-ed, and drama, long before other subjects. How much value do we as a society even place on people for knowing current events, the political process, or what the results of political debate from years ago were? When the Washington Post just this past week reported that 15% of people think the Supreme Court overturned Obamacare, that's not just the fault of the people who have regurgatated such horrid mis-information, it's a societal breakdown of the fact that we don't have a population who cares enough to understand what in the hell happened.
So how does this matter? Well in Wisconsin, so much legislation passed in 2011 that many of us who were engrossed in following Wisconsin-Eye, showing up for legislative floor sessions, or skimming The Wheeler Report realized that most of it was allowed to be passed. The reasons were: a) so many citizens and news reporters were hung up on Act 10 that they had blinders on to other issues, and b) many people simply tuned it all out after seeing so much protesting that they thought it didn't affect them. It's only now where we have stories about the tax credits coming to businesses being exceedingly generous and school districts having their budgets decimated in the 2nd year of the biennium that people are starting to say, "gee, that's no good". It's the feeling of helplessness to change legislation, coupled with a general ignorance of the process to generate legislation, and apathy about the players who shape that legislation, which turns off young voters. It's also what makes them become distrustful of government and politicians as a whole, and only follow simple easy to understand soundbites for making their voting decisions, and not use any form of inductive or deductive reasoning.
In short... we are dumbing down our kids and in turn, dumbing down our electorate, causing us to dumb down our government. It's a mutually destructive cycle. Do you really think Governor Scott Walker is pulling the strings of Government? No... he's the poster-child of the non-intellectual, "regular guy" whom people like seeing in government because he's one of us so he understands what's going on. In reality, he's somebody who's got enough money to pay for the facade of the shop of horrors that the millionaire/billionare backers of his agenda want. What's the Democrats response to this? Put up somebody who is intellectually smart, understands the complexities of the issues that government at any level encounters, but then they can't figure out why he doesn't sell to "everybody" and complain about not having the fundraising resources of the other side. #Facepalm
So what is a Democrat, or even beyond that, a Progressive to do in 2012 in Wisconsin? One of the many people who was very active in the protest movement in Madison is a person by the name of Jenni Dye. You can follow her on Twitter @legaleagle which is where she got most of her fame and following. She posted an article in the Isthmus stating her ideas about what the Democratic Party needs to do, along with her ideas behind what average people can do to keep working towards changing away from what I have come to term the "Neo-Stalwart" party in Wisconsin. Her article is located here, and well worth the read: http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=37199. A good passage from her article is this one:
It is essential that we continue to cultivate the grassroots efforts that have sprung up in all counties of Wisconsin, and provide avenues for more communication between activists and party members in all corners of the state.
I have to admit, her talking about the average party member working towards reforming the Democratic Party is a good first step. I don't mean this as a dig to Mike Tate or Graeme Zielinski as so many others have over the last month, I mean this as a point that we need to make sure that people actually get involved and make sure their local parties are DOING things! One of the earliest signs that that I can come up with signaling that the recall effort would have trouble was the 2011 Republican and Democratic Conventions. I attended the Democratic Convention and I will say, it was large, somewhat inspiring, and yet I felt like the party brass didn't fully understand what the people "on the ground" were truly saying. What I also remember, was the fact that while Democrats had a record convention in 2011, so did the Republicans a few weeks earlier in Wisconsin Dells. Democrats never seemed to want to acknowledge that their opposition would be fierce, and willing to fight a war of attrition. We should have realized then, Republicans would be ENGAGED.
Now, I'm not someone to say that the Democratic Party should be completely thrown out and scrapped whole sale as worthless. Some people I know feel this way, but all it will do is lead to splintering and continued Neo-Stalwart victories. The Democratic Party needs to be reformed and function more than just as an email source asking for money when it's not campaign season. This type of effort will take a lot of coordination, and accordingly will also take the willingness of the leadership to listen to new ideas and be willing to take a risk (imagine that, risk) to reach out to new members.
When was the last time Democrats made a serious effort to get support from blue collar workers? No, I don't mean union workers, I mean blue collar workers. Why aren't our candidates sitting out in their local industrial park one day a month holding mobile office hours? I will write some time soon about my experience working an $11 an hour job in a pole factory in an industrial park, so yes, I have some credence to ask this question. How many of these workers/voters vote Democrat? How many of them vote Republican? WHY WOULD THEY VOTE REPUBLICAN?! Every day I drive by HUGE signs put up by the company owners supporting the local Republican District Attorney, yet see absolutely NOTHING about Democrats. How many of the workers who drive by these signs every day even know what the candidate stands for? *(Side note, yes, this DA: http://www.wisn.com/DA-Changes-Charge-From-Drunk-Driving-To-Drunk-Flying/-/9374034/10935578/-/35igb2/-/index.html)
Democrats, you want to cultivate young progressives and Democrats? Get the working vote. Get the vote of people who put in their 8 hours, go home, don't pay a single lick of attention to the news, yet remember your name and will vote for you. Understand that so many of the people who we need to vote for us are people who don't care about politics. Realize that there are many, many people who will vote for you if you actually sell the goods you're hawking. This may mean you have to make a pact with the devil, and realize that marketing is everything! MARKET YOUR IDEAS! This may mean bending the truth, this may mean skirting around some issues, this may mean casting the opposing viewpoint as something less than pleasant. Well, you know what, do you want to pass legislation to make things better, or just talk about it yet have your clock cleaned in the voting booth? I'm not saying lie. I'm not saying be a snake-oil salesman. I'm saying you need to channel your inner Don Draper and take some classes about marketing. Call a spade a spade every now and again, and figure out that Republicans have perfected the short, simple, to the point soundbite. Now, make it happen for YOUR policies!
So where does this round, and round rant leave us? Well, it leaves us with this: Democrats have a choice to make. They can either get busy winning, or get busy being irrelevant. We have one hell of a
As a party, do we want to be a party of "anti-Walker" or do we want to be a party of achievable ideas for the future? Jenni's column makes the excellent point that the 2 choices we had for Governor in the Democratic primary were both on the ballot in 2002. As a party, is everything possible being done to groom candidates for the future? Don't kid yourself, it may sound all sleazy, but it's how politics has worked in this Democracy since before 1789... you have to groom your candidates. What are we doing to encourage more people like Lori Compass to take the plunge? What are we doing as a party to help people like Lori Compass who lose to not give up on further ambition, and help keep their options available for a later date?
In short: What is the future plan for The Democratic Party of Wisconsin? 5 years from now? 10 years?
Democratic leadership in Wisconsin, ask yourself this question: What is keeping me, a 25 year old college graduate who is underemployed working a factory job with zero connection to his degree, supporting your party? What are you doing to help me? Not just policy wise, but as a member of the party itself?
If your answer involves me being "educated" or "understanding", that is a problem.