What This Is…
Issue #62- May 13, 2012
In this issue: Primary Results, More Reasons to Recall- Attacking the "Other", Cutting Safety Nets and The Economy
May 8th brought very few surprises in terms of the overall results. Most polls lead us to believe that the June election would feature a Democratic ticket of Barrett and Mitchell. In the primaries that shouldn't have happened for the Senate races all the real Democrats emerged victorious. Are there any real conclusions that can be drawn from the primary voting?
Much will be made of the turnout numbers for the primary. Both sides will claim that the numbers show a trend in their favor. Republicans will point to the fact that Walker got almost as many votes as the Democrats combined and that includes some of their supporters who voted form Democratic candidates. Democrats will point to the fact that they outpolled Walker and that the turnout was a record setting one for a primary election.
I really don't think a lot of real conclusions can be drawn from the numbers. There is no way to accurately tell whether there was a significant amount of cross-over voting by Republicans. We also don't know how many supporters of the Recall sat out the primary because they couldn't choose a candidate. What we do see is that we have a very divided state. We also see that there is still work to be done to engage all voters in the upcoming election. This election is important enough that we should see a huge turnout in June.
It is clear that the Democrats can't take for granted that they will get at least 900,000 votes (the number of signatures on recall petitions). Many of those signatures were gathered by volunteers going door to door. Casting a ballot involves a little more effort and some of the signers will need to be encouraged and convinced to get out and vote. It is obvious that the Democrats will need a unified and concerted effort to get voters to participate in the June election.
That we are excited about a turnout that was significantly less than 50% is troubling. Given the stakes in this election we should see more voters at the polls. Too many of us are willing to let others decide how our government is run. All the complaints about how out of touch our political leaders are seem hypocritical when a majority of citizens don't hold them accountable.
On a slightly different note, the committee to recall Senator Jauch has "suspended" their effort to collect signatures. Translating from current Republican-speak this means that they weren't successful in gathering support for their efforts.
Nothing new here…the only way that we are successful in recalling Walker and the other GOP candidates is by putting in time and effort to educate and motivate hesitant voters. There are many opportunities all over the state and there is a need for many different skills as we throw all our efforts in to these final weeks of this political marathon. We should also remember to support the efforts of activists in the 4 senate districts where recalls are taking place. So, phone bank…canvass…enter data…help register voters…talk to friends, family and neighbors…just get involved!!!
Why Recall? Here's Why!…
Now that the primary elections are over, our attention will turn towards electing a new governor, Lt. governor and 4 senators. For many of us, our minds are made up already and we are throwing our energy into electing Barrett and Mitchell along with the 4 Democratic senate candidates. Most polls show that a majority of those voting have already made up their mind and are staunchly for the GOP or the Democrats. This might make some activists feel like there is little use in trying to communicate our ideas with potential voters. However, nothing could be farther from the truth.
That these next 4 weeks are vital to the movement to restore Wisconsin to the people of the state is an understatement of epic proportions. This election will be closely contested and every vote is crucial. We must put forth our best effort to make the ideas and values of the progressive movement visible to all voters. While there are a significant number of Wisconsinites who are painfully aware of what's at stake here, there are also a large number of citizens who are uninformed and unengaged. There are also a number of voters who still don't see how the recalls will improve their situation.
These are the groups that we need to educate and motivate. Walker and the other GOP candidates have a huge financial "war-chest" to use on ads and propaganda. While looking on line (to help my son with his homework) last Monday (the day before the primary) my wife commented that nearly every page had a "Stand with
Walker" ad. Ads that weren't there previously. Flooding the internet, print media and TV/radio just before an election is an expensive, but effective way to get voters out.
Walker" ad. Ads that weren't there previously. Flooding the internet, print media and TV/radio just before an election is an expensive, but effective way to get voters out.
Competing with the Republicans in the propaganda world is challenging. It's also a battle that is superficial in many ways. Getting someone to vote at the last minute doesn't mean that they are convinced of your argument, just that you were able to put together a slick ad campaign. Our resistance to Walker's agenda has been all about Madison (and all other Wisconsin communities) and not about Madison Ave. It has been about awakening people on an individual basis to what is happening in Wisconsin and across the globe. Our strength comes from our message and our support for each other. This message is not delivered in a 30 second ad, but gains its power by being shared in conversations and other direct communications. Will we need to advertise, of course, but it is more important that we all make the effort to talk to other voters and make the choices clear for them.
The GOP will spend a great amount of money trying to convince Wisconsin voters that their agenda is best for our state. If that message fails they will try and make the case that the recalls are anti-democratic and a waste of time/money. Their hope is that voters will then either vote Republican, or will not vote at all. During the weeks leading up to June 5th, I will focus on a few of the issues that are of importance to our state and present my ideas about why the Republican agenda is harmful to us and why the recall is a valid and much needed "tool" in the effort to win Wisconsin for the citizens of our state.
This week I look at several topics that validate the need for a recall and demonstrate the need for all citizens of Wisconsin to unite in their opposition to the Walker agenda.
Recap- Political Extremism
Last week's issue (#61) started the discussion by looking at how political extremism harms our democratic institutions and values. The loss of the political center forces our politics to one extreme or the other and makes democracy's functioning difficult if not nearly impossible.
Attacking the "Other"
With a message as extreme as the current GOP's is, there is a need to find ways to unify supporters and divide opponents. The Republican Party has become very adept at identifying "scapegoats" and using specific issues to achieve this goal. By attempting to identify themselves as the voice of the mainstream (the often mentioned "silent majority") and the defender of "True American Values" the conservatives in the GOP work to alienate and marginalize those who oppose their views and policies. At the same time their stances towards the identified "other" help galvanize supporters opinions and cement their fear of what is "wrong with Wisconsin".
This strategy results in a series of attacks on different groups either through policy/legislation or through propaganda. Here in Wisconsin the broad spectrum of "villains" that the GOP has targeted is astounding. Republicans will argue that their words and actions are not directed against any group, but rather are designed to "help" all of us. However, that is a difficult argument to support when one looks carefully at the words and actions of the GOP.
In each of these different attacks on specific groups the GOP focuses on dividing their opposition. By using extreme examples the conservatives force individuals to feel as though they must vote Republican or else cast a ballot for something that is going to harm our society in some way. Within the progressive movement there is a spectrum of beliefs and values and the GOP looks for ways to tear their opposition apart. For example, the conservative stance on a social issue may force a socially conservative Democrat to choose between their personal beliefs and their knowledge that the GOP doesn't represent a positive choice. This perpetual undermining of public confidence in our political, social and economic system results in voter apathy or voters casting ballots that go against their best interests.
While the GOP claims to be the party of less government and more individual power, their stances on most issues contradict that message. In many cases Republican policies either force government into our personal lives or, by eliminating regulation allows for the wealthy and powerful to gain more power. This becomes clear when one looks at how less economic or environmental regulation affects the common citizen versus how it affects the wealthy or the corporations.
As one looks at the issues that the GOP uses to build support for their agenda, it becomes clear that they are attempting to create an image of the United States that fits their needs. I've written before about the conservatives need to grab and cement their hold on power before their base becomes a significant minority in our nation. All projections point towards the U.S. being a country with very different demographics in the near future and this prospect terrifies conservatives. Their efforts in Wisconsin and other states have a desperate feel to them. However, we all know the most dangerous opponent is one who is cornered and who feels they have nothing to lose. That is one of the reasons we are seeing such extreme actions on the part of conservative leaders.
The best way to combat the propaganda and misinformation of the GOP is by sharing facts and establishing communication between individuals and groups. Progressives must create a clear vision of what they would like our society to look like and spread that message of unity and hope. We can't forget what our long term goals are, a society with true equal opportunity for all and one that supports and nurtures different opinions and views.
What can't be forgotten or ignored is that the current struggle isn't just a hypothetical or philosophical struggle. The legislation and policies implemented by the GOP in Wisconsin has had real effects on real people. The different groups attacked by the conservatives here are comprised of real people, people who are our friends, neighbors, co-workers or even us! The effects have taken their toll on all of us financially, emotionally and physically. We will only see an acceleration of the negative impacts if Walker is allowed to remain in office.
Women- This has been a highly publicized front in the battle between conservatives and progressives. The issues around women's reproductive health and their rights in this area have been a focal point of conservative attention for decades. These issues, most prominently abortion, have been a rallying point for conservatives and a source of some division for their opponents. Conservatives have used graphic propaganda along with legal (and illegal) intimidation to spread fear and divide their opponents.
Their efforts to legislate and mandate women and their health care have increased significantly during the current political cycle. With complete control of all branches of government here in Wisconsin, one can only imagine the actions that the conservatives would have taken if the political uprising hadn't taken place. Many women in Wisconsin are feeling like second class citizens as the GOP intensifies their efforts to control women's rights to make choices in health care and reduce women's abilities to defend their rights in the economic sphere as well.
Children- Cuts to public education and social services have left many Wisconsin children worse off under Walker's administration.
LGBT- Another conservative stalwart issue has been the attempt to make homosexuality out as a threat to the stability of our society. This hasn't been a prominent issue here in Wisconsin, but this is probably due to the fact that the biggest initial salvo was fired against public workers. The response that followed the attacks on collective bargaining and worker's rights stalled the GOP's efforts in other areas. Rest assured that if the recall fails we will see more significant efforts by the GOP to restrict the rights of the LGBT community in Wisconsin.
Race- The GOP also draws power from playing on the fears and racism that exist among citizens. The imagery and message that conservatives deliver is centered on the changes that have happened to American society and American values as the demographics of our population have changed. "Minority" groups are portrayed as non-productive and a drain on the resources that "hard-working" citizens should be entitled to.
While current laws and the general climate in public discourse limit direct attacks on groups based on their racial identity, the policies that are proposed and promoted by the GOP have a disproportionate impact on specific groups of people. As Senator Jauch said when commenting on the motivation behind the voter ID law, "Jim Crow, move over, Wisconsin Republicans have taken your place. I’m not saying you’re racists. Intolerant, unsympathetic, restrictive; those are a few words."
One could also make the argument for ignorant. Case in point are the comments made by Milwaukee Rep. Jeff Stone (R) “Our job here is to represent the state of Wisconsin … Our job is not to provide a seat at the table for the tribes who want to be treated as a sovereign nation.”
However those same limitations are not as restrictive for individuals in their comments and actions as private citizens. Comments on message boards and social media cross the line from offensive to disturbing and scary.
The Poor, Working and Middle Class- I've lumped these groups together because, while they don't represent any single specific interest, they have certainly been a target of the GOP and their wealthier supporters. These economic groupings obviously comprise the majority of Wisconsin voters and as a collective group need to recognize the effects that the conservative agenda will have on their economic and political future. These are the broadly defined groups that have the ability to vote Walker and other GOP candidates out of office in June. They are also the groups that have been consistently played against each other and who have voted against their own self interest in many elections.
GOP policies and legislation have the objective of eliminating the power of these groups both economically and politically. By reducing or eliminating regulations for business owners and management the workers of Wisconsin will see their ability to control their wages, benefits and working conditions eradicated. Small business owners don't see the same benefits from legislation that corporate interests do. While the GOP claims to be the voice of all business, in reality they represent larger businesses much more than small business.
It makes sense that the GOP would target groups based on their economic and social class. The economy is a central issue in any political campaign and every citizen recognizes the importance of financial success for themselves, their community and their state. Because of the importance of financial issues in our lives, the economy provides a hot issue for candidates to campaign on. The economy also provides an opportunity to create division by spreading fear about the economic future of individuals and political entities. These fears are used to pit groups against each other by making it seem that one class is taking from the other social classes. The GOP uses issues like taxation as a wedge between groups and as a way to attract voters.
Public-Sector Workers- This group of Wisconsinites became the primary target of the Walker administration last February with the debate over, and eventual passage of, Act 10. During the following months every effort has been made to marginalize public workers and to attempt to vilify them as the root of the problems in Wisconsin. The response of public workers and their unions slowed the efforts of the Walker administration and blunted some of the attacks on the citizens of Wisconsin. However, with the draconian legislation (Act 10) now in place, public workers are in a fight for their survival.
More evidence is coming out that Walker planned his attack on public sector unions prior to his election in November of 2010. However, he didn't reveal his plans until after the election. The reason he didn't? While there is some support for the elimination of public sector unions among the citizens of Wisconsin, there is significantly more support for the unions and their members. It is unlikely that Walker would have won the race against Barrett if he would have revealed his full intentions regarding these organizations.
So, who's left? If you marginalize women, LGBT, non-whites, the poor, the working class, small business owners, the middle class and public workers what part of the population remains? Obviously not enough to elect anyone to any office. The question then is, why is Walker in a dead heat with Barrett?
To answer that question we return to the propaganda and the general message delivered by Republican candidates. The conservative message is one of fear and disunity. The imagery that the GOP uses paints a picture of Wisconsin as a place of prosperity and peace, just as long as everyone knows their place politically, socially and economically. We only face the "dire" future we currently see because these different groups are "selfishly" trying to impose their will on the "silent majority" of citizens who simply want their freedom. By portraying different groups as the "other" and by creating "threats" to the "Wisconsin way of life", conservatives are able gain the votes that they need to gain power.
Politics in Wisconsin have turned into a playground bullying scenario. We see Walker and his fellow conservatives taking the role of the lead bully, picking on different "kids" at different times. The other "kids" on the playground watch and are glad when the "bully" turns their attention to someone else. The "bully" finds a trait or issue to attack another "kid" on and utilizes that to isolate the "kid" and remove their power in the group. What becomes clear with time is that each "kid" will get a turn at being bullied, no matter what they do to support the "lead bully".
Unfortunately for Governor Walker, he chose to attack a group of people who have a lot of experience dealing with bullies. Educators spend a lot of time working with students in their efforts to reduce the impact that bullying has on children. We recognize that the best way to eliminate a bully's power is to unite with others and directly counter the actions of the bully. No bully wants to confront a group of "others" who are unwilling to simply accept being bullied.
One of the strategies that we teach children to use is to tell someone what is going on and keep telling until someone hears what is happening. That's exactly what we need to do for the next month. Everyone in Wisconsin needs to hear what the Walker agenda means to them and needs to recognize that whether their specific demographic group is under attack at the present time or not, eventually the Walker agenda will come for all Wisconsinites. We need to stop the Walker bullying before our power is significantly reduced and our options for resistance are severely limited.
Elimination of Safety Nets
There is an ongoing argument between conservatives and progressives about the role of government in our society. As the conservative movement has become more extreme this argument has intensified. The central pillar of the conflict rests on the amount of influence governments should have on the functioning of society. Current conservatives say they would limit the role of the government while reducing the amount of money that flows to and from the different levels of government. They argue that the State has become too large and is invading the rights of individuals to their "life, liberty and pursuit of property".What these extreme conservatives forget is that our "Founding Fathers" recognized that governments have a responsibility to provide for the equal opportunities of all citizens to these basic rights. In 1776 George Mason wrote documents for the state of Virginia which said, "That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety." Notice how the Declaration of Independence included happiness in that famous line, but not property. Property mattered to these men, that is obvious, but they also recognized that governments had a responsibility to provide opportunity, not to protect privilege over other rights.
As our nation grew it became more and more clear that we need a strong central government that can "provide for our common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty" for all citizens. It is only if these rights are protected that we can form a "more perfect union" and "establish justice" while "ensuring domestic tranquility". During our nation's history it has become painfully clear that, left to our own individual wishes, the freedom and equal opportunity for all people is a difficult thing to create and maintain. We need our government to regulate and support our society in many ways.
Government has stepped in to help restore a balance of power and opportunity many times in American history. Americans have come to rely on government for support in many aspects of our lives. Reliance on each other and on our government is not the horrible evil that conservatives would have you believe. While it is true that we all have an individual responsibility to work to be as independent as possible, we also must recognize that no one person can function as a totally independent entity without damaging society.
The conservative efforts to reduce government support of individual rights serves mainly to promote the rights of individuals who enjoy enough wealth to be able to exist comfortably without direct government assistance in daily life. These wealthy individuals and groups use many of the services provided by our government, but often pretend to ignore this fact. They complain about those who get a "handout" while at the same time receiving tax breaks and other benefits. By attacking the less politically powerful who receive aid from the government the conservatives are able to drive a wedge between different groups and use this division to secure votes from citizens who are harmed by the policies conservatives advance.
This has been a large part of Walker's efforts to gain and maintain power in Wisconsin.
"It's the economy, stupid!" That quote resonates through American and Wisconsin politics. With the continuing economic struggles of many people, the economy becomes the central issue that decides their vote. Once again we face a clear choice based on ideology. Conservatives believe that the "job creators" deserve the most attention and should receive as many benefits as possible. This idea that wealth will "trickle-down" is at the core of their attempt to control the economic future of our society.
That this reasoning is flawed seems to many to be obvious. Our economy is driven by demand and not by supply. Jobs will only be created, and industries will only expand if there is a demand for the goods and services that are offered. If citizens are unemployed, or are paid low wages and lack extra income to spend, then our economy will continue to struggle.
While the economy is by no means a simple issue and our problems are not easily solved, the people of Wisconsin have an opportunity to voice their opinion on the direction we should take in our economic recovery. To continue with the conservative plan means low paying jobs, fewer rights for workers and an economy that will funnel wealth to the top of the economic food chain. We don't need to return to the late 1800's or to the 1920's. A strong economy has a vibrant and strong middle class. Wisconsin has the resources, what we are lacking is leadership in a positive direction.
Walker and other Republicans will continue to talk about their interest in promoting Wisconsin's economy, but their honesty and motivation has been justly questioned. Do they represent the working people of Wisconsin, or do they represent the elite? Their actions point towards their support of the moneyed few, at the expense of the majority of citizens. Cutting services and giving tax breaks is not a sound economic policy and gives most of us little reason to hope that things will get better in Wisconsin.