I would like to think that the power of conviction is still a real calling that drives our politicians.
During the first week of the massive outpouring of support for state workers and public employees I had a nice talk with Ed Garvey. We both were inside the Capitol taking in the sights and sounds when I asked him when the national Democrats would get involved with the issue.
If ever there was anyone who walks the talk, and projects the progressive ideals it is Ed Garvey. In spite of always looking energized and confident about the fight that needs to be waged, on that day he looked frustrated. Garvey lamented the absence of more notable Democrats stepping up to defend unions in Wisconsin, even at that early stage. He was very much in agreement that more of them needed to come to Wisconsin while standing arm-in-arm in the collective bargaining fight.
Garvey also said he had made a call to Mike Tate, Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair urging more party involvement. That struck me as I also had called Tate and left a message that more needed to be done to get national Democrats to Wisconsin. I made it clear this was clearly a partisan affair and all hands needed to be on deck.
Too many Democrats were happy to benefit from union campaign dollars, phone banks, and get-out-the-vote efforts, but when it came time to stand in front of 80,000 citizens in Madison there was a lack of national star-power from Washington.
How can that be?
The fact that there was such a vacuum has left a lot of folks, like myself, feeling unsettled.
Apart from the State Democratic Senators who are truly the “Fab 14”, and the robust stylings of Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca and his fellow Democrats, there was a huge opening for national Democrats to enter.
While Jesse Jackson is a powerful moral voice, and Micheal Moore has the ability to command a crowd these are not the elected ones that make the Democratic Party tick.
Some protestors at the Capitol told me as I spoke with them to gain feedback that perhaps the grass-roots look of the rallies sent a more powerful voice. That very well may be a valid point. But I think something else was at play.
Knowing politicians could have had all the microphone time they wanted had they just showed up in Madison makes me think they were timid and leery about such a full-out battle over a union issue.
That makes me upset.
President Obama was mentioned on sign after protest sign these past four weeks for his absence. I am trying to untangle my own feelings about his behavior, and wonder if he was gauging how this all meshes with 2012, or if the federal budget fight is too complicated to put yet another log on the fire by ramping up the issue of unions in a national discussion.
I think Obama should have rolled the dice and stood with those who had stood with him. He should have been here this past Saturday to lend his voice to the message of Solidarity. Obama should have help draw a line in the sand that there are some issues worth fighting for, even when the odds are thin. ( I know, that is not ‘good politics’…..at least that is the conventional thinking. I happen to think the fighting underdog who stands with the people is always a winner. )
From day one of the protests there was one person that I though very noticeably absent from the microphone at the Capitol. That was our own Senator Russ Feingold who could have set the crowd afire.
Feingold was a natural face for this fight. Feingold is a leader from Wisconsin who could have lifted the rhetoric in meaningful ways, and made those in the fight more battle ready for the recall efforts. Feingold had the chance to be use his moral authority to speak to Walker and Company about the way things need to be done within the Wisconsin tradition. Feingold remains the seasoned and principled player in Wisconsin politics, and was much needed, but failed to enter the arena.
Some would suggest that Obama or Feingold at the Capitol would take away from the main message about union rights, and allow for Republicans to make this fight about political personalities. I would counter that the enormity of this issue, and the dreadful consequences of abolishing collective bargaining is such that it demanded all hands on deck.
Meanwhile Senator Herb Kohl walked for a few minutes in the Capitol crowd two weeks ago. As is typical for Kohl it was less than meets the eye. The following day I sent a note to Kohl expressing my displeasure at his lack of any robust statements on behalf of union workers.
By email I received a letter that made it seem I was not aware of how government functions. Kohl let me know my concerns dealt with a state matter.
Really? I was aware of that.
Did my note to him sound like it came from a second-grader? I was not amused.
I would like to think that what has happened in Wisconsin is of such magnitude that it might convince Kohl and other Democrats that speaking to the issue is something all should do even if they can not vote on it.
I would like to think that politicians still have moral fiber that craves to be showcased when there is a need to speak out.
Sadly what I got via email from Kohl I suspect sums up the national Democratic Party.
And this is pretty sad.
Public workers deserve fair treatment and their interests should have been taken into consideration. I’m concerned about the well-being of their families and had hoped that these matters be settled in a respectful and balanced way. However, Governor Walker’s budget bill is a state, rather than a federal matter, and will not come before the United States Senate. As such, I have no official role.