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Wisconsin Democrats Should Have Danced With The One That ‘Brung Ya’

August 9, 2011

As the numbers rolled in on Tuesday night my mind wandered back to the 2000 presidential election.  Many of us who were aghast at the outcome of that race, which was decided in the Supreme Court, probably walked away from that experience with a reminder about one of life’s lessons.

It was a  lesson that we were most likely taught by our parents, and one that applies to all aspects of life, including politics.

The lesson is dance with the one that ‘brung ya’.  

Though I cringe to write that way, it best sums up what was absent over the past weeks in Democratic politics across Wisconsin.

There is evidence to suggest that Vice-President Al Gore would have done better among the electorate in 2000 had he wrapped his arms around the neck of President Bill Clinton.  Instead, Gore was reluctant to embrace Clinton over the perception that the personal failings of the one would rub off on the other.  It was a short-sighted way to view the political campaign, and it resulted in eight years of failed leadership from Washington.

Just as Gore fumbled badly, so did the Wisconsin Democrats who waged what was to have been a principled and bold stand for workers’ rights along with a renewed call for economic justice.

But as the nasty ads poured from the television over the past weeks, and the messaging from the Democrats contained an utterly uncreative mix of issues that reflected an average general election, it was clear to me that the recalls would not likely produce a senate take-over.  I turned sour on the Democratic message, and frankly on the whole idea of the recalls. 

Wisconsin Democrats did a rotten job of packaging the message about what the recall elections were all about, and instead served the voters a watered down stew of this-and-that type issues. 

The fact is this was not just any other year, or just any other issue that had transformed the Wisconsin political landscape.   The energy and passion that created the recall movement was lost for the most base of Democratic motives

Somehow the Wisconsin Democratic Party, under the abysmal leadership of Mike Tate, failed to grasp the most amazing political movement that had been handed him regarding unions and public employees.  Instead of marshalling a message that mirrored the very reason the recalls were taking place, the ‘professionals’  in the party sought out ways to minimize state workers in an attempt to gain a partisan hold of the senate.

While I am a partisan fiery liberal and want the Republicans bounced from the legislature, I also wanted the passion that was displayed for weeks in Madison to be front and central in how the recall races were conducted.

Collective bargaining and the dismantling of 50 years of labor peace, along with the reckless shenanigans that took place in the statehouse which led to legal battles in the Supreme Court, demanded the recalls be handled differently from just any other election.

Pay and benefits, and the array of worker rights that percolates directly from our rich tapestry of labor history, is such that the careless dismantling of it by the Republicans should have been the centerpiece of the recalls.  Democrats should have forced Republicans to go back home and stand in their town halls and defend their unconscionable positions against collective bargaining.

Yet Democrats did not make collective bargaining a full-throated battle cry in the recalls.  It was not even a  whimper.

The Democrats, for some reason, instead of fighting the good battle for worker rights thought it best to weave and duck and pretend that a smaller conflict might be a better way to win the war for the senate majority.  Had they won the majority on Tuesday it would be hard to say exactly what was to be gained for those who stood at the statehouse this past winter and fought for collective bargaining.

That is a sad statement about the Democratic Party.

By running the recall elections as they did the Democrats forgot that old lesson about sticking with the one that ‘brung ya’ to the dance.

I was at the State Capitol a great deal during the weeks of massive protests that helped to transform the landscape of Wisconsin.  It was from the podium in the cold and snow, in front of energized workers who were bundled for winter weather, that Democrats could not state often enough their support and endorsement of state workers and collective bargaining. 

The protestors kept the pressure on, and as winter gave way to spring channeled their energy to gather recall petitions.  From there the public employees made phone calls, knocked on doors, and donated money. 

Meanwhile the hush of the candidates concerning collective bargaining during the recalls, and the downplaying of it from the Democratic Party, was the exact reverse of what we all witnessed at the statehouse this winter when the workers and citizens raised their collective voice.

What might have happened on Tuesday around Wisconsin had we not lost the passion that was on display during March in Madison?

  1. August 10, 2011 10:39 PM

    This was such a weird thing. 14 Dem state Congresscritters left the state and refused to do their job. Yet, Republicans were getting hit with recalls.

    Good to see this turn out the way it did. I might be wrong but I think we are seeing the Democrats and Liberals in the waning days of decades of liberal leadership, and I mean that last word purely in the figurative sense.

    When Al Gore is swearing during a speech about global warming it is clear the left is this close to jumping off ledges. Hopefully they won’t land on us. hehe.

  2. Patrick permalink
    August 10, 2011 7:39 PM

    Mr. Dekerivers:

    In your reply to Greg you write that he might think compormise is an outdated way to govern. But I think that fact that Republicans like Alberta Darling demonstrated was that what people really want is strong and decisive leadership. I’m sure you can see this when you reflect upon the democratic majority and the healthcare or stimulus debates. Voters were well aware of the budget issues which became the center of the election and they respected a group of politicians who actually appear to have solved a problem. That is a very rare thing against the backdrop of the debacle in Washington which did not.

    To me, the underlanguage of the election was that the Republicans had gone too far. We will both agree–I think–that this is the great risk of one-party control. The elections of 2010 were an example of that, and maybe the elections of 2012 might be another here in wisconsin. But as voters reflected on the issues of process and fairness you mentioned, they also remembered prolonged demonstrations at the capitol and the tasteless heckling of Walker at events like the Special Olympics. If these were even close to equal in the mnds of voters, the few undecideds or unmotivateds asked if the reforms worked. The answer in the short term appears to be yes. Therefore, reward the problem solvers. (as a side note consider how little Sandy P. or other defeated dems said about what they would actually do in office or how they would solve the problem absent Act 10.)

    I do think that most citizens are against raising taxes to pay higher wages to govt. workers in this environment. That sucks for me, but then I would not vote to pay more for my groceries so Jonny bagger (and I was a bagger) can get a raise. Fair enough.

  3. Marion permalink
    August 10, 2011 12:47 PM

    what a total waste of money in tough times. reelecting the same bums they tried to throw out. all that work for naught. what is the matter with those dumb Democrats? politics…bob and weave and not stick to the real issues but going to hell in a handbasket.

  4. Dale permalink
    August 10, 2011 12:41 PM

    Good commentary. As a public employee for the state of Wisconsin, I feel like the Republicans threw me under the bus in February. The Democrats and Unions picked me up and dusted me off, only to push me off the edge of the cliff as they ran pell-mell trying to come up with some metric that would work in the 2012 elections. We’re at the mercy of the Repulicans now. Folks that wouldn’t give us the time of day in February when we tried to communicate with them, and no doubt feel an even stronger mandate now.

    Been screwed twice now, when does someone show up to give me a kiss, eh? 🙂

  5. August 10, 2011 12:39 PM


    No, I very much disagree with your reasoning.

    You might also argue that there should be no tax increases to pay for government, or that compromise is an outdated way to govern…both positions taken by the tea party in Washington. However, in reality the public wants federal programs protected, supports the need for more revenue, and wants compromise. Failing to stand up for what is right…as the Wisconsin Dems did this summer is the problem…not the issues itself that should have been presented to the voting public.

  6. GregQ permalink
    August 10, 2011 11:45 AM

    What you (probably willfully) fail to understand is that the Democrats didn’t go with complaints about the rollback on Public Employee Union “rights” because they knew those arguments were losers with the general public.

    From cutting off the WEA’s ability to gouge school districts on health insurance, to forcing public employees to face the same kind of cutbacks the rest of us have been dealing with, the outcome of Walker’s “union assault” has been greatly beneficial to Wisconsin. If the recall challengers had made that the focus of their campaign, then the issue would have gotten wide coverage, and they probably would have lost against Hopper, too.

    Face it, you failed because your ideals are wrong.

  7. August 10, 2011 11:01 AM

    Fantastic analysis and I have referenced you on my Organized Blue America blog. Will be doing it again on Freshthoughtz. You have a great clarity here! Thanks!

  8. Patrick permalink
    August 10, 2011 10:30 AM

    My understanding is that Shelly More–a national board certified teacher–did run on these issues and soundly lost. This cut in compensation is hard for teachers like myself to swallow, but they were necessary for Wisconsin’s health. And nobody should be forced to be a member of a union like WEAC. There must be a lot of teachers wondering this morning where the heck their dues are going. I would be if I were still paying them. Time to wake up!

  9. Ron Groskreutz permalink
    August 10, 2011 7:50 AM

    I disagree with the recall elections. I think that once the vote is over, the winner has been chosen. I am a right wing conservative, and would like to see some Democrats have to face a second campaign and a second election. But that is not right either, once the vote is done, you dance with the one you have, at least until the next election.
    But I agree with you, I think the Democrats did a poor job staying focused on what was considered to beg “The Issue” of this whole recall. Since the party as a whole did not stay focused and on point, the elections pretty much turned out like they did the first time around.
    Nationally there are 39.5% registered Democrats, 32.8% Republican, and 27.6% Independant. I am not sure of the split in Wisconsin, but probably somewhat similar in breakdown. So, if the Democrats outnumber the Rebublicans, and the Independants typically vote 60/40 for the Democrats, I would say that a great deal of Democrats really did not support the Recall Elections. Or were those areas typically higher GOP percentage areas?

  10. Michael Leon permalink
    August 10, 2011 7:34 AM

    Mike Tate should resign now.

    And we will go forward, win next week, recall Walker and win in 2012.

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