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