Thursday, June 21, 2012

Time for a Changing of the Guard

There is little doubt that the seat of power of the Democratic Party in Wisconsin is Dane County.  Apparently some sort of non-porous membrane covers the area, though, because the reality that exists in the other 71 counties of the state is not sinking in here.

But a few green shoots are poking up from inside the bubble.

Respected lefties like Dave Cieslewicz (who has Milwaukee roots) and Cap Times Editor Paul Fanlund are making very public statements that a new Democratic order is essential.  They’re saying things like the message isn’t getting through, the image isn’t clear, the focus is on the wrong things.

Others, like Madison attorney Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick, are saying it with a bit more force, making public statements that typically, when a party loses an election, it’s time for new leadership, and not mincing words about it being time for some new faces and new ideas.

But, here in the heart of Dane County, in the City of the Perpetually Offended, there’s huge pushback to any talk that suggests the Democrats had anything to do with the ass-kicking they were handed on June 5th.  There’s whining that it wasn’t fair, that the Republicans out-spent them, blah-blah-blah.  In other words, they’re acting just as you would expect losers to act.  Blame the refs, blame the weather, whatever.

And by the way, the constant whining about how Rock-Star Walker got all his money from big business and wealthy donors is highly counterproductive.  As my friend John Roach said, your money didn’t come from God and the angels.  It came from AFSCME and SEIU and WEA.

A few ideas.

First, come up with a message that isn’t focused on organized labor in any way.  To the other 71 counties in Wisconsin, folks like Marty Biel and John Matthews, as effective as they have been in the past, are symbols of what the Republicans are positioning the Democrats as: the party of organized labor.  As Dave Cieslewicz has suggested, do away with the word “Solidarity”, which is a code-word never used by 85% of Wisconsinites.  I would add, do away with that stoopid “fist” symbol.  The clenched hand sends a very clear meaning, and it should have nothing to do with what the Democratic Party stands for.

Second, base your message around new programs that will benefit all the people in the state, not just the usual suspects.  It’s been suggested that the Democrats should lead the charge to keep ALEC’s hands off the State Retirement System- to take the offensive on the issue, rather than play whiny defense (like you have for the past couple years).  Change the law so farmers and small business people can join the retirement system, which is one of those things which will be good for ALL Wisconsinites, and keep the retirement system fully-funded and robust.  Change the dialog from “Cadillac pensions for the lazy state workers, the equivalent of which cannot be found in the private sector” to “We have the best and strongest retirement system in the nation, the envy of every other state, and we’re going to share the wealth with ALL hard-working Wisconsinites” or something along those lines.  But – the key is to play offense, not defense.

Third, when the luddites in the Republican Party like Steve Nass and Glenn Grothman unleash their next diatribe against the University of Wisconsin, call them out loudly and strongly.  Push back and own the dialog.  Explain how the Wisconsin idea has brought great bounty to the state, helps farmers and manufacturers every day, and how the UW is the economic engine that will drive the economy of the future.  Position the Nasses and Grothmans as throwbacks to an era that’s long gone in this state and in the nation, and illustrate how their petty tirades against the big U are detrimental to all Wisconsinites.

And one more thought: you really do need some new faces.  Tammy is not going to beat Tommy.  She is the antithesis of “exciting”.  She is a workmanlike public servant who has done good things for her home district for many years, but she’s not going to beat a dynamo like Tommy, no matter how many times he puts his foot in his mouth.  Oh, and by the way: how many times has a mayor of Milwaukee been elected Governor in Wisconsin?  That would be ZERO point ZERO.  Never.  Stop whining that Russ Feingold should have run and been the savior; if exit polls are to be believed, he wouldn’t have defeated Walker, and I think Russ knew that – just as he knew, about a month before his last U.S. Senate election, that Johnson was going to win.  And you might mention to Mark Pocan that he needs to change his message, too.  If he’s going to make diapers for the striking workers at Palermo Pizza the issue he hangs his hat on, he’s doomed – for all the reasons above.

Executive summary: stop playing defense constantly, change your imaging and your messaging on social media, develop a positive platform of policies to benefit all Wisconsinites, recruit some new faces, and for God’s sake: get out of Dane County once in a while and listen to what the rest of the state is talking about.


  1. Altogether a very sensible essay.

    Meaning that it will NEVER be read by DPW officers.

  2. This is good advice for the National Democrats & Progressives as well. We have to stop letting the other team control the ball (conversation). We must become proactive, stop picking at each other, or we are doomed. Period.