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Elections: What's Ahead!

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  • John Scepanski
    commented 2012-08-15 11:31:59 -0500
    I think this editorial by Paul Fanlund in this week’s The Capital Times is an important one. We should all be getting behind our elder statesman/guru, Russ Feingold, on these things he brings up here. They are the elements of a winning strategy. John

    “Ryan’s selection could fuel a progressive sea change”
    After a weekend of wall-to-wall Paul Ryan, the overarching question this fall and beyond becomes “Which side is most concerned about my economic well-being?”
    Or, from a progressive perspective, how can Democrats appeal to the fundamental, enduring pocketbook worries of the average middle-class American?
    The Republican answer was crystalized when Mitt Romney, presumptive presidential nominee, chose the arch-conservative Janesville congressman as his running mate.
    Ryan, and now Romney, support historic cuts to programs that benefit low-income Americans — 60 percent of the cuts in Ryan’s budget plan are aimed at those at the bottom of the income scale. Some cuts come via Ryan’s radical ideas to re-engineer Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
    A New York Times editorial Sunday quoted a group of bishops saying Ryan’s budget ideas “will hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find employment.”
    The GOP ticket also advocates massive aid reductions that would force more layoffs in state and local governments, lavish tax breaks for the rich, and elimination of regulations that protect consumers and the environment.
    Romney and Ryan will warn that we mustn’t tamper with the nation’s historic levels of wealth disparity because if we dare tax or regulate “job creators” (a Republican euphemism for everyone who is rich), the trickle-down effect will dry up and all will mightily suffer.
    But what should be the progressive response to the profound angst felt by many middle-class Americans about their economic well-being and prospects for their children and grandchildren in a world of technological displacement and globalization?
    It isn’t appealing to their sense of tax fairness, since polls show majorities already think the wealthy are not paying their fair share, despite what Romney and Ryan claim.
    It isn’t trying to sway their core beliefs surrounding social issues, where polls indicate majorities favor women’s reproductive rights, a humane path to citizenship for immigrants and equal rights for gay couples.
    It’s not even playing to their general support for a reasonable safety net that dates to FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s.
    My interest in this topic was piqued before the Ryan announcement by a recent op-ed by a Georgetown University law professor and was redirected by a University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist.
    I then posed the question to Russ Feingold, a leader with the intellectual heft and historic grasp to frame a prescription. Feingold, like Ryan a native of Janesville, represented Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate for 18 years.
    But first to Peter Edelman, the Georgetown professor and author of a new book on poverty. Edelman wrote an op-ed recently in the New York Times that read in part: “A surefire politics of change would necessarily involve getting people in the middle — from the 30th to the 70th percentile (income) — to see their own economic self-interest. If they vote in their own self-interest, they’ll elect people who are likely to be more aligned with people with lower incomes as well as with them.
    “As long as people in the middle identify more with people on the top than with those on the bottom, we are doomed,” he wrote. “The obscene amount of money flowing into the electoral process makes things harder yet.”
    It’s clear where Edelman stands in the debate: “We know what we need to do — make the rich pay their fair share of running the country, raise the minimum wage, provide health care and a decent safety net, and the like.”
    In Edelman’s view, Ryan and his ideological allies “would slash everything from Social Security to Medicare and on through the list, and would hand out more tax breaks to the people at the top. Robin Hood would turn over in his grave.”
    So I asked Barry Burden, a UW political scientist and expert on American politics, what it might take for a political sea change.
    “Many observers are watching with anticipation that there might be another wave of reform akin to the Progressive Era” of a century ago, he says, a time of social activism and political reform.
    “My reading of the progressive reforms is that it took a lot of coalition building to come to fruition. It failed in many places until an eclectic set of groups including farmers, muckrakers, suffragettes, prohibitionists, and others came together briefly when their goals aligned.”
    He adds, “The left has undercut its power to do this in part by being so successful in fighting for rights of minorities, women and homosexuals. It has been argued that the Democrats became the party of ‘rights’ in the 1960s and 1970s. That appealed to many constituencies, but it got the party away from the bread-and-butter economic issues.”
    Adds Burden: “The Republicans have an advantage in framing the debate in terms of ‘economic freedom’ or ‘freedom from government intervention.’ It will take some serious work by the left to shift the debate.”
    Burden says “political entrepreneurs” will be essential to building coalitions and aligning the lower and middle classes. In the Progressive Era, he says, that list included Robert M. “Fighting Bob” La Follette and William Jennings Bryan. Among today’s names, he mentions Feingold.
    So I posed my broad question to Feingold by telephone one morning last week as the former senator gazed from a screened porch on Madeline Island onto a rainy Lake Superior. (This was before Ryan was named Saturday, but Feingold, perhaps sensing something, brought up his fellow Wisconsin politician without prompting.)
    Going forward, this grand progressive strategy should have two parts, Feingold says. First drive home the evils of the right and then pivot to the positive. “It has to begin with pointing out what these plutocrats are doing who have all this power,” Feingold says. “They’re not creating jobs.
    “What crystalized it in some ways was Paul Ryan’s $350 bottle of wine,” says Feingold. Last year, the Washington political website TPM described it like this: “Ryan, a leading advocate of shrinking entitlement spending and the architect of a plan to privatize Medicare, spent Wednesday evening sipping $350 wine with two like-minded conservative economists at the swanky Capitol Hill eatery Bistro Bis.
    “You know, here’s a guy who says he’s working for the people of Janesville, Wisconsin, who feels comfortable having a $350 bottle of wine,” Feingold says. “You’ve got to get people’s attention.”
    “Once you have made that clear, and … this is why Citizens United is so dangerous, is that we need to expose the outrageous greed and corruption that’s going on with the kinds of contributions that are being made.”
    Citizens United is the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that opened the floodgates to anonymous corporate money in politics, a decision Feingold is devoted to overturning in part by creating Progressives United, a political action committee.
    Feingold continues, “Once you’ve done that, or even as you’re doing it, Democrats need to embrace job creation and be clear that we believe in, of course, private companies and private investment.
    “You know, those of us that have founded our career on progressivism, much of it was about the working people of Wisconsin and they work for big corporations, many of them. We’re not just willing, but we’re enthusiastic about attracting business to Wisconsin,” he says.
    “Our biggest problem is that people believe the Democrats believe that big government is the solution to everything. But what I’m talking about here is not using big government, but essentially using techniques to attract business that don’t involve allowing the powerful, moneyed interests to have no rules at all, which is what the right wants.”
    He maintains the best way for progressives to prevail is to eschew the GOP’s money game.
    “To me (playing along) is hopeless, especially in an environment where you have, for the first time, unlimited corporate money. I don’t care how many rich Democrats or progressives you find, there’s no way that we’ll be able to compete just on the basis of money. So you have to do something else and that is to have a message that’s consistent with your values,” he says. “And I think we have an advantage there.
    “Now, you asked specifically, how do you get this economic message out, the connection? I think what would resonate … is to point out that our society is being turned over to just a few people. I frequently have people say, ‘What do we have now, an oligarchy or more specifically, a plutocracy?’ That kind of language, I think over time, will resonate.”
    Feingold connects all this to the rise of the tea party movement, “which was completely co-opted by the Republican Party and … foolishly led down the road of tax cuts.
    “What really drove the tea party was they were sort of feeling this feeling that there was a power structure in the country that was taking away any role they had. So their fundamental instinct with regard to Wall Street and some of those things was right, but they were co-opted. We can make the issue that just a very few people are strangling our democracy,” Feingold adds.
    “You know, once every hundred years at least, this same challenge comes up. It was happening at the origin of our country and it happened during the Gilded Age (the decades of extreme economic disparity after the Civil War) and now it’s happening again.
    “I refer to this as the Gilded Age on steroids because corporations can now do things in terms of disregarding the rest of the people that they never could have done a hundred or two hundred years ago.”
    Feingold warns that progressives should focus on this core theme, not dwell on lists of specific issues. “If you let yourself get into the weeds, not that those things aren’t incredibly important, but if you’re trying to keep a message simple, it isn’t the listing of everything that different people in the coalition might agree on.
    “That does not appeal to the independent person who we want to acknowledge that there is something rotten in Denmark.”
    For all that’s gone wrong for Democrats in recent times, Feingold points to history for comfort. “I think we tend to take our defeats a little harder than we need to,” he says.
    “Yeah, we had a bad year in 2010. We had all the control of everything at both the federal and state level (yet) the economy was horrible, more due to the fault of Republicans than Democrats. So, frankly, I said, ‘What did you expect to happen?’”
    Feingold continues: “Yes, it was bad and of course a recall (of Republican Gov. Scott Walker) was attempted. It was, without a doubt, an extreme longshot because of the nature of a recall. We really aren’t in that bad of a shape. I think (President) Obama is going to get re-elected. I think we’ve got a great shot of having Tammy (Democratic U.S. Rep Tammy Baldwin) win the Senate seat.
    “I think by the end of the year, things are going to look a lot different than they’ve looked to people in the last two years.”
    Progressives are ready, Feingold says, recalling a speech he made shortly after the recall election at First Unitarian Society in Madison. “I thought there’d be 50 people there. There were 500 people, absolutely packed, people were outside. … They were completely ready to go again.
    “I know first-hand … I’m all over the place both here and nationally,” Feingold says. “There’s a lot of fight on our side. We can start a process of overcoming this.”
    Romney’s de facto adoption of Ryan’s radical ideas should only add to their motivation.
    Madison360 blog
  • John Stanley
    commented 2012-08-12 13:49:19 -0500
    Get out there! Canvass, call, do lit drops, talk to friends, blog facts, volunteer, tweet, facebook, write an editor, join a progressive group, invite others.

    Inaction is action. If we are the change we would like to see happen, we must be the action and the energy to bring the change into fruiton.

    “All that is neccessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing” Martin Porter
  • Marcia Riquelme
    published this page in Elections 2013 2012-07-18 14:21:00 -0500