Last night, the Democrats picked up two senate seats in the Wisconsin legislature. I have to say, I was a little shocked that they did not pickup more, but I am frequently shocked by how conservative people are in the midwest. The two seats were not enough to take control of the senate, but with one moderate Republican in the senate, it will none-the-less slow down Gov. Walker's attempt to disembowel the workers of that state. It is also remarkable for a number of other reasons:
First, these were defeats to the Republicans, because they were tossed out in a recall election. This was not a general election, and this indicates that, at least in two heavily-Republican districts, people are unhappy with what they are doing. Secondly, there have only been 15 successful recalls of incumbents in state offices since 1913, and two of them were last night. But most importantly, it shows, perhaps, the beginning of a change to remove the radical elements of the Republican party and promote the rights of workers. Hopefully this will lead to a national referendum to reinvigorate the working class, which is the backbone of this country.
This also, though, shows what work we have left to do to convince people that Democratic values are the ones that will bring the most comfort for the most people in a world where the belief that the government is bad and taxes are bad rings strong, especially through rural areas - like some parts of Wisconsin, where there is deep mistrust of the government. "What has the government ever done for us?" Well, let me tell you, and tie in the development of the middle class.
OK, so I'm a Social Studies teacher, so here comes a history lesson:
Let us harken back to the turn of the last century, my children, to the magical days of 1900. The robber barons were the wealthy, who had a lot of control and a lot of money, and often used illegal and immoral mean to obtain it. Most of the rest of the country were working poor. You could send your child to work in a sweat shop for 5 cents a day. If you were lucky, you might be able to get a job, maybe in the meat-processing plant. But be careful, because if you got your arm cut off in some of the dangerous equipment, they would fire you. And your arm would very likely enter the food supply. Those were some glorious, unregulated freedoms, unmonitored by the pesky government.
Along came a group of pesky 'progressives,' rallying around their leader Theodore Roosevelt, and they created those obnoxious unions, which did things like allow people to take weekends and vacations, and earn a living wage for their work. They further did things like see to it that workers were insured, and that there was compensation for on-the-job accidents. Furthermore, they increased they established regulations which would insure that work places were safer. And they even went so far as to inspect the food supply to make sure there weren't things like human arms floating around in there. One more, totally obnoxious thing they pushed through, was to have laws about the age at which people could work, and make going to school mandatory for kids, so that they had a much harder time seeking out the advantageous work in those sweat shops. That, incidentally, was the government that instituted and enforced all those life-changing policies. People have not shown they can be responsible on their own without someone looking over their shoulder.
These reforms were instrumental in the development of a large working class that enjoyed more material goods and leisure time. Many of these people started businesses, and after a few false starts, like the 1907 recession, the economy started to thrive.
Progressive politicians would implement some more reforms over the next 80 years, which resulted in the vibrant country we had up through the 70s:
The New Deal reformed banking an Wall Street and brought about the advent of social programs like Social Security. The Civil Rights Acts gave non-whites the right to vote and reap many of the benefits of their Constitutional rights (granted, minorities continued to suffer economically.) The Great Society pushed through further protections for disabled people, disadvantaged people and the elderly. All of these programs are currently on the chopping-block or under attack from the right. Remember that Rand Paul even challenged provisions of the Civil Rights Act while running, and Aqua-Buddha still had a large victory.
Then came the 80s. An upstart politician named Ronald Reagan won on the "voodoo economics" ideas that people shouldn't have to pay taxes, and that if we pumped a lot of money up to his wealthy friends, they would shower the rest of us with generous gifts of cash.
Granted, the stage was set for Reagan as the inflation of the 1970s was impacting many families, and the idea of paying fewer taxes was alluring. But Reagan went further. On August 5, 1981, he fired striking air traffic controllers and declared their union illegal. This was the first blow to worker's rights and the middle class, according to Michael Moore (who Fox News points out is a propogandist, and not even good at it...)
Reagan would go on to run up a huge national deficit by reducing taxes and increasing military spending.
Reagan has continued to be the sacred cow for Republicans. Though "trickle down" economics failed under Reagan, we tried it again under George W Bush. The economy collapsed. Now the Republicans want to try it again.
I am sure they are smart enough to know that there is no validity to the trickle down theory, and they just continue to push this argument as the wealthy line their political pockets, and the Republicans continue to funnel wealth from the bottom to their wealthy friends at the top, but they keep pushing this as their singular economic theory.
They have been extremely successful over the past 30 years in running on single, wedge issues, which divide the country and force people to vote based on their morals rather than their intelligence. By pushing conservative values that appeal to the flocks of fundamentalist Christians we have in our country, they have run on such ideas as - defend marriage from those nasty gays; abortion is evil; why pay taxes to a government that doesn't do anything?; you have to pay off your credit card, why doesn't the government pay off theirs?; If the government sucks so badly, why is is still so big? They even got a lot of mileage out of the "Obama is an illegal president because he was born in Kenya" idea. My favorite 'issue' is the "Sure John Kerry is a hero, but he's a little wimpier than he says, and maybe he didn't deserve all three purple heats" issue. I laughed when I heard it, but it probably cost him the election.
This is what the Democrats need to do - come up with an issue or two, that people who flunked out of high school can easily understand, and caters to the morals of the "Christian coalition." Mr. I'm not as much of a hero as I say came up with a great soundbite last weekend when he said "Tea Party Downgrade."
Which I guess is the other thing they do well: Apart from the soundbites and wedge issues, the Republicans rarely run for anything, they run against things. They have also learned that if you make up a lie and say it enough times on Fox News, it will frequently show up in the papers as actual news.
I believe the Democrats to have slightly more integrity than this, in terms of making up lies. There is certainly enough to blame on the Republicans after this congress. If the Dems can pin the downgraded credit rating and stagnant or declining economy on the Republicans, they can win.
There are two great political sayings that often ring true: "Who is going to win the election? What is the economy like?" and "If you want to live like a Republican, you have to vote for a Democrat."
Tides turn slowly in politics. A pickup of three seats in Wisconsin would have put the Democrats in charge of the senate and shut down Gov. Scott Walker (who, incidentally, cites Reagan's firing of the air traffic controllers as the single most inspiring day of his life...) But a pickup of two is a message. I only hope that this is the beginning of a huge backlash against the Republicans, and especially the radical Tea Party wing. I hope this will pick up momentum as we head into the election.
I fear the 2012 election season will be the most expensive, and the ugliest in history. After all, the Republicans have shown that money and dirty politics work in their favor. When Democrats have tried to take the high road, they have lost.
I so wish politics would be about debate and issues, and that people would carefully consider their candidates and what they represent, but the advent of the 30 second commercial and the quick soundbite have changed this completely. The reality is that a majority of Americans have already chosen the party they will vote for, and they will not be swayed. The millions of dollars will focus on a handful of undecideds, who seem to make their choice based on who they are voting against.