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The Wisconsin Take-Away

Wisconsin' Senate Districts -- 17 Democratic, 16 Republican today

The final results in Wisconsin were disappointing to Democrats, but not as catastrophic as the Republicans want to pretend they are. At last tally, it appears that John Lehman unseated Republican incumbent Van Wanggaard for the Senate seat from Racine, which means that Scott Fitzgerald retained his seat, but lost his place as the Majority Leader of the Wisconsin State Senate. The Democrats now have a one-seat majority in the Senate.

Which probably explains Scott Walker’s conciliatory tone in interviews this morning. He’s planning on a little get together for the state’s legislators, a few burgers, some brats, some good Wisconsin beer. He knows that from this point on, at least until November, he cannot just jam his agenda through the lege.

So, what else did last night teach us?

Money talks. So does Fox News, right wing radio and right wing internet sites. Between them, they shouted down the fact that Scott Walker is not only the subject of a criminal investigation in his own state, but the subject of a Federal Grand Jury investigation for misuse of his office as Milwaukee Country Executive. Between them, they made 53% of Wisconsin’s voters believe that one billion dollars was not cut from education and municipal budgets by this Governor and then magically restored to the schools after the recall began. Between them, they made 53% of Wisconsin’s voters believe that their teachers are overpaid and over-benefitted and bloated parasites on the taxpayer. Between them they made 53% of Wisconsin’s voters forget that police and firefighters, who are also members of public sector unions, were exempted from the Walker agenda of protecting the public from those corrupt and abusive unions, because they endorsed Walker for governor in 2010. Between them, they made 53% of Wisconsin’s voters forget that the law that stripped the teachers’ union of their collective bargaining rights was illegally passed. Between them, they made 53% of Wisconsin’s voters believe that the budget was balanced, when it wasn’t.

Money talks. So does Fox News, right wing radio and right wing internet sites. But it is not entirely their fault. As one guest on The Ed Show explained, after a while Wisconsinites stopped listening. They were overloaded with information. They proved the results of that University of Arkansas study that conservatives use “low effort thinking.” They can’t handle too much information and they believe whatever they hear first.

Scott Walker had over $30.5 million to spend on this recall election, and two-thirds of that money came from large out-of-state donors. He also began campaigning as soon as the recall was suggested, even before the million signatures were gathered. Tom Barrett had just over $3.5 million, and only 26% of that came from out-of-state donors and could not begin campaigning until after the primary in May.

The right wing accusation is that labor unions funnel their members’ dues into political campaigns without the assent of their members and in amounts that give Democrats an unfair advantage. That is a lie. Of the top ten outside sources of money in 2010, the first four were conservative, and only three were labor unions, specifically SEIU, AFSCME and NEA. The other seven were corporate or individual billionaires who supported Republican candidates and issues. Bill Clinton remarked earlier this week that this isn’t the 1950s. He was referring to Mitt Romney and other Republicans obsessing over Russia and communism, but the remark also can be applied to labor unions. This isn’t the 1950s when 40% of the private sector workforce was unionized and unions wielded enormous power. Between 7% and 11% of our entire workforce is unionized now, hardly a power player in America. The right wing chants about “union thugs” referring to those bullies who beat up on scags during strikes in the past. Just how thuggish is your kid’s kindergarten teacher? Yeah, I’ve known some thuggish police officers, but would you really want to see your professional policepersons replaced with the likes of Kevin James? That’s what we would have if police were privatized – mall cops and vigilantes with badges and guns.

The take-away from Wisconsin is not that the Republicans are invincible, but that the fight must be better focused, better distributed. Democrats have to stop dodging Fox News. Yes, they shout down liberals. That’s when Anthony Weiner’s example is useful. When they won’t let a liberal answer the question, turn away from the camera, refuse to respond, make it clear that unless the debate is civil, it will not continue. Be prepared. Damn it, learn the facts to fight the myths. If the staff of the Prime Minister’s office in the U. K. can prepare a synopsis of potential questions that will be asked during Prime Minister’s questions time, surely the DNC can do the same – provide the facts needed to answer the accusations. We pretty much know what those accusations will be. No Democrat should be unprepared.

When people attack unions, we need to attack the underlying rationale….that union members have something the rest of us don’t. That’s the explanation given for knocking down unions – their members are overpaid and over-benefitted. Ask the $64,000 questions – when did it become American to rip down the middle class and reduce them to the WalMart class? When did it become American to aspire downward instead of upward? When did we decide that we should accept part-time jobs with no benefits, two and three jobs to support our families, no chance of home ownership, no disposable income, not even enough money to afford child care while we work those dead-end jobs? That is what we are believing if we think union members earn too much or have too many benefits – we should aspire to less.

Lastly, we need to fight the religious right with their own weapon – the Bible. Jesus Christ never said a single word about homosexuality. That is Old Testament and the letters of St. Paul. Jesus Christ never said anything about birth control and abortion, in fact neither of those things are mentioned at all in the Bible, not once, not ever. They are extrapolated from unrelated statements. Christ was persecuted by the Pharisees because he rejected the Old Testament and preached a new order. True Christians do not draw on the Old Testament for guidance, but only on Christ.

BTW, if you are going to have a bad night, Green Mountain coffee is almost as good as single-malt Scotch, particularly if you need to type. 

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