Through the Wisconsin looking glass | Wis.Community

Through the Wisconsin looking glass

[img_assist|nid=63810|title=Another happy warrior|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=160|height=124]Wisconsin progressives achieved a great victory yesterday.

What, you say? We didn't recapture the state Senate? Republicans still control all the levers of Wisconsin government? Alberta Darling is still going to run the Joint Finance Committee and still sign off on every wingnut legislative venture? Tea baggers think this gives them a renewed mandate for further social mayhem? Plutocrats are going to stick it to working families and the poor some more?

You say progressives here and nationally lost big in Tuesday's recall elections?

Well, if that's how you feel, I understand. Once again our side clawed and fought and came up just short. But what's the alternative to fighting? Giving in and letting the other side be our lords, and not just our landlords?

But moreover, we won. Twice. And that ain't bad. Progressives helped Democrats take a third of the Senate seats in play.

In heavily Republican districts.

In a campaign flooded with tens of millions of dollars (mostly uncounted, thanks to the US Supreme Court) from corporate interests via national third-party interest groups that were not labor unions. 

Despite a history of recall elections that going back decades barely produced any more than our forces achieved in just a few weeks.

Despite a sociopolitical culture that is badly biased in favor of a "winner take all" mandate, that presumes 50 percent plus one vote is cause for authoritarian, no-holds-barred non-compromise. A culture that has managed to insinuate itself into the minds of far too many citizens who now believe the meme that elites are unaccountably on their side, because those elites are really just victims, like the rest of us -- except for Democratic Party elites, of course.

But most of all, despite a mainstream media culture that has its own "winner take all" fetish which seems to know the price of everything yet the value of nothing.

What were the headlines this morning? Were they: "Democrats recapture two Senate seats"? Nope, the headlines were variants of "Republicans win." Well, they did win, four times out of six. On the other hand, on the political balance sheet, overall they are down by two. 

Yet for most pundits the herculean task of unseating incumbents in heavily partisan legislative districts seems unappreciated. It's neither here nor there as of late last night. Everybody loves a winner, unless the winner is one of of the successful, upstart Democratic challengers.

But it isn't over. It will never be over. There will be another election, and another after that. Progressives have traction. They have the facts. They have the mission. The only thing we possess that we now risk losing isn't about some temporary hold on an elective office, it's our mojo. 

Because if you start drinking the Kool Aid of conventional wisdom -- that this gigantic effort turned out to be all for naught, and that nothing will change -- then you've done the work of teabaggers and Republicans for them. And they don't need any more help wrecking America for everyone but themselves.

Remember well that popular movements -- even the original unon-building efforts in this country over a century ago -- are steeply uphill battles that take years and decades. These movements have to begin somewhere, and yesterday we began them anew, after first beginning them in the streets of Madison, then the streets of the state's other larger cities, then in the petition drives and then (but not finally) in the recall election primaries and campaigns that ended yesterday.

Neither should progressives buy into the notion that a pure mathematical majority is the only thing that matters in electoral politics. You change the culture by rising en masse. The state Senate, though nominally still in GOP control, will now be a changed place. Will Republicans still vote in lockstep? Perhaps. But if nothing else, this election has changed the human chemistry.

Other GOP senators and members of the Assembly know very well their party has just narrowly dodged a very big bullet. Now it's time to move on to concealed-carry politics, working daily in our everyday lives to influence a change in the attitudes of our neighbors, co-workers and others. Truly effective movements are grassroots, and they cannot just occur in the context of an election. The results won't be immediately apparent, but there will be results, and they will compound slowly and then rapidly, like the interest on loaned money that drives capitalism itself. That, in fact, is how conservatives built their current movement after what was for them the debacle of the 1964 presidential election.

Remember, too, that progressives have never had it easy, not in a country that started off all right as an experiment in democracy but which went off the rails time after time as largely unregulated business interests took us into financial disaster. After every disaster, those same interests would blame not themselves but meddling government. Over and over they played their game of "let's you and him fight." It's no wonder that today, with the help of electronic media tools that overwhelm normal human discourse, many citizens have a mindset that government is the problem, that unions and immigrants and poor people and the disabled and gays and blacks and women and other aggrieved people are the root cause of our woes. And the mindset that only unbridled free markets and rugged individualism -- with a strong dose of fundamentalist Christianity and strangely paradoxical economic policies -- can save us.

It's blind faith, and faith in the wrong instrument, but give them that and then seek to engage them in the language of a new faith: A faith in the community and in their fellow humans, rather than faith in abstractions. Fact is, many conservatives are people who are easily distressed by uncertainty and change. We need to sympathize with them, while highlighting the elites who time and again prey on their fears and lead them astray. 

As we saw in the financial panics of the late 19th Century, the Great Depression and now the Great Recession, the conservative establishment's rhetoric is mostly just nonsense. But bromides and name calling and rhetorical sleight of hand nevertheless remain effective.

Sometimes you must fight fire with fire, but most of the time you should fight it with kindness and caring and patience.

It is very true that many people in Wisconsin and across this land are hurting, financially and morally. But the American mindset -- carefully crafted by opinion leaders in the wealthy elites -- is to give a pass to the engineers of disaster capitalism while denouncing the victims themselves. 

The single greatest weapon that Republicans  employ in their effort to hold back the forces of change is to falsely portray themselves as victims. Starting with Richard Nixon's "good Republican cloth coat" line in the early 1950s, the GOP has made a very conscious effort to identify itself with the common man -- but ignore all those GOP fur coats, please.

Granted, it's extremely frustrating to watch year after year as the common man buys into the GOP claim, never minding all the contrary evidence. It doesn't help that the Democratic Party, like the GOP, has openly aligned itself with corporate interests in the quest for campaign donations. But even if that weren't the case, the GOP's faux populism is now embedded into the public RNA.

Necessary campaigning aside, nothing except patient and persistent communication will undo that deep-set meme. It may even take another huge economic disaster, one that is so pronounced and long-lasting that Republican arguments cannot withstand its obvious impacts. That has been the view of far-left political forces for a very long time: namely, that things have to get worse before they can become better.

Nevertheless, it is a despairing, self-defeating approach. The stakes are now so high that a major economic disaster in America will affect the entire planet; and, out of that disaster, the whole of civilization may be set back decades or even centuries. We are coming to the end of the age of cheap oil, cheap land, plentiful food and water and a planet that is ecologically resilient. The result will be resource wars and still more retiribution and finger-pointing as we are all encouraged to respond by becoming even more selfish. We can allow ourselves to be painted as part of the problem, or we can demonstrate we're part of the solution.

The very last thing we should do, however, is embrace the notion that we have been defeated. Because in personal defeat lies the spectre of universal defeat for the entire human race and the planet itself. We therefore cannot allow ourselves the luxury of retreating into ourselves, much as that might feel like the only alternative. 

Instead, we must revel in our day to day successes. Screw the critics. Screw the opposition. Be proud of who you are and what we can do, and the greater things we will be able to do later on if only we persist in trying, individuallly and together. Be proud. Be resolute. Be resilient. Give ground as necessary, but never, ever give up. Remember Margaret Mead's admonition that the only thing that ever really changes the world is the action of the individual.

It's great that we can come together in moments of crisis. It's just as important that, person by person, we continue to come together within ourselves. Live your life as though you mean it. Practice what you preach. Enable others to find themselves whenever possible. Seek out enlightenment, and steer others toward it, as gently as necessary.

Be an example. Be of good cheer. Be hopeful. Be the future.


August 10, 2011 - 9:19am