Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How we will "win" Wisconsin back

New vision for the state needs to be more than anti-Walker

Wisconsin is headed in a disastrous direction. This isn't just an individual view either, not simply the "musings from the mind of a Madison liberal": most in the state have determined that Republicans, led by Gov. Scott Walker, are pushing us toward policies and initiatives that will make Wisconsin less hospitable to working families, the elderly, and the young.

In fact, a majority in the state are now hoping that the recall campaigns result in a Democratic-led Senate, effectively stalling Walker's plans to subsidize his corporate donors at the expense of the people. More than half the state also disapproves of the governor's job performance, and half want him to be recalled next year.

The people want some serious changes. Bully tactics in the legislature, arrogance in the governor's office, and violence in the state's highest court -- these are not the ideals that Wisconsinites espouse, not the vision people had in mind when they elected Walker as governor last November. In six short months of Scott Walker in office, Wisconsin has done a complete 180. Buyer's remorse has set in, and Gov. Walker is no longer seen as the leader he once was.

It's clear that the citizens of our state want new management, desire a Wisconsin that reflects a positive direction for our people in the 21st century. Fixing the problems that Walker & co. have created won't be easy -- it will take a lot of hard work. But in order to take Wisconsin back from corporate thugs and the "cronyistic" practices of the Walker administration, we need a balanced approach that explains not only how much further Scott Walker can destroy our state if left in office but also what we can do to make Wisconsin even better.

Telling someone that Scott Walker is bad for Wisconsin is one thing. When the time for his recall comes, however, we will also need to explain why his opponent (whomever that may be) is not only better for the state, but also great for it as well.

Walker's slogan against his Democratic opponent in 2010 was very negative -- he described Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett as "Worse than Doyle," alluding to comparisons of policy between Barrett and then-Gov. Jim Doyle, who became very unpopular during the last years of his tenure. It turned out that it was Walker who best fit that moniker -- but it was missed by the voters due to his nice-guy persona, the belief by many that he was truly looking out for Wisconsin's best interests.

Calling Walker worse than anybody, even the worst the state has possibly seen, would help whoever runs against him. And yet, it won't help that person win any more than Walker's slogan could have helped him on its own. Walker won by comparing his opponent to an unpopular officeholder (as well as having the luck of anti-Obama hysteria sweep the nation), but he also won by making himself look positive while doing so.

We need to highlight the negatives from Walker's first year in office, but we also need to create a vision for Wisconsinites to see that will push our state forward. This vision needs to involve those that have been scorned most by the Walker administration -- and right now, that list is pretty long. Working families, the elderly, union households, students (K-12 and beyond), local breweries, farmers, the cognitively and physically disabled...this is just the short list of those who have a score to settle against Gov. Scott Walker.

There needs to be a strong, articulated vision promoted by progressives if we are to take our state back, in both 2011 and 2012. That vision needs to include things most everyone can get behind, including: adequate care for seniors and the disabled; education attainable to all who seek it; health coverage to those that can't normally afford it; and a tax code that addresses the growing gap in wealth between the impoverished and the extremely wealthy. This is a vision ordinary Wisconsinites can get behind because it is a vision that corresponds to our state's traditional values.

And that's precisely what needs to be won if we're to "win" our state back -- not a battle of policy positions, or of one ideology over another, but rather of values, of whether we are to preserve a Wisconsin that has existed for several generations. Compare our values to those of present-day conservatism, which includes an unregulated market intended to benefit large corporate interests while leaving working families and consumer protections out of the picture entirely.

It shouldn't be too difficult to compete with the values of greed, but progressives need to define their vision for the state better than they did in 2010 if they hope to make things right. Without a clear vision, without a candidate that's able to not only "speak" that vision but also "be" it as well, we will lose the fight to keep the Wisconsin we grew up with intact.

We win when we tell people precisely what they want to hear (and follow through on it once we're elected): we're not going to stand on the sidelines when the elderly, the sick, the poor, our students, our workers, and others are struggling. When we fail to help those in need, when our government fails to adhere to our traditional state morals, Wisconsin itself ceases to be. In short, we win when we tell the people we won't allow the Wisconsin we all love to disappear.

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