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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Day-After Thoughts

by folkbum

I began blogging from the minority, and if I keep going--I'm really, really tired, people, so I make no promises--I can do it again.


Last weekend, I spent some time in airports. (Next Halloween I will be going as a layover, rather than being stuck in one. Scary!) I walked past a man proudly sporting a t-shirt that read "Loosing is not an option!" I don't know what the back of the shirt said--maybe the man was a professional tightener and his shirt was a reasonable affirmation?--but I was, at that moment, deeply ashamed to be an American. The Indonesian children in the sweatshop where that shirt was undoubtedly made of course knew no better. But the chain of failure beyond that, from the person writing the slogan to the workers at the store where it was unpacked, displayed, and sold, to the man who bought it and the people around him who let him wear it, in public(!)--that chain of failure was at once both characteristically modern America and profoundly disturbing.


When I first moved to Wisconsin, Tommy Thompson was governor, Bob Kasten was US Senator, Republicans held much of the levers of power in Madison and Washington. We survived. If antecedents are worth anything, there is that to keep in mind.

Today's breed of Republican is different, though; more than ever, what makes up the bulk of Republican rhetoric is a clear avowal that government is the enemy. As in all religions, the followers of Reagan choose to remember only what they wish to, and his glib observation that government is the problem rather than the solution has become the modern GOP's catechism. Reagan, or at least the people working for him, had a decided interest in governing, and though I blame him for all evils of contemporary life--just on principle, you know--his administration did not, in fact, treat governing as beneath contempt.

When someone like Ron Johnson, who for all I know is a nice enough guy in person and maybe even a reasonably talented businessman, can explicitly campaign on a platform of, "I don't have any ideas for how to govern, except for repealing stuff that other people did, so stop asking questions now, thanks" can unseat a Russ Feingold, it bodes poorly for all of us.

Though I never agreed 100% with Feingold, there was also never a question of his intent. He was a true believer in the idea that government should be an active force for good in society, that not only can we do better, but that it is our moral imperative to do so. Knowing that, Feingold's votes were 100% predictable, even if they were against his party or even against what I would have done. Feingold was the only Senator to read the full U.S.A.P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act before voting, and, not coincidentally, he voted nay. Feingold appreciated the "advise and consent" role of the Senate as stated in the Constitution and, not coincidentally, voted yea on too many Bush nominees for my taste. Feingold recognized the failings this year's financial reform bill--not that it was a bailout, as was the GOP spin, but that it failed to reform the parts of the regulatory environment that led to the housing bubble and financial collapse, and, not coincidentally, he voted nay. And though the TARP program, according to people who know the financial system better than I, staved off a bigger collapse and ended up costing a fraction of what was predicted, Feingold accurately noted that the bailout saved those who caused the collapse from any responsibility by putting taxpayers on the hook, and, not coincidentally, he voted nay.

Despite party and political pressures in case after case, Feingold put the moral imperative ahead of expediency.

For as little as we know about Ron Johnson, we do know his moral imperative was inspired not by a belief in the potential of these United States, but by Ayn Rand and Dick Morris.

Well, no: I say we, but I don't think it was really we, for the Wisconsin and national media allowed Johnson to remain a cipher, onto which teaparty boneheads and disaffected independents could project their own wishes. Johnson's campaign, though largely bankrolled by the wealth he married into (he was a "self-made man," the media told us), was also financed by those bailed-out banks, still alive and able to fork over the dough because of government intervention. His business benefitted from the kind of government help he claimed was an infringement on liberty. His employees lean upon government assistance to provide the health insurance he doesn't.

Ron Johnson sold Wisconsin a "Loosing is not an option!" t-shirt.

So my sincerest thanks to Russ Feingold for his years of service to Wisconsin and the nation.


It was so nice to see the teapartiers energized and excited to dis-elect career politicians ... like John McCain, Rob Portman, Dan Coates, Marco Rubio, Jim Sensenbrenner, Scott Walker ...


I can't blame voters too much for electing Scott Walker. I am not a fan--I live in Milwaukee County so I've seen what he can do--but the fact is that Democrats suffered a tremendous recruitment fail. I don't know what made Barb Lawton drop out or Ron Kind think he should wait to run for Herb Kohl's seat (maybe we'll get back to having one non-millionaire Senator), but here's the thing. My standard gotcha question for Walker supporters I met in real life (I have one) was this: Name one good thing Walker has done for Milwaukee County. This is not an easy question to answer.

But if you ask that question about Barrett and the city of Milwaukee--and I have asked it of myself, many times--the answers are just as hard to come by.

I like Barrett, I do, and he has nothing to be ashamed about for the campaign he ran. But the time he's spent keeping Milwaukee in a holding pattern--that just doesn't make for a marquee, top-of-the-ticket resume.

But here's the new thing: Walker's win, with the GOP takeback of the legislature and split control of Congress, means that anyone whose primary job is helping the poor, the sick, the disabled, or the unemployed, your job just got harder. There is no doubt that budgets for schools, transit, health care, and more will be slashed. (Prison spending will continue unabated with no one in WIGOP leadership blinking an eye. Roads, too.) Anything with the word "public" in it is in danger--parks, schools, buses, lands, whatever. Get ready.


Thank AquaBuddha that we're finally going to put a stop to the NAFTA Superhighway.


Billions of pixels will be spent this week explaining why things went as they did, but there is one real reason, one we've touched on here before: The economy. Imagine if all the accomplishments of the Democratic Congress--from the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to health insurance reform that is working--the number of small businesses offering insurance next year is up for the first time in a decade!--were accompanied by, say, 7% unemployment and moderate positive GDP growth. Republicans pick up an handful of seats, yes, but there's no wave.

The stimulus spending that there was, much of it eaten by things people didn't even notice, like individual and business tax cuts, didn't cause additional job losses, despite the GOP's lies to that effect. But you can't argue that it didn't save jobs from being lost--I have colleagues right now who are not collecting unemployment because a stimulus project is employing them, and you probably know someone in a similar spot (hey there, incoming-Rep. Ribble!). What it seems not to have done well enough was stimulate new job growth. Though private sector job growth has been positive for the better part of a year now--it's true! look it up!--demand is still sluggish and employers are not willing to take new risks for no or uncertain reward. This is where Democrats in Washington let down the rest of us.

It was good to see many of the "Blue Dog" conservatives lose last night--about half the Blue Dog caucus in the House went down--because their priority seemed to have been stopping stimulus. To get their support, and to try for Republican support, too, the stimulus was weak and full of insufficiently stimulating provisions, like those tax cuts. (Tax cuts are among the least effective means of stimulating growth.) Yet their efforts to work against the progressive, and as it turned out, right members of the party ended in defeat for them anyway. The irony being, of course, that the bigger stimulus they opposed might have made the economy better enough more of them could have kept their jobs.

It is sad, however, to see many good progressive Dems fall as well, including Steve Kagen up in WI-08. Kagen always had a challenge, winning and holding that conservative district in the last two wave years. This wave was too big in the other direction.


Dire warnings about Milwaukee Democratic primary voters' having turned out weak Dem Jeff Plale in favor of liberal Chris Larson turned out to be hot air. Larson beat Republican Jess Ripp in a landslide.

Congrats are also due to My State Rep Josh Zepnick, who was unopposed, and to My State Senator Tim Carpenter, who won a surprisingly tough race: The moderate Carpenter had far slimmer margin of victory (350 votes!) than the liberal Larson did. UPDATE: The totals were wrong, and Carpenter's race wasn't that close. And Kathleen Vinehout held on in a tight one, too. Sadly, many of the other lean-R districts that Democrats won in the wave of 2006--including Jim Sullivan's, John Lehman's, and Pat Kreitlow's--have gone back to R.


Another reason Republicans came back: This year's electorate was older, and they turned out in droves to make sure that Congress kept their government paws off Medicare.


It will be interesting to watch the GOP deal with Paul Ryan--a true believer in a very different sense--in charge of writing the budget. Ryan's "Roadmap," while a favorite of the winger press's wankertocracy, was shunned by GOPers who were afraid that they might actually have to vote for it or run on it as a platform. Even in Wisconsin, RoJo and Ribble and Sean Duffy and others, when confronted, could muster at best a weak "Ryan's ideas are a starting point."

When Feingold announced he was not running for president in the 2008 cycle, it was easy to guess why: He had a plum committee assignment and a majority to work with. Will the same truth about Ryan keep him in the House when Kohl's seat is up 2012? Or will his GOP colleagues' likely unwillingness to follow his lead on Medicare and Social Security push him to the upper chamber?


And, finally, my prediction for which investigation Darrell Issa launches first: Christmas tree ornaments.

I know, I know, everyone is expecting New Black Panthers or maybe the job offer to Sestak, but I refuse to underestimate Issa's crazy.


Remember, Democrats in 2012: Loosing is not an option!

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