Conviction to win – A letter to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin

Being in political advocacy myself, I know how very difficult it is to win the attention, commitment and involvement of the public. It is certainly very difficult to change hearts and minds, where political affiliation is concerned.

Conventional campaigning works to maintain a party’s majority, but it is an utter failure, where winning back a majority is the goal.

So far, I have not heard any energetic rallying cry from Dems to win back the Assembly or to win back House seats or the Senate seat for Russ Feingold. Nothing less than a thunderous battle cry from our party is going to drive people to believe in our candidates again.

In recent years, for every candidate running, there has to be a larger movement serving as their backdrop. Right now, Wisconsin Dems seem to be taking a go-it-alone approach to winning individual seats. I do not expect this strategy to be successful. It wasn’t successful for Russ Feingold the last time around, or Tom Barrett or Mary Burke or for many of the other candidates running for the State Assembly.

If there is an inherent, self-defeating notion that we cannot win back a majority, then that notion needs to be bludgeoned to death. We CAN win back seats – even in the most hopeless districts – if we deploy the right type of campaigning.

The DPW needs to be out in front this campaign season, laying out an ambitious strategy to counter Scott Walker and to take the power away from Republicans in the Assembly, who cannot be trusted with it. People like to be part of a larger movement. A larger movement that restores people’s faith and gives them hope and enthusiasm can add velocity to an individual candidate’s campaign.

Rather than giving up hope on certain “conservative districts,” the party that DESERVES to win should be the one willing to supercharge its education campaign on the ground, in those districts. That education campaign should essentially say “You thought you were doing the right thing voting for candidates whom you perceived to represent Wisconsin values. Unfortunately, that is NOT what this party has done and HERE IS WHY.” The party needs to convey that “Republicans are not the ‘conventional establishment’ they conned everyone into believing, but are the radical enemies of Wisconsin’s sacred traditions and values.”

Front and center on your website should be a link to all that Scott Walker and the Republicans have done to derail Wisconsin values. Next to that link should be a link of those Wisconsin values, as told by the people around Wisconsin, themselves. The DPW has to SHOW voters why their Republican vote is an affront to all Wisconsin stands for. The link next to that has to show what Democratic candidates will do to restore those values.

Sociological and psychological studies have shown that conservative-minded people will vote for who they perceive to be the “conventional establishment” candidate. In recent years, Republicans have devised their own movement around a rhetoric of “traditional values, small government” and “decreased spending.” We know they do not operate in office around those values, but in using this movement as a backdrop for all of their candidates, they have won a majority. We have to SHOUT OUT to every corner of Wisconsin how they have not only defiled our state values, they defile their own professed values as well.

Dems need to develop a movement whereby WE become perceived by conservatives to be the “conventional establishment.” We need to yank their twisted notion of “conventional establishment” (which is really just a form of rural utilitarian and fundamentalist Christian rhetoric) and replace it with what THE “conventional establishment” truly is and always has been, throughout Wisconsin’s history.

EXAMPLES (Wisconsin conventional establishment values)
1. Self-determination (How can we have that when Walker’s state is insinuating itself into local government, medical care, education and many other areas it has no business being in?

2. Prosperity in return for hard work (How can this happen when unions are crushed, farmers are undermined by large corporations, big companies are given taxpayer handouts at the expense of investment in strong, middle-class jobs?)

3. A quality of life, higher than the national average (How can this happen when the Walker administration has done so little in its custodianship of natural resources, health care (turning away Medicaid money and a state exchange), reducing money for educational opportunities, home ownership, etc.

4. Family and community (How can we have that in this economically ravaged and divisive atmosphere?)

5. Fairness (this is a fundamental Wisconsin value). How is it fair to undermine democratic input in every single bill Scott Walker signs? How is it fair not even to LISTEN to the merits of certain bills submitted by Democrats in the assembly, or to consider the merits of objections to Republican bills? How is it fair to bury critical details in bills that fundamentally alter the way Wisconsin has traditionally operated its public institutions and to sneak provisions into bills in the middle of the night, behind closed doors?

6. Innovation. Wisconsinites should be humiliated at the way Scott Walker has taken the state from being one of the top innovating states down to something on the level of Alabama or Mississippi. Every single Wisconsinite, who voted for Scott Walker and the Republicans, should feel regret and shame at the dismantling of the things that make us all so very proud of our state – the university system, our parks, our natural resources, our strong sense of community and compassion for our neighbors, our national schools of excellence, our quirky authors and artists, our family-owned farms and our once-pristine highway system. We could have been a leader in the transition to high-speed rail and instead we have a state slipping decades into the past. Republicans have destroyed the state’s innovative spirit.

There are more examples of this, but the bottom line is that right now, our party’s efforts are not visible and certainly not inspiring. There is no clear movement for people to get enthused about and swept up in. There is no perceptible passion by the party to fight to the death to win back Democratic control of Wisconsin’s most important offices and governing bodies. THIS HAS TO HAPPEN or the go-it-alone candidates will lose – AGAIN.

What can be done? How can we get this movement going? How can we inject some vitality into the party again? If you’re not inspiring and educating people with intense vigor, we will lose in November – COMPLETELY.