By Dominique Paul Noth
On May 6, before the state Democratic Party set up a May 15 deadline for people to become official party members able to vote June 5-6 at the Wisconsin convention to choose new leadership to replace Mike Tate, I detected a strange eruption on social media. It was worth writing about.
This was long before the attitude started twisting into ugly fabrications on top of what I saw as superiority harrumphing. It became so brutal that other media such as Urban Milwaukee took notice – and now I hear the JS in the form of columnist Dan Bice is poking around.
Some people were clearly bothered that I, a progressive in values, was criticizing the people who choose the next state Democratic Party leaders. I hope somewhere in the thousand or so who make the decision were not any so upset that my column, though picked up by wispolitics.com and quoted to its own purpose by congnidissidence in early May, mysteriously vanished from search engines. I didn’t discover this until I returned this weekend from two weeks visiting family out East.
I have sought to restore the article under the original headline “Why Are Democrats Engaging in Purity Tests?” and am adding this piece as what ought to be preamble to anyone rediscovering my original, which I think readers without an ax to grind will see as commentary on the times not choice among the candidates.
Now the dispute has broadened and elevated into extremist ugly attacks. The media, which adore conflicts that sell papers, are now playing up the Internet dispute and even dragging in familiar political demons – in the form of the Koch brothers as a way to criticize Jason Rae and the questionable past of Chuck Chvala as a way of attacking Martha Laning whom he is rumored to support.
Casual readers may think that Laning in behind the Koch attack on Rae though she told me in an interview May 22 she is as mystified and outraged as he is and can’t imagine why Chvala’s apparent support of her has led to a guy she doesn’t even know being blamed for some sort of dirty tricks campaign against Rae.
The whole thing is actually quite laughable. It’s cocktail party sniping turned into the sort of Internet exaggeration that the Democrats whomever they choose will have to rise above to operate in future unity. All this seems much more about opinionated attitudes among progressive extremists and some proud Democrats offended by the sense of a friend being attacked, certainly not my intention if you read what I said and certainly not openly plotted by any of the candidates.
It reveals how sensitive are people who have devoted time and fortune to those off-year campaigns and judicial candidates that the larger public is only now grasping the importance of. But their slower awakening shouldn’t bar them from offering fresh help and ideas. Frankly the party regulars should be concerned about becoming hidebound. It is one of the paradoxes of our state that the GOP has survived so regularly though most of the state finds their values short-sighted.
Now the worries I expressed about social media loose lips have escalated. The media, determined to sell newspapers, sees a story in all this as a way to laugh about the failures of the Democrats and the party’s immaturity -- particularly since the immature Republicans are much better at maintaining a sense of goose-step control. I have never quite understood why the goose-step is preferred in a democracy, but apparently the media thinks it is less laughable.
My column didn’t endorse anyone (I’m not even a voting member), but it raised what I still regard as serious questions about insider politics and the need for Democrats to emphasize their difference from the GOP camp regardless of what they think it takes behind the scenes to raise money and elect candidates.
I noted how even in nonpresidential elections half the voters support Democratic candidates while actual party membership is negligible, which means a very small group of insiders pick the various candidates. I pointed out that many people support the principles, fear the party regulars are stuck in a rut and think of Democrats as the welcoming large-tent party. This internal dispute comes at time when previously unreachable citizens are growingly disturbed at the GOP state machine.
So the column was just a warning, based on what I still regard as trivialities about how new candidates for leadership were being attacked and veterans were using their history of dedication and friendships to suggest they knew more and knew better. I clearly upset people who have dedicated decades to political campaigning for Democrats they like, simply by warning that the Democrats should not look petty about degrees of progressivism or moderation and should discuss issues and pick candidates not beholden to party machinations but to what works best district by district.
But apparently passions run high in Milwaukee and extremism thrives on both sides. Just ask editor Bruce Murphy of Urban Milwaukee, where I don’t do politics but theater reviews. I don’t always agree politically with Bruce but he pointed out a provocative but interesting blogger Aaron Camp who claimed that Nation Consulting, the public relations firm run by Thad Nation and for whom Rae has worked, has the reputation of a major Democratic presence but some clients supported by groups that Democrats deeply dislike.
Murphy also rightly labeled as “shadowy” Kingfishmke.com which picked up the Camp claim using the demonization of Thad Nation as a way to attack Rae. I have been tracking this suspicious faux news site since the David Clarke election for a host of misguided stories aimed at “the growing uninformed, under-informed, and quite often misinformed” African American culture (their come-on, not mine), though the site is registered in Arizona and smelled suspicious from the start. But I thought it bad form to give another weird site with a rather insulting Amos ‘n Andy name any ink.
To associate Rae with the Kochs was flat ludicrous to anyone who knows his politics, even more ludicrous than his supporters attempting to criticize Laning because she once worked in Target’s financial division.
And the Thad Nation attacks? I was somewhat surprised that a good journalist like Murphy and a would-be investigative blogger like Camp neglected to point out that public relations firms run by Evan Zeppos and Martin Schreiber have many Democratic friendly clients but also clients like Nation Consulting that some Democrats are not crazy about -- yet no one accuses Zeppos (who worked for Dave Obey and other leading Democrats) or Schreiber (who was a Democratic governor) of being Koch slaves or extending the guilt by association to anyone who works for some of their clientele. And these other PR firms have also worked for clients like ATT who want to control Internet lanes and yet are involved in supportive union employment or activities.
It’s a complicated world in which Democrats have to work extra hard to explain they are pro-business that plays fair and compassionate with workers (which should be the ideal), while the GOP attempts to paint them as anti-business because they question the rapacity that drives too many corporations. It’s a world where the overly righteous on all sides can look like fools.
Amusing, too, how when Murphy wrote about this and suggested some skepticism about Camp’s claims, he was immediately attacked for making fun of the disabled because Camp has Asperger’s syndrome, a criticism I suspect even Camp found stupid as must others who work through autism and prove what some regard as a deficit can emerge as a gift.
Incidentally, I know my May 6 column suddenly vanished since I sought it on several computers, but I can’t be sure if it was hacking. Never had happened before and my host, blogger.com, has failed to provide a clear explanation.
But I know it was there May 6 since so many sites picked it up and all have reported back how the link later vanished. (I have restored.) And I did field complaints from many Democrats who had a horse in this race (I don’t) and thought I was attacking their candidate, though I wasn’t. I did want balance in the treatment of Laning and I wanted Rae to curb his own publicity methods and the behavior of some of his supporters. Now I feel he is the more injured party, but it could soon be Laning if she is blamed for someone else’s overreach.