Wednesday, April 19, 2017

HOW TO PICK (OR NOT) RIGHT DEMOCRAT TO RUN FOR GOVERNOR

By Dominique Paul Noth


Even in 1901 Robert M. La Follette Sr. looked like
a governor, and he wasn't even a Democrat! What
will the new Democratic candidate look and
sound like?
I don’t know which is more distressing – the Democrats thinking the game is over because the party has not locked in lead candidates for Wisconsin governor in 2018, or the party assumption expressed at social gatherings  that it has to be someone personally well heeled to take on incumbent Scott Walker.

Talk about stepping on your own options! And having reality backwards. The race has already swept  over Dane County Exec Joe Parisi, Green Bay Packers retiree Mark Tauscher (pretty smart idea), retired state senator Timothy Cullen and now is looking at businessmen (Andy Gronik???)  and some more familiar names.

Not only do I think there is still time, but I’m worried about the price tag being put on the search, as opposed to the unity that must elevate the choice. 

First, let’s dispense with the nonsense that Republicans do it better.  Of course they will always have more money and if that is your standard, just go and lay down in the corner now. This is not a question the Republicans worry about,  since Citizens United and unenforced campaign finance rules in Wisconsin mean  they can rely on a network of dark money to fund Slenderman if that is the choice. Okay, I exaggerate but even if they pick Robin Vos they can raise money. 

Inbred confidence about money puts  the GOP ahead – but  in ways that no one should emulate. And not that far ahead.

Trump may have talked endlessly about money during his campaign – and since -- and received endless free coverage for that. But his actual campaign outlay was lower. Maybe his  voters thought some of his money would rub off on them. Promises were bigger in the Trump campaign. Only now the reality that he doesn’t know how to do diddly is sinking in.

The death rattle of  weak deeds will count most in the campaign against Walker, who already is entering his seventh year in office.  He is not a dumb politician. He makes it sound like it is his Christian and Boy Scout duty to oppose taxes in any shape except for his own secret and dirty   ones. But he has been an ineffective governor. The ship of state just bobs back and forth in the same spot. 

You can hardly quote him to create  ridicule, as you can with Trump. Inelegant? Boastful?  Sure, but hardly a memorable style. He’s much like Trump in promises exuded with confidence, but Walker already has a long  track record of  deception, of policies unfulfilled or exaggerated or misapplied. Current GOP legislators don’t admit this aloud, but he has put many in bind after bind.

This should be a campaign where the Democrats succeed by borrowing from Reagan – the “are you better off” question reaching back to 2010.  Not just  poor families but a typical middle class family of two parents and two kids, or single parents, or farmhands, or storekeepers or  seniors – the bulk of the voters.  It’s tax time. Have them write finances down and then look at the realities.

Despite Walker’s tax pledges, are you truly better off? Because of him?  Can you  claim real savings on property tax, faster transit to jobs, more assured life on the farm, better schooling at reasonable cost,  health care improvements the state is responsible for, better treatment and balance in the environment – or is it mainly promises about not spending like the Democrats of GOP legend? And how has that  welfare to educate the rich worked out for you?

Give Walker the votes of private school beneficiaries,  throw in the  upper class bureaucrats and managers, discount the GOP stalwarts who are wising up,   and the Democrats stand a good chance despite Walker’s lock on the state GOP machinery  and glib evasion on the hard statistics.

It may come down to how the Democrats argue for change, without a smidgen of arrogant superiority and a big dollop of common sense.

Of course money is essential to today’s campaign environment and it is harder for Democrats to scratch it up because they inevitably rely more on poorer voters. But a good candidate for the people is still an overriding advantage. History is one proof. 

Leading into 2008, Obama was not the best heeled candidate  but he stirred the most excitement and that allowed a working system to raise enormous funds.  There were deeper initial coffers on the Hillary Clinton side and it did not matter.

In 2016, Hillary had the money advantage plus the universal sentiment that it was her turn –  yet Bernie Sanders generated more excitement and probably took away the economy as the hottest issue for her. So she had to look elsewhere.   In fact, back then, no one – not even the Sanders camp – questioned her plan to use Trump’s words against him, just as many now are pushing to use Walker’s words against him – you know the 250,000 jobs promise, the opposition to trains  and other failures like that.

Forget the words. Walker’s record is prime for attack on basic principles.  And never underestimate the power of taking a chance.

Right now the state party is consumed in discussing who will lead it behind the scenes even before picking a candidate. Not crazy about that priority. How about this one?

Imagine a Democrat with good ideas about transportation, about jobs and infrastructure, about how to rebuild Wisconsin as an education leader, about embracing the value of our land more than providing a free dump of hog manure into the river or a fouling of the water table. 

Many Democrats need to put such ideas into writing and stop playing defense – or claims of “we obviously know better” -- against the GOP financial  juggernaut.  Remember, some Republicans are longing for the leash to be removed so they can just consider community needs. They may not jump over to the Democrats but their hesitation about Walker will be eminently exploitable.

Nor do the Democrats have a weak bench, just  maybe a younger bench that may have to wait a few years to challenge for the top spot.   I know the Milwaukee bench pretty well and asked some veteran Democratic rainmakers, such as former legislator Gary Goyke, to monitor my ideas and provide a few more names from around the state.  That’s partly to put a lie to the attitude that the Democrats don’t have anyone anymore.


Vinehout in 2012 campaigning at Serb Hall.
Here are names that will grow in importance – Mandela Barnes, Sens.  Kathleen Vinehout and Chris Larson, Reps.  Dana Wachs, Chris Taylor, Katrina Shankland,  Evan Goyke, David Crowley, Daniel Riemer, Manitowoc Mayor Justin Nichols,  Rep. Cory Mason now running for Racine Mayor, Waupaca Mayor Brian Smith  plus a slew of candidates that look appealing (Dmitri Martin, Justin Bielinski, Mandy Wright, Edgar Lin) --  and that’s just from the front of my brain.

Some are too green. Walker may for a long time represent  the last gasp of trusting the state to an immature backbencher whatever his rep as a campaigner. So the Democratic  candidate for governor should have some gravitas and proof of experience and results. 

Name recognition is not as important as the impact that can be built over 18 months and the ability to withstand an onslaught of negativity. The interest should be from the angry  bottom up.

Now it gets tricky. Think like a TV showrunner – because appearance carry weight in the modern era.  It shouldn’t matter, but does the candidate have a voice like Ezio Pinza? Or a voice like Tiny TimHow they sound and talk on the stump will be important.


Can't look like a Coles Bashford in 1855.
It is no lame joke that someone who looks like Lincoln couldn’t win the modern presidency.  Certainly someone as pot-bellied for governor as Coles Bashford  couldn’t be fielded today  -- and he won the governor’s office in a voter fraud scandal in 1856 and  left office ahead of a bribery scandal in 1858  (and we think today’s politics are nasty).

I have heard Vinehout’s peppy style and saw how it worked better with country voters than city ones, and I sense she is eager to run.  There is another factor.  Hillary may be right that there was some misogyny in play and Vinehout may suffer an interesting sort of backlash (men more enthusiastic than women) over the choice issue.  But I also saw how she stepped right in to  help dairy farmers in the Grasslands trade issue, as did Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

I don’t know what Dana Wachs sounds like or how well he speaks, never met him. I know he is being actively courted.   Mainly I noticed the sort of bills Wachs  introduced and backed, particularly a bill on voucher school financial openness that should have come out of Milwaukee.  His ideas have geographic reach though I don’t know if his appeal does. 


Dana Wachs, an unknown face
with a good resume
So if I were going by resume, he would be among those I’d think of. Besides, Vinehout’s  from Alma, Wachs is an assembly member from Eau Claire and I think there is a statewide mistrust of anyone from the Madison or Milwaukee. Not right. But it’s there.

Basically I am annoyed if  the Democratic search puts self-funding ahead of actual doing.  The elements I have outlined  -- what’s best for Wisconsin and who is proven  -- count more than private income or potential celebrity. These are people we’re electing, not interchangeable brands. 

I know this sounds idealistic and actually unrealistic to political insiders, who have to slave to raise funds and long for a head start. They are much more experienced than this outsider in those realities.

But I know what I want after Walker: Restoration in the broadest sense of the Wisconsin Idea.  Even if they are new ideas.  Our state has lingered too long in the middle and near the bottom while once it flooded the nation with hopeful concepts and successful programs.


For 10 years the author, Dominique Paul Noth, served as editor of the Milwaukee Labor Press until its demise in 2013 and continues to freelance to many publications as well as write for his own website and review theater for Urban Milwaukee. A professional journalist since the 1960s he has won multiple cultural and political journalism awards and for nearly two decades was film and drama critic before serving as senior editor at the Milwaukee Journal.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

WILL THIS DEMOCRACY BODY-TACKLE TRUMP?

By Dominique Paul Noth

Trump:  The American dollar is too strong – my fault for doing so well.

Health care is more complicated than people thought.


Trump being schooled by Xi
Xi explained to me in 10 minutes the history of China and Korea, so “it’s not so easy as I thought” for them to deal with North Korea.

My military has been so successful in the last eight weeks compared to the previous eight years.

China is no longer a currency manipulator.

NATO “was once obsolete; it is no longer obsolete.”

The monthly job report “may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.” 

Steve Bannon? He is just someone who works for me and actually came late to my campaign.

“People aren't even trying to get through the border because they know they can't.”

I told President Xi Jinping about US missile strikes while we dined over “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly is “doing a great job” after Kelly testified to Congress that there never was going to be a wall covering 1,954 miles – “It’s not needed.”

This is the shallow top of a shallow iceberg -- quoting or paraphrasing the droppings of Donald Trump. His spins, his ignorance and easily exposed boastful lies should lead American citizens, even those who supported him, to one inevitable conclusion:

We’d better use the special elections and the big one in 2018 to surround him with intelligent, knowledgeable people who can act as brakes on his worst impulses and weathervane views.

If it took China’s Xi to educate him on Korea (after hearing after dinner that Trump was bombing Syrians because the gassing pictures so disturbed him); if NATO makes sense only after he meets with the secretary general; if the border wall that still exists in his mind has no support from his own staff; if his actions in Afghanistan depend on “something his generals did,” he badly needs minders to curb his methods and restrain his tendency to break promises without clear definition of why.

It’s gotten to the point where nepotism in this White House is more acceptable, and security clearance less an issue, if Ivanka and Jared can at least hold him down.

We’re stuck with this stupidity for nearly four years. Yes, it’s early days, some diehards say, but a pattern of lies and self-congratulation has been set.  Too slowly some people who believed his bloviating are looking twice.  Others will never care what he says or what he does – their support for him was not consistency driven but a personality embrace.

Incompetence is not yet grounds for impeachment.

Even before Trump, China was not a “devaluation” currency manipulator as it was years ago under Obama, they’ve actually been propping up the yen to help their businesses.  NATO was never phony -- the money gap Trump complained about loudly and Obama softy was never to replace what the US gives, though it sounded like that on the stump.  Even his staff knows you can’t build a wall in the middle of the Rio Grande – unless you want to hand the entire river over to Mexico.

Most of the jobs and plant expansion he’s taking credit for were in the planning before he took office. The regulations he is eliminating seem to be freeing businesses to do more mischief and create more pollution instead of jobs – or they’re a political way to help states defund Planned Parenthood despite its popularity in national polls. Wall Street has been positive but the skepticism in executive corridors is palpable and turning the Street even more yo-yolike than usual. 

Many voted for Trump believing he would keep us out of war, rather than showing off that he can drop bigger bombs than Obama did and kill more innocent civilians by turning the military loose. 

The US may not anymore be the world leader in environment and trade, but something has kept the rest of the world reasonably tolerable of Trump.  It’ s  because one out of four of his cabinet picks are reasonably intelligent, led by Mattis at defense, Haley at the UN, Kelly at Homeland Security and even Chao is an experienced conservative at transportation.

Americans are pinning some gigantic hopes on them and National Security Adviser McMaster. Mainly they can keep him in check on foreign policy – blunders rather than disasters – and their example may bring saner echoes on domestic policy. These seemed doomed with the likes of Ben Carson at housing, Tom Price at health, Jeff Sessions at justice, Rick Perry at energy, Betsy DeVos at education and other weirdos such as Scott Pruitt at EPA. 

Bigger handcuffs have to come from Congress insisting on its priority in declaring war and controlling the purse strings. But don’t expect a Republican Congress -- which has longed to see any Republican, even this one, occupy the White House -- to protest too loudly, to interfere, to defend its constitutional rights.

What can be done by shaming and goading will, but the voters had better gear up for more. 

Either Trump has to learn on the job, or be forced by circumstance to bend to reality. But it’s unlikely to see him mature at age 70 or absorb the basics of the presidency. 

Get used to seeing him revolve and seesaw, hugging Bannon one moment and rejecting the right-wing extremist when he gets too much publicity, moving center one moment and into a parallel universe right after.

Trump may, in private, be realizing he made some ridiculous promises on the stump but it’s not in his nature to change course by openly admitting he was wrong.  Instead he’s claiming credit for high tide while the ship slides under the ocean.

How ironic for a complacent democracy – to realize it’s only lasting salvation comes at the polls. 


About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as one of the editors for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He became the newspaper’s senior feature editor, then was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as at his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for urbanmilwaukee.com.