Wednesday, May 16, 2018

SOME UNDERTOWS BENEATH WISCONSIN BLUE WAVE

By Dominique Paul Noth

Of the nine active candidates running for governor on the Democratic side, the worst strikes me as better in policy and personality than that  tired, glib one-note  Scott Walker who has driven our beloved state toward the bottom of every poll on good places to live.

Wisconsin bishops leave the mainstream but Tammy tells it true.
But that’s not to say that several candidates don’t bring their own complicated resumes and controversial decisions to the table. And that’s not to say that voters don’t sometimes drive themselves away from candidates through their own pet peeves or unbending expectations.  As the moment  approaches when cleaving together, knitting together at the ballot box will be most important, Democrats have to face up to attitudes that tear at the fabric.

Progressive groups are applying pressure with online polls and meetings to thin the herd, an action that disturbed some voters I talked to. They fear this is leading to some kind of purity test about what peripheral issues should be important – and that some candidates demeaned as moderates may actually embody the path to victory. 

The pressure may elevate issues into a central position that many voters don’t feel as strongly about as devotees, and some may even feel differently about.

Bringing all ages and social classes along is difficult but essential. Despite the youth movement that has so excited the Democrats, the fact remains that seniors are more politically active, voting in numbers way out of proportion to their share of the population. Increasing the youth vote seems underway, but cultivating the older reliable voters remains crucial. It’s probably not good strategy to tell traditional voters, “Get with the program or get out of the way!”

All this plays against a national backdrop.  The Democrats want their platforms to weigh more heavily than their attitude toward Trump, but his presence is certainly felt. His efforts to turn the country back to 1930s isolationism or 1950s “what’s good for General Motors is good for the country” are forcing Democrats to look for fresher, bolder ideas and bolder statements to emphasize the antiquity of his views and the 21st century nature of theirs.

And let’s be honest – no candidate for governor has yet caught fire with the public.  So voters are more susceptible to attacks on those candidates they know little about and definitely susceptible to  vague rumors and  undercurrents.

Let’s explore two undercurrents that are not much discussed. Let’s start with the bluntest:

Catholicism. Or, more broadly, how people view religion within politics, and why Catholics in Wisconsin are central to the mix – they are the biggest segment of those who claim to be religious.

Pope Francis may be an ardent conservative but when asked if homosexuals can’t be religious, he said, “Who am I to judge?” It’s not a view that springs easily to the lips of Wisconsin’s conservative bishops who tend to put their oar in on issues other than social justice.

This became apparent when all sent a letter to Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who is gay, accusing her of opposing Catholicism when expressing doubts about Trump judicial candidate Gordon Giampietro. He failed to share his real thoughts with the selection committee (mainly that US Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision on same sex marriage was wrong and “worse than Roe vs. Wade”). 

It was a strange and even ludicrous attack on Baldwin, who routinely votes for Catholic judges,  or on the selection committee that chose three Catholics out of four picks, or  for that matter on the US Supreme Court, which has six Catholics.

But it underlines one problem with American Catholicism – and why it is losing many young people who think the church is strident on issues such as women or women’s rights.  These  cafeteria Catholics, as they are often called,   feel  free to select out what they believe in. That maddens bishops who meanwhile madden Catholics when they save their letters for issues like homosexuality and  don’t embrace social justice causes that are even more intrinsic to Catholic beliefs. 

These Catholics accept the separation of church and state, that  the US Constitution allows things the church doesn’t, so there shouldn’t be special tensions on Catholics who become judges about which oath they will be following. You might think JFK settled that issue but it keeps rising up.

There are even progressives who argue that anyone against abortion can’t be a member of the Democratic Party, much less a candidate.  But honestly, there are a heck of a lot of great social justice Catholics who personally oppose abortion, though they recognize that constitutional freedoms allow the pill, same sex marriage and Roe vs. Wade rules on abortion. To drum them out of women’s marches or out of candidate support groups is really shooting your candidate in the foot. But that is indeed happening in Wisconsin.

Many Catholics part ways from the hierarchy on how to handle the issues of LBGTQ  and same sex marriage.  Yet these are the voters who don’t always feel welcome by some Democrats though their personal views on social issues are anathema to the GOP. 

This is playing out in Wisconsin gubernatorial politics. If a candidate expresses pro-life concerns  -- or  times when women’s rights conflict with others’ rights --   a segment of the electorate looks with disfavor. Some don’t believe you can be pro-choice and pro-life.  Politics are making it hard to tread a middle path – where a surprising number of voters feel comfortable.

Marijuana -- That's another undercurrent fighting to become loud and central. Legalizing it has been the rallying cry of many campaigns, almost a definition in today’s politics of being progressive.  There are even groups that feel if this is not a central platform of a candidate for governor, he or she should be tossed to the curb.  

There are good reasons for the March for Cannabis. But the weakest in my view is personal freedom – the same sort of personal freedom that allows people to smoke tobacco or not wear safety helmets on bikes or cycles or drink 38 ounces of sugar soft drinks if they damn well want to. 

Legalized smoking or vaping has long been a health concern for individuals and their neighbors – you can start a good argument any place about whether tobacco should even be legal. And it is hard to imagine an entire party building its platform around introducing foreign substance into the body regardless of how extremist the penalty was in the past.

Even the push for pot for medicinal purposes is not about creating pills but allowing smoking or related access to CBD oil.  The medical issues are complex and rendered scientifically ridiculous by people like AG Jeff Sessions who  link pot with the opioid epidemic

Yet there are salient reasons for making pot legal – mainly the incarceration impact,  the reality of a pot to prison pipeline that has no justice in reality and brands good people with prison records they have to explain all their lives. 

There are also imbalances of race and income behind this incarceration and a lot of evidence that many so-called  felony non-violent  pot convictions stem from an exaggerated and painful era of our law and order excess. The human cost as well as the financial cost are enormous.

This alone should bring legalization. Candidates who push that side of the issue make a lot of sense. 

We haven’t even mentioned the money government could make from the business now rewarding underworld profiteers – and the attendant crime that would prevent.  But the money reward for states is there and the voters know it, even if it sounds greedy on the stump. 

Democrats should brim with sensibility when they discuss these issues – not assume that all Democrats of all generations are simpatico. When you want all to push together on the final road, you have to make roadblocks temporary and openness to variety essential.

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 an editor 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. He 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 Internet 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 his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee. 


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