Liberal Democrats have long had a problem with condescension. If you don’t agree with them, well, you’re just not understanding your own best interests. You really should just leave decisions about your life to those smart people in the Democratic Party.
Comments made yesterday by state Sen. Janet Bewley and Congressman Mark Pocan underscore the problem.
Bewley is the Senate Minority Leader and a Democrat from a sprawling district that abuts Lake Superior. She was participating in a virtual exchange at the Wisconsin Counties Association annual meeting with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu.
Things were going along fine when they got to the topic of Gov. Tony Evers’ proposal to allow counties to increase their half a cent sales tax subject to a referendum. Vos said flatly that the proposal was dead on arrival, which was no surprise. Why Evers even bothered to put it in his budget proposal is beyond understanding.
Nonetheless, Bewley went on to explain the dire straits local governments in her district are in and how the sales tax would help. I thought she told a compelling story about four townships in her area that had no ambulance service. She said that people literally had to drive themselves to the hospital.
Then Vos interjected and asked her if the communities had gone to a referendum to raise money for ambulance service, apparently referring to a provision that allows local governments to exceed state property tax limits by asking for authority from voters.
Bewley answered that they would likely go to a referendum in the future, “and the voters will turn it down.” (This is where things started to go bad. A better response from Bewley would have been to turn the tables on Vos. Something like: “I don’t want to increase property taxes on hard working north woods residents. I’d rather have the option of the sales tax, which tourists would pay.”)
Then Vos moved in for the kill. “But if the voters turn it down, doesn’t that mean that they don’t support what you’re advocating for?”
“No. Perhaps that means that they’re not smart,” Bewley replied.
Ouch. Unforced error.
Vos smiled and suggested she might want to amend her statement. “I disagree with people a lot, but I don’t think people who disagree with me are dumb. You just basically said all constituents are dumb who disagree with you.”
Bewley declined to try to fix things. All she said was that Vos’ statement earlier in the discussion about his home county of Walworth being the only county in the state to actually apply the sales tax to property tax relief, “didn’t go over well with me.”
She later tried to put out the fire she started with a statement from her office. But the damage was done.
To put the most charitable spin on it, Vos was making the standard GOP argument that local governments didn’t need more revenue; they just needed to be more creative. What Bewley may have meant, but didn’t actually say, was that Vos’ example of his county of Walworth was too glib because he represents a well-to-do part of the state while her very rural district doesn’t have the same options.
(I wanted to give Bewley the benefit of a doubt. So I found the entirety of her comments on the WCA’s website and listened to them in context, a couple of times. You can do the same here. The relevant exchange starts at 50 minutes in. If you disagree with my interpretation, please write a comment below.)
While it didn’t get as much attention (the Bewley story appeared on the front page of the Wisconsin State Journal this morning), the Madison area’s Congressman Mark Pocan continued the theme of the stupidity of those who don’t agree with liberal Democrats. After House Democrats voted to lower the income threshold for $1,400 stimulus checks in response to concerns raised by Senate moderates in his own party, Pocan called efforts to appease them stupid.
The Associated Press reported: “In a swipe at moderates, Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., a leader of his chamber’s progressives, called the new phase-out of relief checks a “silly and stupid” effort to appease “the one or two people who can hold things up.””
Now, why giving stimulus checks to people who earn more money (which is what Pocan and progressives wanted) is progressive is lost on me. It’s also a mystery to me why Pocan seems to be angry with those “one or two people who can hold things up.” He’s referring to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-Arizona), both moderates. The Democrats hold their slim majority thanks to the fact that those two win in states that are tough for Democrats. The alternative is Sen. Mitch McConnell calling the shots. Would that be better, Rep. Pocan?
Calling their opponents dumb is a long and senseless Democratic tradition. Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Tommy Thompson and Scott Walker were all dumb as a brick according to Democrats. Combined, that’s 38 years of dumb guys leading the state and the nation.
And, of course, the whining about blue collar Trump voters voting against their own best interests is pervasive.
Look. I’m a left-center moderate. I want to see Democrats win more elections. But unforced errors like this help Democrats to lose elections they might otherwise win.
Hint to Democrats: the way to begin a conversation that might persuade voters to come over to your side is not by telling them they’ve been stupid for voting for the other guys.