Dems Can Pull Out of Their Plummet

Today we’ve got a guest column from my old boss and good friend former Rep. Spencer Black. This column originally appeared in the Capital Times.

By Spencer Black

There are two positives for Democrats coming out of the otherwise dismal recent elections. First, November 2021 is not November 2022. Second, Democrats, especially congressional Democrats, got a swift kick in the butt that will hopefully get them back on track. As the old saying goes, there’s no education in the second kick of a mule.

Democrats’ recent election losses do not necessarily mean that defeat on Election Day 2022 and the consequent loss of control of Congress is preordained. But to avoid that fate, Democrats will have to do a much better job demonstrating to the American people that they are competent at governing.

The news out of Washington has been primarily about the infighting among Democrats and, until recently, the failure to pass major legislation. Jeff Merkley, Democratic senator from Oregon, correctly observed that Democratic feuding is “completely taking the air out of the balloon for the Biden presidency. It’s hurting Biden. It’s hurting the Democrats.”

Or as former Democratic Rep. Steve Israel put it, “In the war between Democratic progressives and Democratic moderates, the Republicans won.”

I agree with the aims of the progressives in Congress, but they have pursued a failed and potentially self-defeating strategy. Holding the infrastructure bill hostage for months in exchange for higher levels of social spending was an approach that was destined not only to fail (as it did) but to undermine Democratic prospects in the next election. The Virginia governor’s race is Exhibit One.

I’m not a Joe Manchin fan by a long shot, and progressives are, in my opinion, rightfully irritated that Manchin holds the cards in a 50-50 Senate. Sometimes reality sucks, but the reality is that since Republicans are united in opposition, whatever passes in Congress will only be what Manchin agrees to. Progressives should have taken a moment to be pissed off and then gotten real. The best hope for stronger legislation for health care, social needs and climate lies with Democrats picking up enough Senate seats next year to make Manchin irrelevant. Holding up legislation like the infrastructure bill for months only hurts Biden’s popularity and makes the possibility of a stronger Democratic majority after the 2022 elections less likely.

Right now, trends point to a Republican victory next year, but it’s often said that a week is a lifetime in politics. By that measure, Democrats still have enough time to turn things around. But to do so they will have to put the internecine warfare aside and spend their time speaking to the American people about the progress that is being made. If by next summer COVID-19 is largely behind us, life has returned to normal and the economy is booming, Democrats could do quite well next November.

Much has improved in America since the Democrats took over. Compared to a year ago, wages are up almost 10%, 5 million new jobs have been created, unemployment is down 38%, and the stock market is setting record highs. Much of this is because Democrats, without Republican votes, passed the American Rescue Plan last spring. Much of the future progress on the economy will be because Democrats passed (with very few Republican votes) the long-awaited infrastructure bill. Trump and the Republicans, despite repeated proclamations of “Infrastructure Week,” utterly failed to address our infrastructure needs. The current supply chain disruptions are in large measure due to Republican neglect under Trump.

In politics, virtue is not its own reward. Democrats are failing to message effectively, largely because they have been consumed with internal disagreements. The message should be “America is Back,” said loudly, clearly and repeatedly.

(The emphasis is added by the editor.)

Spencer Black served for 26 years in the state Legislature. He was chair of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee and the Assembly Democratic leader. Since leaving the Legislature, Black has been vice president for conservation for the national Sierra Club and adjunct professor of planning at UW-Madison.

Spencer Black at Blue Mound State Park

And on another matter… a few weeks ago I expressed skepticism (We Should All Get Along at Blue Mound) that the fight over a snowmobile trail in Blue Mount State Park was worth it. Spencer disagreed and offered to take me on a hike to better understand the issues involved. On a classic late fall afternoon we hiked from Brigham County Park to Blue Mound over some of the most rugged country I’ve seen outside of the Rocky Mountain foothills. His point was that this is some of the most remote and sensitive land in the county and that the snowmobile trail would threaten and mar it, an argument with which an Iowa County Circuit Court Judge has agreed. He put the project on hold.

The upshot is that I continue to believe that the new trail would have minimal impact on cross country skiers and that it’s more important than ever that silent and motor sports users work together, along with Wisconsin-based hunting and fishing organizations. That’s because the real threats are coming from groups like Hunter Nation, which see our Wisconsin natural resources as just a pawn in their national political games. But Spence gave me a broader perspective on the problems with this specific trail, which are more significant than I had thought.

Welcome to the 274th day of consecutive posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

2 thoughts on “Dems Can Pull Out of Their Plummet

  1. Quoting from Dave Blaska’s quote of NY Times writer Thomas B. Edsall:

    “The Democratic Party’s difficulties are deep,” Edsall reports. “They include soaring economic discontent, a President who’s fallen 12 percentage points underwater in job approval and a broad sense that the party is out of touch with the concerns of most Americans — 62% say so.” Add the porous Mexican border, the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, the price of gasoline, empty shelves, heavy-handed Covid practices, and what Edsall describes as “perceptions of Democrats being too woke and extreme.”

    As an independent voter, I would say that Edsall summary of what’s happening now is far more accurate than Mr. Black’s naked assertions here.

    Messaging? As long as Democrats think their problem is messaging, they will go down in flames in ’22.


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