I agree with everything in the Economic Justice Bill of Rights being touted right now by the Legislature’s most liberal Democrats. And I think it’s a terrible idea.
This is a political document and, as such, it reveals just how out of touch liberal Democrats are. It’s a political document because, with Democrats in deep minorities in both houses, it has no chance of passage. And, not that it matters, but the Legislature has adjourned for this session anyway.
So, it appears, that some Democrats are pushing this as something that they hope will reconnect them with blue collar and rural voters. In fact, I first heard about it while Up North and listening to my favorite radio station, WXPR in Rhinelander, which is a wonderful sort of mashup of WHA, WERN and WORT. When I heard Rep. Francesca Hong of Madison’s East Side talking about it, I thought she sounded pitch perfect for Willy Street.
The document talks about a “right” to housing, health care, union representation, a clean environment and other good things. The underlying idea is to redefine freedom with the notion that nobody is really free when they lack the basics of life. I don’t disagree; it’s just that as a political argument that not only misses the mark, but it underscores why the Democratic brand is so toxic in rural America and with a lot of blue collar voters everywhere.
The problem is that word “rights.” Democrats have earned the reputation as the party that wants to give stuff away. But people want to earn things. They don’t want to be told what they’re owed just for breathing; they want to be told that they can earn these things through hard work.
I keep coming back to Bill Clinton’s excellent formulation, which married the liberal love of rights with the working class desire to earn. Clinton said that anyone who “works hard and plays by the rules” should be able to get ahead in America.
The legislative liberals could have made their document a political plus — instead of the minus that it is — if they had just changed the basic orientation. Get rid of the word “rights” altogether. Instead, say that “every Wisconsinite who works hard and plays by the rules should be able to earn” and then go on with the same list.
There are a few other quibbles I’d have. Get rid of the word “oppression,” for example. That sounds like Willy Street, not Stevens Street in Rhinelander.
As I’ve written before in this space and others, there is nothing more important for my party and for the survival of American democracy than for Democrats to find a way to reconnect with voters outside of big cities and college towns. It’s the only way to win back legislative majorities, even if we had fair maps. To do that they have to shed this image as the party of the big giveaway. The Economic Justice Bill of Rights only serves to reinforce exactly the wrong message.
And on another matter… the Madison School Board will improve a little bit after Tuesday’s elections. Laura Simkin was elected by a wide margin. The only substantial difference she had with her opponent was that Simkin supported returning cops to high schools. That won’t happen simply because one member now supports it, but it does mean that we have a board member who wants to make safety a priority. Also, combine that with David Blaska’s impressive showing as a write-in candidate and it’s an indication that the community wants this board to have a sense of urgency about school violence. Blaska got 12% in a race where he wasn’t even on the ballot, didn’t spend any money and didn’t campaign. He simply made a case on the safety issue on his blog and with any outlet that would listen. We were happy to give him a voice here.
Update: Blaska informs me that he received some unsolicited contributions and ended up spending less than $1,200 on an ad in the State Journal.
Want to read more curiously conservative views from a liberal? Pick up a copy of Light Blue: How center-left moderates can build an enduring Democratic majority.