Economic Justice Bill of Rights Misses the Mark

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.

Madison Rep. Francesca Hong is pushing the Economic Justice Bill of Rights. It’s awful marketing.

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.


Published by dave cieslewicz

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

8 thoughts on “Economic Justice Bill of Rights Misses the Mark

  1. I’m glad Hong et al did not PR-up the language they are using, per your recommendations Dave. Their assertions need to be seen for what they are – ever-increasing governmental control over the lives of its citizens.

    If you have a economic right to something, the follow on is that the government will have the right to give it to you. Which means that government will have the right to take it away from someone else, someone who is perceived as having too much. Can’t make it on wage $x? Then we will force employers to give you $y. &c, &c, &c.

    The position begins from the delusion that We (the government) know what’s best for you, the unwashed masses. “Yes, we all have a right to equity my brother, but some of us have a right to more equity than others. Unfortunately, you aren’t one of us, the oppressed. So hand it over, or else.”

    The great Leveling continues.


    1. That’s a classic conservative and legitimate point of view, which I respect and also respectfully disagree with. I think that a society that has evolved and become as wealthy as ours has the means to ensure that nobody goes hungry or without shelter or without basic medial care.


      1. How do we manage the inherent disparities in life and our economy? Giving it away has been tried and failed every time. Functioning as a representative Republic also appears to be inherently failing.

        How do we ensure that people who are willing to take responsibility for themselves, are able to care for themselves and their loved ones? This is an extremely difficult problem.

        Not following you on how wealthy we are. This is not the ’50s, ’70s or ’90s. It’s the ’20s. The US is carrying a massive debt burden, as is every other Western country. So much debt that the people who are trying to run the show are willing to crash the system with everyone in it, to try and Reset it.


      2. So, following on that, are you okay with seeing people in the street because they can’t manage their own lives? Are you okay with children, through no fault of their own, going hungry? As a practical matter, I just don’t think your theory is applicable across the board.


      3. I am definitely not OK. That is the ‘extremely difficult’ part. How are these people genuinely helped? The Great Society is a Great Failure. Trying to do more of the same makes no sense.

        No theory I know of is applicable across the board. No human or group of humans is capable of managing that level of complexity. We need many solutions so that we can find out what works where.

        Did you want to try and take a stab at the debt issue? From what I can see, over the course of the next few years, there are going to be many many more people going hungry, with unstable living situations.


    2. “The position begins from the delusion that We (the government) know what’s best for you, the unwashed masses.”

      If we’re a democracy than yes, the government is us and we know what’s best for ourselves. I’d like to achieve that. But like you say “Functioning as a representative Republic also appears to be inherently failing.” I believe if we aim for democracy and move closer to that ideal we can be better than we are now. As of now we’re moving away from it.

      I consider this topic in context of pre-civilization. Before formal society, you had a right to go to the river for water, hunt and gather for food, and build a shelter. Any society that is formed should respect those rights. None of that means that others have to hunt, build, or fetch water for you. An issue is that private property messes with those rights.

      So as we form complex society we need to figure our way through these conflicts (democratically imo). There are tons of ways to approach it, but if we’re going to have private property we have to compromise that ideal in some manner to preserve the right for all to seek food, water, and shelter.

      I disagree with the concept of a right to health care or education. I think it’s a good idea to provide basic levels of both, but they’re not rights as I view them.


  2. It’s not even a bill! It’s like a joint resolution or something pointless like that. It will never be law, nothing like it will ever be law. Progressives have gotten to the point where they would rather aspire to do something than actually do anything. You expect this from Rep. Hong, who has no political instincts whatsoever, but some of these others should have better sense. We have the best chance to take back the State Senate in years and they are just flushing it down the toilet.


  3. Thank you Rollie. I think private property is essential in a free society. Without it, there is not bulwark against governmental power grabs. Though, as you note, there is a tradeoff.

    Do you follow the World Economic Forum at all? Their solution to this problem is “You will own nothing, and be happy”, which they intend to implement by 2030. If you are not familiar with them, note that Trudeau and a good chunk of his cabinet, Macron, Zelensky, the Prime minister of New Zealand, Zuckerberg and many many more are a part of this organization.


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