Does Barnes Want to Win?

I’ve been flirting openly with the idea of voting for Mandela Barnes in the Democratic primary for Senate. (Much of my writing over the next month is likely to be about my angst over who to vote for in that contest.) Dan Bice isn’t helping with that decision.

Yesterday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s political reporter/columnist reminded us of comments Barnes made during an online forum back in November.

“The United States of America is the most wealthy, is the most powerful nation on Earth,” Barnes said. “And that is because of forced labor on stolen land. We have to teach the reality of why we are where we are, or else people will just assume it just happened this way because of hard work, because of pulling up by your bootstraps.”


Barnes seems to want to speak truth to power when he should want to be the power that truth gets spoken to. The first job of a candidate is to win an election, not educate us on the latest book he’s read.

It’s not that he’s entirely wrong, of course. Slavery was most definitely forced labor. And the Indians undeniably were not compensated in any meaningful way for the land they occupied (but didn’t own in a legal sense that we would understand).

But it’s also true that America is prosperous because of the hard work and ingenuity of millions of people, including free Black people and Native Americans. A lot of us did in fact pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and it had nothing to do with slavery or stealing anybody’s land.

We are having just about the least useful and most damaging conversation about race right now that you can imagine and much of it is due to the writers that Barnes seems to have been studying — Ibram X. Kendi, Nicole Hannah-Jones, Robin DiAngelo and the like. This school of writers wants us to believe that everything is about race and that the actions of individuals don’t matter. If you’re white you’re an oppressor who has benefited from slavery no matter how hard you may try not to discriminate. This is bad history and philosophy and disastrous politics.

Or maybe it’s her. I just want to beat Johnson.

On the other hand, the reaction on the other side isn’t so great either. Yes, Critical Race Theory as I understand it is a horrible thing. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be more honest about our history and about our present. It’s just not accurate to pretend that slavery and racism haven’t played roles in the history of our country or that the legacy of those things doesn’t impact people’s lives today.

The truth, as it often is, is somewhere in the middle. One hundred percent of everything is not about race, but some percentage of many things are. We need some balance, some nuance and some understanding in this conversation and we’re not getting any of those things right now.

Which gets us back to Barnes. He’s been saying things that appeal to young hard-left activists. They may volunteer in his campaign, but beyond that they don’t amount to much as a political asset. If they show up to vote at all their votes won’t be very numerous. And, worse, by playing to them Barnes is driving away moderates in the general election.

Barnes’ stock took a dive with me after Bice’s column. Yet, I worry that my prime candidate, Tom Nelson, can’t get through the primary and that Alex Lasry can’t win the general. How about that Sarah Godlewski?


Published by dave cieslewicz

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

3 thoughts on “Does Barnes Want to Win?

  1. She’s probably the right candidate for the general but my fellow Dems don’t seem to be feeling practical.


  2. Yeah, well, Dave, why not Godlewski? She’s got all the qualities you generally admire in a candidate, without quite the policy wonkishness that seems to be keeping Nelson’s campaign grounded. She’s proven she can win statewide and proven she can do a lot with few resources as State Treasurer. Watch the DaneDems debate from 7/6 ( for proof she’s the real deal.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I would expect the truth telling about Mr. Barnes is originating from the campaign of the New York carpetbagger (with no political experience) whose billionaire daddy is intent on buying sonny-boy a Senate seat.


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