Dad often said that he never understood why farmers voted Republican because they were voting against their best interests. In my case I will expand upon what my dad said and say that I do not understand why half the population of this country votes against their best interests; however, while I may never fully grasp why people vote against their own best interests I have some notions as to why they do and what we can do to counter those views.
- Slickly produced television and radio ads. Thirty seconds on TV can make even the worst candidate sound great or an awesome candidate sound horrible. In Wisconsin we saw this in 2010 from Ron Johnson. He made Russ Feingold look like he was a horrible out of touch senator when in reality Senator Feingold and his staff were very plugged into the needs of the constituency. The same ads made Ron Johnson look like an outsider who would, "clean up Washington and be an independent voice." Instead of electing someone to represent us we are being asked to purchase a commodity. Politicians are not commodities, yet that is the way they are sold to us.
- Money has corrupted our political system; it has become a cancer that needs to be removed. Corporations and PACs are not people. Citizens United has opened a floodgate of money that would otherwise not be a part of our electoral process. We cannot even be sure where the money is coming from. The way the system stands today a foreign country could influence our local, state and national elections for their own gain.
- Family history: I am sure many of you know people who vote Republican because that is the way dad or mom voted. I know people who if you were to give them a political spectrum test that they would be a flaming liberal. They do not believe in any conservative ideology, yet they vote Republican year after year because that is the way mom and dad voted. I know this to be true even in my own family my grandfather on my mother’s side would only vote Republican, the reason, his father, my great-grandfather served in the Union Army during the Civil War, my great grand-father always voted Republican because of that, and my grandfather followed suit, luckily that tradition, for the most part, ended with my mom. I vote Democratic not because of my parents; at one time I considered myself an independent; however, my parents gave me a great gift, the ability to make up my own mind. They allowed me to explore and even make some mistakes, like voting Republican, once (Damn you Scott Klug!).
- The word Liberal has been made into some kind of word that means wild-eyed dirty hippies who only want government handouts. Last time I checked, I have a flattop, I shower every day, I hold a job down and I am a pretty liberal guy, almost a Socialist. Yet this myth that we are somehow unworthy to govern because we actually have ideas to make life a little bit better is somehow a horrible thing in the eyes of the right.
- Tax myths: We all know these—tax and spend Democrats, tax cuts on the rich create jobs and so on. The fact is that the Republican messaging machine is very good at perpetuating these myths. Even though taxes under a democratic president are the lowest they have been in almost 30 years.
- Union bashing: Over the last six months in Wisconsin I have heard from the right that the out of state union bosses were running the show, that they were in charge of the democratic party the protests the whole nine yards. I am not sure how that is possible when union membership across the country is at an all time low.
- Social issues: When times are tough and we are faced with complex issues it is very easy to turn back to something that while complex can be framed in a simple way. Take abortion and birth control, for example, both extremely complex issues that deal with so many unique situations that it is impossible to understand the right-wing mindset of banning both outright. Yet, because of simple framing—it is a life, it causes promiscuity in young people—people buy into those simple messages without thinking them through. If the Republicans do manage to ban either of these I have to wonder what they will use as a wedge issue in the future.
- To quote Han Solo, "I’m out of it for a little while and everybody gets delusions of grandeur." How many times have you heard from a friend who votes Republican, "I am going to rich someday." Very few people in this country get wealthy. Yet we are bombarded with images of wealth every day. This quest for wealth is even sanctioned by the state in many cases, "Play the lottery, become a millionaire." I am willing to bet that we will never see a reality show where the contestants have to live on food stamps and unemployment for a few months, but rest assured, you will see one about the lifestyles of the rich and famous for being famous.
- Right-wing talk radio, nothing like getting free advertising 24/7. I am convinced that conservative talk radio is nothing more than the propaganda wing of the Republican Party. It adds nothing to the public discourse and does nothing more than spread lies, hatred and bigotry.
What can we do about it?
The first lesson to be taken from Wisconsin is that if Democrats do not turn out because they are unhappy or disenchanted with whoever is in office or who is running for office, extremists will get elected. I know this because it happened in Wisconsin. The Democrats had a deeply unpopular governor; the Democratic candidate was not someone who could light a fire under the electorate; the Democrats stayed home and look what we ended up with, Scott Walker and the Fitzgerald brothers.
I abhor using the term enemy when referring to the Republicans; after all they are American citizens just like you and I and are allowed to have an opinion on how our country should be run. At this point, however, the Republican Party of today has proven it is unable to govern; therefore, they are our common enemy as no other term really fits. We need to focus on defeating them and not on our individual differences. If we want better government we have to fight for it, but let's not fight each other.
Second, Citizens United must be overturned someway, somehow and then real campaign reform must be put in its place. Today the only way you can run for national office, especially the Senate, is to have millions of your own money. Someone who would make a great senator or representative but does not have a fund-raising machine or trust fund cannot run for office. Who out there can quit their job, run for office and still make house payments? Money has polluted our political system for too long: We need real campaign reform and fully funded elections from president, all the way down to alderman. How can our elected officials represent us if they have to spend half of their time raising money to run for office and then having to pay back those donations with legislation? I honestly believe that we would have won Wisconsin State Senate District Eight if it had not been for all of the outside corporate money dumped into the state. Money in our elections is the biggest threat that our Republic has ever faced and it could very well be our downfall.
Third, the fairness doctrine needs to be reimplemented. The airwaves belong to the people; the federal government owns them and we need to demand that the airwaves not be used to push the agenda of one group at the expense of another. We should also demand that certain aspects of the telecommunications act of 1996 be repealed. Allowing one company to own almost all of the media in one market has had disastrous effects on this country. If all of your news comes from one source how can you possibly be informed about a secondary viewpoint?
Fourth, Labor—Democrats need to be far more ardent supporters of labor, not just the unions, all labor. We saw what the labor movement could do here in Wisconsin when their backs were against the wall that energy needs to be tapped across the nation. I want the Democratic Party to be known as the party for labor. Corporations/Employers should not have more rights than the people who work for them do—"right to work" should be abolished. If it cannot be done at the federal level then we need to ensure that the Democratic Party takes over statehouses and abolish right to work at the state level. We need to educate the masses that a vote for a Democrat is a vote for labor, for the common man/woman. The rich and powerful cannot make money without labor, and that needs to be made abundantly clear to everyone in this country.
Fifth, taxes. I do not understand the disconnect here. Taxes pay for roads, sewer systems, police and fire protection as well as countless other things that a modern society needs to survive. As our population expands our government needs to expand to provide services to that ever-growing populace. This idea that you can make government so small you could drown it in a bathtub is absurd. The right likes to claim that it wants government run like a business, but if you had a thousand unique customers would you cut the size of your office staff to where it was when you only had five customers?
One thing the Republican Party does very well is to play on fear and ignorance; it is difficult at best to counter and change the mind of someone who fears change or worse yet is oblivious to facts that are presented to them. Fear and ignorance will not allow us to face the challenges of the twenty-first century. As a Liberal I want my country to move forward, I want us to be at the forefront of discovery, not because of the myth of American exceptionalism, but because we as a nation are investing in the future of humanity.