Political life in the United States has become so noxious and hostile that extreme partisan polarization, name-calling, smears, and schoolyard taunts have become commonplace. Thanks in large part to our collective addiction to the miraculous medium of television, our attention spans rarely amount to more than a minute and a half. We expect every issue to have two very clear-cut equal-and-opposite sides, and only two. "You are either with us, or you are against us." In other words, quit with your pesky questions and jump on the god-damned bandwagon. People on one side seldom speak to anyone on the other side in anything more than sound bites. Stark divisions make much more entertaining TV than reasoned discourse. Because commonality doesn't sell, we have allowed ourselves to forget that there are things we hold in common. Important things.
It is within this toxic political context that we come to a pivotal moment in the course of the Wisconsin uprising. We have marched and protested; we have mobilized the grass roots; we have collected and submitted more than enough signatures. So now what?
The last thing we need is for Wisconsin's upcoming recall election to fall into the dreadful, deadening pattern of politics as usual. The barroom brawl that now serves as our political "discourse" has already been dramatically altered by our civil, peaceful uprising. We have already accomplished so much. But we aren't anywhere near finished yet. In fact, we're really only just getting started.
Many of us are disappointed that neither Russ Feingold nor Peter Barca are running for governor. Jessica Vanegeren wrote in the Cap Times last week of a "palpable lack of enthusiasm among many voters for any of [Walker's] potential opponents."
It's time to carefully examine the merits of those opponents: former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk, who has garnered several union endorsements; state senator Kathleen Vinehout, who was one of the courageous Wisconsin 14 who fled the state to give the people time to understand and react to Walker's budget bill bomb; secretary of state Doug La Follette, the longest-serving Wisconsin state official; and Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, who ran a close race against Walker in 2010.
Maybe none of them is quite the hero we were hoping for, but maybe that's a good thing. No one person or politician is going to fix this for us. No one is riding in on a white horse. We are the ones we've been waiting for.
It's time once again to muster our courage and blaze a new trail, to renew our commitment to better governance for the people of Wisconsin: equal access to good education and good health care; renewed commitment to collective bargaining and workers' rights; and transparent, open government that is responsive to the Wisconsin electorate. These are the the issues that stir our passions.
Those of us who have participated in the Wisconsin uprising are not going to agree on who is the best candidate. Not until after May 8 (the date of the primary), that is. After May 8, all of us must solidly get behind the candidate we have collectively chosen to replace Walker. Over the course of the next five weeks, there will be much that we do not agree on. But we do need to agree on how we're going to conduct ourselves. Our-way-or-the-highway isn't going to cut it. If you're for Falk and I'm for LaFollette, that doesn't mean that either of us is betraying the movement that we're so deeply invested in. That's not to say that valid criticism of any of the Democratic candidates is off limits. Of course it's not. But rather than win-at-any-cost personal attacks, those criticisms should be civil, respectful, and substantive.
We also need to remember that, contrary to what the mainstream media are reporting, the push to recall Walker et al. hasn't just come from liberals and progressives. Many who consider themselves conservatives have been deeply offended by the Fitzwalker assault on the state; some not only signed the recall petition but helped to gather signatures. Just because the mainstream media has ignored them doesn't mean that we should too. This is their movement as well as ours.
In a column in today's Cap Times, Ed Garvey rightly issues a stirring call for solidarity: "The success or failure of the uprising turns on solidarity in the ranks. After June 5, Scott Walker will be finished as a national leader of the right-wing tea party or he will become a hero to the Koch brothers. The stories told to your grandchildren decades from now will end on a high note or you will be forced to explain how we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory."
But let's be clear about what solidarity is and what it isn't. Solidarity does not mean uniformity. What we need now is something virtually unheard of in today's political climate: reasoned and respectful public discourse. We can—and must—raise questions and discuss our inevitable differences without attacking each other or questioning each other's motives or commitment.
Let's continue with the trailblazing and show the rest of the country what solidarity looks like. Let's keep it classy and honest and renew our commitment to what binds us together: a deep and abiding love for the people of Wisconsin. We have come so far. We still have a long way to go. Let's do this. And let's do it right.