Mountain Sun

Mountain Sun

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Triumph of Sanctimonious Democratic Purists in Wisconsin

Andrew Kroll has an interesting piece out just now in Mother Jones about the huge spike in fundraising by Wisconsin Democrats in the past two months ("The War in Wisconsin=Big $ Cash for Democrats").  Kroll reports that Democrats have raised more (1.4 million) in the seven weeks between Feb. 1 and March 21 than they did in all of 2010.  So let's see.  At their current rate, Democratic fundraising is on pace to outstrip last year's performance by roughly 1000%, an order of magnitude.

As Kroll explains, the Democrats have raised funds on different aspects of the remarkable Wisconsin story as it has evolved--when the 14 state Democratic senators left the state to prevent Walker's 'budget reform bill', they fundraised on that.  After the senators returned, the Democratic party has continued to successfully fundraise off the active recall program that seeks to unseat a number of their GOP colleagues.

It's obvious that the Democratic base both inside and outside Wisconsin is fired up and contributing heavily.  But it should also be stressed that this tsunami of money and highly motivated volunteers has materialized because these Democratic officeholders have found their base and bound themselves tightly to it.

Imagine for a moment what would have happened had the Wisconsin 14 and their Democratic colleagues in the state assembly acted differently than they did.    What if, instead of joining tightly with their desparately protesting base in the capitol, they had responded to the growing protests with something like the following:
 Now, we know that people are upset with the Governor's budget.  We don't like it either, and we've fought it as hard as we can.  We simply don't have the numbers.  We know our Wisconsin constituents may get angry with us for giving up, but we're just facing reality.  And if our constituents don't like that, and get angry with us for giving in,"if that's the standard by which we are measuring success or core principles, then let's face it, we will never get anything done. People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position, and no victories for the American people. And we will be able to feel good about ourselves, and sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are and how tough we are. ... That can't be the measure of how we think about our public service. That can't be the measure of what it means to be a Democrat."
Obama scolds his base after his extension of the Bush tax cuts.
The Wisconsin Democrats could have said something like that.  And in fact the italicized text above was taken verbatim from an Obama press conference in which he lashed out at his own base when they criticized his surrender on the Bush tax cuts, as he had previously surrendered on healthcare.  Ironically, the Wisconsin Democrats were, in part, fighting a similar tax-cuts-for-the-rich move by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.  Obama and Walker have that much in common.  So the Wisconsinites could have done that--could have criticized their base for being unrealistic and unreasonable, called it a day, and gone home.  But had they done that, they would right now be consumed with worry about future electoral losses, beset with fundraising difficulties, and pondering how to motivate an angry, dispirited and resentful base.

But thank God they didn't do any of that.  Instead, they did something truly remarkable for Democrats: they stuck with their base in a way that has seldom--if ever--been matched in my lifetime.  They actually listened to their own people, and aligned their political actions with the interests of their own base.  And now they're reaping just the initial bountiful rewards from doing so.

National Democratic strategists view what the Wisconsin Democrats did as crazy.  There's one strategist, just south of Madison right now in Chicago, who called this kind of thing "fucking retarded".  Maybe the strategists should take a look at these numbers coming in from Wisconsin, and rethink their approach.  Maybe there's a future in this "listen to your base" nonsense.

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