This is an excellent explanation of the obstacles Democrats in Wisconsin face if they’re going to ever take back the majority.

In trying to broaden their coalition, Democrats additionally face self-imposed handicaps and obstacles:

  • Taking a leaf from the Tea Party, there has been an attempt to purge the party of heretics. This first became evident in the repeated attempts to get rid of longtime Democratic State Senator Jeff Plale. Plale’s opponent Chris Larson went on to lead successful purges of other Milwaukee Democrats who had taken positions he disapproved of.  This tendency can also be seen in continued efforts to paint Chris Abele as a conservative. A narrowing of allowable viewpoints runs directly counter to the aim of creating a bigger tent. It says to the wavering voter, “we want your support but someone with your ideas may have no place in our party.” In addition, a party that insists on ideological purity is going to find it harder to imagine innovative solutions to problems. Organizations which insist on conformity become brain dead. One result is that few in the present Democratic leadership know how to talk to voters who aren’t already won over.
  • A second problem that became obvious in the recent election was the number of Democratic candidates who hoped to win by pretending they were not really Democrats. The Mary Burke campaign avoided having her appear with Obama. (An extreme example was the Kentucky Democratic senatorial candidate refusing to say whether she had voted for Romney or Obama.) This practice demoralizes supporters without gaining the vote of Obama haters, conveying the message that there is something shameful about the Democratic Party.
  • Democrats nationally have been losing a steadily growing proportion of the white vote, especially that of middle aged and older white males without a college degree. This is a particular challenge in states like Wisconsin where the growth of minority voters Democrats depend on is smaller. While white males are a declining portion of the overall population, they vote in large numbers including in off-year elections. Ironically, they are the modern version of the cohort that formed the core of the New Deal coalition.

While I’ve been guilty in the past of the Data Wonk’s first point about a narrowing of the allowable viewpoints in the Democratic Party, I’ve come to the realization that the Democratic Party in Wisconsin (and nationally) is going to have to truly be a “big tent” party if the party is going to regain what’s been lost.

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11 Responses to Urban Milwaukee’s Data Wonk: Do Democrats Have a Future?

  1. lufthase says:

    Hang on a minute… don’t #1 and #2 kinda conflict with each other? We’re supposed to embrace an anti-worker plutocrat who has no qualms about donating to Tea Partiers as one of our own, but then still be proud Democrats (and have “Democrat” mean something)??

    If we broaden out tent so far to the right that we’re ok with Abele (and how about Sheriff Clarke while we’re at it?), then there’s no way to differentiate ourselves from the GOP. No unifying platform or message, other than “we’re the opposition!”

    And by the way, the Tea Party has been awfully successful. Copying some of their political tactics might not be a bad idea.

    Widening the tent can be OK, but we should be thoughtful about how we do it and stay true to our Progressive values. One way is to emphasize WIGOP’s consistent attacks on the poor (and giveaways to the wealthy), and use this to appeal to Evangelicals and other Christians who are either voting GOP or not voting. Some will still cling to the couple of “culture wars” issues they’ve been force-fed for the last few decades, but I think there’s room to persuade a good chunk of them by using their own scriptures to elevate importance of the treatment of the poor to at least equal footing with abortion/etc.

  2. Aaron Camp says:

    This article is full of self-contradictions. Here’s something that completely contradicts the part about purging the centrist and conservative Democrats from the party:

    To put that another way, the author of the blog post (Bruce Thompson) rails against Democrats purging moderates, then turns around and suggests that Democrats advocate a left-wing economic agenda, which would involve, among other things, purging corporate Democrats from the party (in Wisconsin, this would mean people like Ron Kind, Chris Abele, Tom Barrett, and Mary Burke) and effectively making the Democratic Party of Wisconsin a party consisting of a coalition of progressives and prairie populists, if not an outright progressive party.

    • Aaron Camp says:

      Here’s the actual quote from Thompson:

      “Rather than waiting to be rescued by the expected demographic shift, Democrats would be better advised to concentrate on issues that affect families across Wisconsin, such as growing economic inequality and the hollowing out of the middle class. This is an issue that should resonate with white working class males, as well as members of the existing Democratic coalition.”

      I tried to use a blockquote HTML tag in my previous comment, and it didn’t work for some reason.

  3. Conslayer says:

    I would rather burn the tent to the ground than pollute it with more conservative ideology. Why don’t you become republicans and stop damaging our party with your weak positions?

  4. John Casper says:

    The central issue facing both parties is income inequality.

    A federal job guarantee, just like what FDR had, would be easier to get if folks were pushing for a negative income tax aka basic income guarantee, “The Political Economy of a Basic Income Guarantee”

    New trade agreements, “NAFTA on steroids,” are targeting what’s left of Wisconsin’s manufacturing base. If Dems don’t want to fight for Wisconsin manufacturing jobs, if all they want to be is GOP-light, they can watch folks desert them for the Green Party or the Socialist Party.

  5. AJ says:

    Great article. The Democratic Party should be trying to win with White Men, that the article stated were the backbone of the New Deal Coalition. Can Democrats win white men without negative effects to the rest of its modern coalition is another? Obviously it helps to make an effort to court this group of voters if we want to win, when is the last time the Democratic Party really targeted white men?

    • EmmaR says:

      AJ, take a look at to day and the Jamie Bouie article titled, “Why Democrats can’t win over white working class voters.” Seems to have special significance for Wisconsin given they make up a large segment of our electorate. Could be worth some discussion on this blog.

      • John Casper says:

        via Twitter:

        Downtown Josh Brown ‏@ReformedBroker

        In the 1930’s we created millions of jobs through WPA, TVA, NIRA. In the 2010’s we created hundreds of billionaires through QE.

        • AJ says:

          The other aspect is our high incarceration rate for men today. I’d like to see some more research on why this is the case, but in the mean time our democratic governors can start pardoning non violent marijuana offenders. Great way to safe on the state budget and help people get jobs! Plus maybe pass a bill that if an employee is subject to drug testing that they should be paid 24/7.

  6. John Casper says:

    “Corporate Profit Margins and Employee Compensation” 1947 – Present

    It’s just a wealth transfer from the 99% to the elites.

  7. John Casper says:

    A natural ally for Democrats is the media. They understand that their income depends mostly on advertising, which is tied directly to the purchasing power of their viewers, listeners, readers. They have an incentive to publish stories about “income inequality.”

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