Saving the Democratic Party from itself

(History tells us grassroots actions needed to spur action)

Often overlooked in the marvelous Ken Burns’ PBS Roosevelt series was that much of FDR’s New Deal rose as much from the grassroots as it did from the President’s skillful, if sometimes crafty, political leadership.

Today’s Democratic Party has lost its appeal among the very people for whom the New Deal was designed to help out. Spurred on by advisers like Harry Hopkins and Harold Ickes and Frances Perkins, FDR was quick to understand the ferment that was stirring among the exploited workers, the hard-scrabble farmers and the terribly impoverished families of the Great Depression could explode into a terrible chaos that might rip the country apart.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was able to see that the growing strikes among workers in the early 1930s, the lines of unemployed at soup kitchens and the milk-dumping strikes and other actions of farmers might lead many into the revolutionary clutches of the Communist Party or even into the Fascism of Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the National Labor Relations Act on July 5, 1935

Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the National Labor Relations Act on July 5, 1935

It was in that scenario that FDR and the Democrats forged the reforms of the New Deal and developed the “Roosevelt Coalition” that helped the Party wrest control from the hold of the Republicans. Now that has been reversed and there’s growing evidence that even the changing demographics of the nation (with GOP-favoring Caucasian voters soon to be in the minority) may not save the Democrats from continued minority status.

Essayist Kevin Baker made this exact point in a recent New York Times opinion piece (Sunday, Nov. 15) in looking to history to indicate that if the Democrats resort to tired old centrist policies they do so at their own peril. He wrote:

“The Democratic Party that shot to some 50 years of overwhelming electoral success beginning in the 1930s was helped in part by changing demographics. But many of those who built what George Packer calls “the Roosevelt Republic” started out as Republicans. Or “Bull Moose” Progressives, or Populists, or Socialists, or Communists, or simply the politically alienated and disengaged.

“The people who built that party rallied around big things — and usually big things they had come up with themselves. The reforms that Democrats embraced were almost all culled from grass-roots movements, and they were big enough to erase the lines between cultural and economic issues.”

(From an opinion in the Sunday New York Times, Nov. 15, 2014 by Kevin Baker, an essayist and the author, most recently, of the historical novel “The Big Crowd.”)

The Republicans have committed a masterful con upon the body politic. Hitting upon the theme of “Freedom” they have convinced far too many people that it is the shackles of “big government” that have brought about stagnant or dropping family incomes, failing farms and tight, expensive housing. Thus people – even the economically disadvantaged – have turned to Republicans and the Tea Party in the misguided belief that somehow the freedom they seek will solve their ills, rather than make matters worse by freeing big business and the wealthy of taxes and regulations.

The Republican message has been sadly adopted by the nation’s media, even among the so-called liberal media; GOP leaders are constantly being quoted, courted by pundits and sought out where they repeat their message scaring the public against “Socialistic Democrats” who are unpatriotic and anti-family. Such tactics have scared too many people.

The fact of the matter is, however, that most Americans agree climate change must be addressed, that taxes need to be more fair, that banks and hedge fund manipulators must be curbed, that comprehensive immigration laws are passed, and that workers at all levels need decent wages and benefits. The Republicans offer nothing in these areas.

Working people – union and nonunion alike – need to look at ways to make their voices heard, whether it be through letter-writing campaigns or street rallies, whether it be through growing more active within the Democratic Party or staging wildcat strikes. The time for a little creative civil disobedience may be now!

Many would like to start a third party – perhaps a Labor Party. As commendable as those desires may be, they’re unrealistic. The fate of working people rests in the hands of the Democratic Party; somehow working people must wake up the Democrats to return to the Party’s roots of serving all the people, and not merely the favored few. Ken Germanson, Nov. 15, 2014

Myths and fears from a victorious Walker

Governor Scott Walker’s “Victory Speech” Tuesday night was appalling.  First, he claimed wrongly that his opponent was the puppet of “special interests” and, secondly, he made the scary pledge to weaken the safety net that is needed by many citizens for their basic needs.

Repeatedly he claimed Mary Burke’s campaign was directed from Washington while his own campaign was an old-fashioned political campaign run solely and paid for by the good people of Wisconsin.  Yes, Burke’s campaign was helped out by contributions from outside groups, many of which were labor or social justice groups; yet, Walker’s own massive menu of advertisements and campaign costs were paid for by money-baggers from out of state, including groups like the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity, backed by folks like the Koch brothers.  What gall for the governor to give the appearance he was unfettered by “special interests!”

There’s a ton of difference between special interests of organized labor and Emily’s list that supported Burke, and the big-money interests that paid for Walker’s campaign.  Furthermore, when the final tally of contributions – including those of the secretive outside funders – is made, we’ll bet the Walker totals may far exceed Burke’s.

More important, however, Scott Walker’s speech on Nov. 4 was a frightening hint of what’s to come.  It was an all-out attack on food stamps, unemployment insurance, health care assistance, public education and other programs that help needy citizens, both rural and urban.  In an uncharacteristically fiery speech, he told us he wanted to “get the government out of our lives” and to offer more tax cuts to encourage investment (read, more tax breaks for the wealthy).  And how his partisan audience roared!

His spirited address wowed many of the talking heads who commentated on the victory speech, chortling that his big win propels him into the 2016 Presidential races as a possible front-runner.  They seemed to overlook the chilling words about his mean-spirited program that can only hurt working families and the poor.

With a heavily Republican State Legislature ready to do his bidding, Wisconsinites face new assaults on public education with an expansion of vouchers, more strict limits on public assistance programs of all types, a loosening of environmental regulations and a continued stifling of wages.

Beware folks.  There are frightening times ahead.  Mary Burke offered good advice in her concession speech:  Don’t give up the fight. – Ken Germanson, Nov. 5, 2014

‘Bosses’ tag wrongly used

The phrase “union bosses” has been popping up in the pages of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Such a tired old phrase it is, too! For most of the previous century, the words were used by managements to discredit union organizing drives, to undercut strikes and to break union ranks.

For the Journal Sentinel to regress to use the terms as it did in an Oct. 26 “No Quarter” column by Daniel Bice is not only distressing but it’s dishonest and terribly biased. The words appeared in a headline: “Union bosses, wealthy donors spend big for Mary Burke, Scott Walker”

Bice and the headline writer took the words directly from the Republican chieftan here, Joe Fadness. How sad it is to follow the Journal Sentinel during this election campaign as its pages seem to take every campaign utterance of the Republicans and play it for all it’s worth. Two examples are noteworthy: the charge of plagiarism on the copying incident and the acceptance of two ex-Trek executives questioning Mary Burke’s record at Trek. Both were campaign sleeze, pure and simple, and the Journal Sentinel should have treated them for what they were, instead of blowing them all out of proportion.

Now, in the Bice headline, the use of the word “bosses” is certainly pejorative, connoting cigar-smoking, fat, corrupt and disgusting humans. On the other hand, the Journal Sentinel declared the Republicans had “donors,” a far more benign term.

Union leaders throughout history – as well as those of today – have been responsible to creating a movement that most economists would say made it possible for Americans to have a relatively thriving standard of living; that of course has been threatened by the weakening of our unions since the 1980s.

Admittedly, there were some corrupt leaders, but even most of them – as they fattened their wallets – provided a better life for their members.

Most union leaders came up from the ranks of the workers they now represent; most lead lives struggling to pay the mortgage, to get their kids through college and to keep their lawns mowed during work weeks that kept them on the job for 60, 70 or 80 hours. They care about the future of this country, about an education system that is being ravaged in the name of privatization, about a planet that faces environmental devastation, about continued racism, among other issues.

Union leadership work was always controversial when they seek to bring about change; their work should be examined and criticized when warranted, but it should be faced upon facts.

A newspaper that has paraded around as a paragon of virtue for the community at least owes union leaders the right to far treatment. If union leaders are “bosses,” why are their wealthy opponents “donors?”  Ken Germanson, Nov. 2, 2014

Mary Burke will bring balance back to state

There’s one simple reason to vote for Mary Burke: she’s the best hope for restoring some semblance of balance to our state.

Governor Walker in a 2012 visit to Janesville (as recorded in the documentary, “As Goes Janesville”) promised a wealthy donor to “divide and conquer.” By and large, he has succeeded in that promise. The state has indeed become more and more divided and much of his regressive agenda has been accomplished.

It is apparent from her campaign and background that Mary Burke will not be pursuing a hard-left agenda. And that is precisely the reason I believe that in this election Mary Burke is just exactly what Wisconsin needs now. On the key issues, Mary Burke is offering a more moderate, middle way.

Governor Walker and Mary Burke both pledge more jobs, a tough promise for either to fulfill. There, too, Mary Burke offers a combination of plans (even some of Republican origin) to meet that difficult job goal. The fact is Wisconsin is a 50-50 state and any governor should lead with the understanding that he or she represents ALL of the state’s citizens. To improve our job picture, we need both sides working together.

Mary Burke is the candidate best suited to bring Wisconsin back to the historic political balance that created good schools, great universities, a solid safety net, adequate infrastructure and preserved our beautiful natural environment.  Ken Germanson, Nov. 1, 2014