In The News
GOP has more ad money but opposition has better arguments
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted July 21, 2011
Republican bloggers and magazines are making a big deal about how many political ads on the Democrat side aren’t focusing on events that roiled cable TV -- the emasculation of public workers’ bargaining rights. Why isn’t the opposition just hitting that note, they sniff?
Their attitude echoes a Walker mindset. He insists, and their sniffs repeat, that it’s only unions that are angry with him even as his statewide disapproval numbers climb to 59%. That’s some might clout when unions represent a mere 15% of the workforce! Only in la-la land can Walker tell fellow Republican governors, as he just did, that his only mistake was poor PR.
Let’s get real for a minute. There is more than enough disaster for all categories of voters in Walker’s ideology and budget tactics. That’s what is motivating the recalls Aug. 9 to more turnout and likely success than pundits first predicted. Walker’s behavior has provided a rich attack field for campaign advertisers– and how they have jumped! It’s no surprise that unions have jumped the same way – they know which failures will resonate with the most voters, top to bottom. Just because Walker talks like a rube, why should they?
In every recall district some opposition ads just poke fun at the personal failings of the individual incumbents –- the domestic mess of Randy Hooper and Dan Kapanke’s brushes with campaign laws, as two examples. Journalists have also leaned that way, since tabloid headlines are easier to understand than economics. The media has also grabbed onto the political flip-flops, not only changes in past principles to support Walker tactics but now the efforts to leak breaks with Walker in obvious attempts to mollify the recall fever.
But most of the big ticket advertising pushes from the opposition could play almost interchangeably – and many do -- in all six Aug. 9 races. Even the ground troops, the most successful component of the liberal attack, working door to door, led by such coalitions as We Are Wisconsin, have now added video haymakers on cable TV and the Internet emphasizing how Republican incumbents turned their backs on their own citizens.
That’s what the GOP misjudged though it leads the TV money game particularly in third party ad blitzes with anonymous donors. It’s the behavior of the GOP majority that has created multiple openings for attack: $1.6 billion cuts in education aid, sneaky taxes and new fees aimed at the middle and lower incomes, funds stripped or about to be from the disabled, the elderly, the ill and other community safety nets, tax breaks for only the richest and their lobbyists, expanding voucher schools to communities that didn’t want them.
The GOP Madison Avenue invention in responding to all this is worth a separate column, but they are also bailing water on a sinking boat. It’s their darned overconfident conservative majority that keeps the beat going even as their hired consultants try to minimize the damage from budget overreach. Every day provides new fodder for outrage. Look at how the GOP majority builds more insults to voters in the deliberate confusion at the polls from the voter bill. Look at how even law officers, businesses and communities are stuck with a too speedy and loophole-ridden concealed carry law that benefits gun sellers more than citizens. Look at how they’re trying to chill voter turnout this summer by pushing through redistricting for next year -- clearly an effort to help the likely losers in the recalls sneak back into office in 2012 through excessive demographic fiddling.
Such hypocrisy turns to mush another advertising attack the GOP and even its sympathetic media outlets have been pounding on. Their only hope to undercut turnout is to attack the legitimacy of these summer elections. If you can’t make a case against the recalls, criticize the very idea of recalls.
Now truthfully, neither side is in love with this last electoral resort, since that signals how our democracy is on the precipice. Who wants to admit that? It’s also a weird place for believers in representative government to be, because recalls are historically associated with extremist right-wing anger against any sitting politician.
But that precipice – of being at the last resort to return state government to balance -- just reminds voters that it took a lot of misbehavior by one-sided one-party rule to cause all this. And the Republicans hardly have any moral ground to stand on, not when the GOP cheerfully asked Republicans to pretend to be Democrats to force primaries and not after so brutally undermining the core concept of negotiation and compromise.
You need do no more than quote threatened Senate District 8 incumbent Alberta Darling, who admits she didn’t even try to follow the rules of democracy last winter because “this is simply not a good environment to try to do consensus building . . . There is not another side willing to work across the aisle." When you factor in how much money she took as she said that from American Legislative Exchange Council lobbyists (ALEC), you’d have to have a mighty stuffed nose not to smell a rat.
Yet the GOP and its allies are going into all the districts saying in mailers and on radio that recalls should only be used for malfeasance in office – and “not for a single vote” on Walker’s budget. (Does it sound like they want you to stay at home?)
Let’s get real again. This budget was hardly a single vote and these threatened incumbents were hardly novices (all last elected in 2008) and hardly onlookers. They were active players who shaped the attack, not casual observers caught in the storm. The majority method was multiple in devices and impact and clearly ideologically corrupt.
Walker couldn’t do this alone – and some of the incumbents claiming they tried to slow him down are being caught in fabrication by the new national research website of ALEC Exposed.
On May 31, Darling, Olsen, Harsdorf and Hopper – all incumbents facing recalls -- slipped an amendment into the Wisconsin budget bill that gave a big tax break to a big tobacco company. The ALEC inspired vote would have converted moist tobacco products from a price-based tax to a weight-base tax.
Moist tobacco products, like Skoal and Copenhagen, benefit big-time from a tax break that lowers the price of the smokeless products that target kids with packaging and candy flavors like cherry, apple and grape, according to Emily Rohloff, a spokeswoman for a statewide coalition of health groups. The joint finance committee co-chaired by Darling on which Harsdorf and Hopper sit, also cut funds for the Tobacco Prevention and Control program by some 22%.
The tie to big tobacco and to ALEC – the amendment virtually duplicated the ALEC “Taxation of Moist Smokeless Tobacco Products” bill – was too blatant even for Walker, who has prided himself on hiding the manipulators behind the curtain. He vetoed that, and another Darling idea to pay Milwaukee police offices while they faced criminal charges. In other words, these incumbents were not reluctant partners; they were co-conspirators and sometimes overly susceptible playthings of the right-wing.
That’s what voters are calling into account. And that’s why the recall campaign operatives can mine so rich a field of unhappiness even among voters who once admired the real Republican Party.