In The News
Campaign Wars Part 2: According to GOP ads, Doyle is running!
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted July 23, 2011
Now that the Republicans realize how vulnerable they’ve made themselves in their marriage to Gov. Walker, they’re turning to the power of money. Never underestimate the votes they expect to generate in the last weeks before the Aug. 9 recall elections in Wisconsin through full bore TV, radio, Internet and mailer barrages led by third-party conduits for anonymous corporate donations.
Both sides are taking advantage of the open door for anonymous nastiness concocted by recent US Supreme Court decisions. Even people who hate that new equivalence of free speech and big money are arguing the heck with the principles -- if one side is doing it, then get in there, too.
But the Democrats don’t expect to match the other side. For one thing, progressive networks, MoveOn.org and others can huff and puff but they can’t meet what oil, health and banking execs are willing to give to protect their swollen profits and keep the right puppets in office. The progressives will only represent a fourth of the amazing $20 million political journalists estimate will be spent on recall ads.
For another, many progressive groups still intend to disclose their donors despite what the Supremes have allowed. The optimists as well as the strategists among them cling to the hope that being right with the people works in the long run better than being tricky. The believers push skilled, constant grassroots campaigning where real people talk to teach other. Surveys indicate that with enough street troops the results are better than electronic campaigning – and rather than yell extreme points, the ground troops have to learn to politely talk to folks and ask them to check the facts.
Unions are good at this ground game, and hope for even higher impact this summer through cooperative alliances that allow them to speak to all voters. This is the move to the “independent expenditure” side of recall elections. That prevents them from coordinating on strategy or message directly with any candidate operation – and this time that seems no detriment. The issues, frankly, are so straightforward that neither camp feels limited. From what I’ve seen close up on the campaign trail, the rules are being scrupulously observed, certainly by We Are Wisconsin, a coalition of unions and progressive groups devoted to doing the doors and phone calls in the toughest heat and toughest neighborhoods. I’ve seen their volunteers turn down chances to step over the line as they run into forces for the Democrat Party, Organizing for America and other groups they can’t exchange strategy with.
With more money, however, the GOP has many avenues to make up for its lack of contemporary issues and less committed neighborhood forces. I have no reason to think that hired media consultants based in faraway states and working for many conduits and right-wing foundations don’t know the rules, but in the shadowy third party ad world it’s hard to verify how they come up with like-minded ideas.
But they have professional hired hands clever enough to concoct campaigns and manufacture anger. They’re quite inventive and some interlocked doozies are quite sophisticated in stirring up emotions rather than encouraging discussion, which is what professional political advertising is basically about.
Prong one of their third party attack is clearly to brand every Democrat as a Doyle clone. The theory is that just mentioning Doyle in campaign literature is a winner, hoping the public forgets the last Democrat governor inherited far bigger deficits from Republican governors and closed a far bigger deficit than Walker faced. The GOP device – it echoes in ad after ad -- is to make the $3.6 billion deficit from his administration sound “Chicken Little the Sky is Falling!” That requires voters to neglect that only a fraction stems from tax policy and that most was inevitable as the nation went through an economic tsunami. (Remember the recession?)
It does seem silly to reach back in time to label all Democrats as tax and spend profligates because they believe government should help people. It’s tricky, too, because if voters reach too far back they’ll remember that Clinton left the Republicans with a surplus and that the Bush era logic – which Walker wants to go back to -- caused most of the damage. The GOP just wants memories to stop with Doyle -- except, of course, for those legislature Republicans and big corporate businesses that were happy to swim in his pool – so they can associate all Democrats with their image of mercenary stormtroopers from the Evil Empire.
The technique cropped up bigtime when Mike Gousha let incumbent Alberta Darling and challenger Sandy Pasch exchange views on his TV show July 24 (it was hardly a debate), which outlined how Darling’s blows to education and her own deteriorated image were the key controversies in this district (and several others, I would argue). Darling was almost begging to turn bargaining rights into the center of the discussion while Pasch steadily pointed out it was Darling’s faded image among her own constituents.
So how did Darling respond? By conjuring up Doyle, as all her advertisers are. Doyle, Doyle, Doyle, only now it was Pasch-Doyle, which became laughable since Pasch only shared the last two of Doyle’s eight years and it was only in the last year as the economy sagged that his standing with voters did, too. Darling’s attempt to be Madame Short-Term Memory is almost a comedy routine, but she has company.
In one mailer, the Club for Growth reaches back to when Doyle thought reductions in support for school would be balanced by federal stimulus money. Since he and his supporters were wrong, the Club’s club is that way back then Assembly Democrats agreed to cut $300 million from state aid to education. They don’t contrast the inadvertent to the deliberate -- Darling’s elimination in one year of $800 million in school aid.
Similar is the American Federation for Children – and what a weird name for a right-wing funding conduit whose ad blitzes typically say nothing about children, instead sliming personalities; last year it ran assassination ads trying to defeat Chris Larson’s run for the senate. Their mailer in District 8 this time does the Doyle dance, plays the national Tea Party card that even intelligent conservatives dismiss (the one that any increase in tax revenue is bad even if it just closes loopholes) and then offers the clincher, that Pasch accepted a 5.3% pay raise as a public official.
Research the fine print to find out the truth of that one. That was an increase discussed before Pasch even became a member of the Assembly in 2008! It went into effect early in 2009 when 9 out of 10 legislators – including right-wingers like Scott Fitzgerald and Leah Vukmir – also took the raise. Most of the Democrats actually gave theirs to charity.
But remember, this is about emotion not accuracy – and definitely not nuance. The GOP and its allies have got to try this shell game (hide the pea!) since they are the Daddy Warbucks of this ad blitz.