In The News
On election eve, applaud amazing civility
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
Posted June 4, 2012
To be candid, the civility of the Wisconsin middle class for the past 15 months despite its clear anger has been a remarkable untold story of the recall election that takes place June 5 (I’m writing on its eve).
The main remarkable story is also underreported, reflecting the media’s love pact with ad cash -- that $30 million plus for Walker hasn’t beat the opposition to its knees. In fact, perhaps the opposite. Everyone belatedly concedes that the ground game will make the main difference, so big a difference that you can throw the polls and predictions away and acknowledge the results could swing 5% in either direction.
But civility is a big story – not pinkie in the air politeness but keeping to the political process and the passion of ideas, refusing to let go the hard debate about the American dream -- but not knocking heads over it. That is quite remarkable in the face of GOP hostility, even derision, in the face of media skepticism and nonstop fabrications about union goons grabbing excessive benefits (which turns out to mean the sort of basic health and retirement protection that every public and private worker should have).
Don’t misunderstand – there have been yahoos on both sides who have gone too far, of course, but right now it is the Tom Barrett supporters in conservative districts who are being shoved around while the Scott Walker supporters in Barrett areas have been greeted with more tolerance. One episode I saw at the Clinton event was how the lone guy with the Walker sign and the marine cap was treated with great tolerance until he rushed the blockade around Clinton and the police whose union backed Walker moved in to cart him firmly away.
Remember that difference when you hear GOP legislators endlessly complain how intimidated they felt in Madison by the solidarity singers, the sign holders, the family sleeps-in and sheer volume of people who hooted at them about being left out of the discussion and then thrown out of the Capitol. All I can determine is that jeers, chants and fists in the air turned the GOP camp into water lilies and fairytale experts. It is not that they are born wimps, but many of these newbies are unused to the rough and tumble of politics, mistaking standing up for your views as threats to the civil order or at least to their tea party pinkies of social decorum.
That’s why in the last two days I have been happy to see that no respectable news outlet nor respectable progressive blogger has touched an ugly rumor that surfaced about Walker -- to me clearly a dirty last-minute trick that no one could prevent from circling the unseemly edges of the Internet though it had nothing to do with his clumsiness as governor. I’m proud that decent liberals stayed away from precisely the kind of smear that the right-wing radio leaps at if it demeans their enemies (and that happened again Monday morning on Fox TV when every debunked statistical claim of Walker was treated by the hosts as the Ten Commandments).
I would argue – and I am sure there are Walker hardheads out there who would call me a leftie union mouthpiece (they already have) for pointing this out -- that the uglier side of politics has been more evident in the fear on the Walker side. He may be running a bit scared right now, but he’s not the most aggressive force out there since he always tries to keep his hands clean. The grossest culprits are the anonymous third-party conduits feeding so much money into his ebbing effort. At the last minute their mail drops, phone calls and media ads have traveled far afield from facts.
I would hope the Democrats would not do the same if they had such money to burn, but the simply reality is, they don’t. As Rep. Gwen Moore told national TV on Monday, that may be the “hidden blessing” of so much money flown into the state to support Walker, that all the Democrats can do is get the real voters to the real polls and ignore the money that can’t vote.
Now it seems the difference between civility and “anything to win” is extending to the ballot tactics. Perhaps it’s because the anti-Walker side certainly has the edge in ground game – to the point of surprisingly cheerful repetition.
The only misstep I can find by the liberal fervor was when the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund decided that the successful door-to-door campaigning would be even more effective through mailers (usually a GOP blitz tactic). So rather than continue successful face-to-face contact with your neighbors the group sent a few mailers to individual blocks showing who – not for whom – had voted in past elections. I’m sure the main objective was not to shame people into voting but to encourage face to face contact, but not surprisingly it was people who said they still intended to vote for Barrett who most forcefully complained that the tactic felt intrusive.
But that was an excess of enthusiasm, and so accepted by the voters. More bothersome has been attempts at suppression or misleading voters, which seem to be taking place mainly by and for Walker supporters (I won’t call them real Republicans) focusing hard on areas of the state not as well monitored by election protection lawyers and government officials as, say, Milwaukee and Madison. (Much has been made of the US Department of Justice sending in observers to Milwaukee, but that is a normal extension of concerns about the US Voting Rights Act and focused on assuring bilingual honesty for minorities, which already seems well under control.)
Early reports indicate that Walker forces have been busy on the edges of the absentee vote bulge by sending mailers to old voting lists – though frankly, the enormous number of genuine absentee ballots actually bodes well for Tom Barrett. The last-minute outside groups of poll watchers being called in — and paid – by third party right-wing forces are clearly designed to intimidate urban voters and will probably fail because those voters are well prepared.
Not as well prepared are election workers in traditionally little supervised rural and Republican regions, being monitored by a Republican attorney general that few in the election protection movement trust to be honest based on a questionable track record.
That’s where most people expect mischief. Subtle mischief, like supposedly neutral poll observers who start badgering election workers (illegal but hard to stop) or asking unseemly questions (also illegal if reported but relying on uninformed poll workers not to stop it). Questions like, “Hey, does that person look like he lives in the area?” Or “She’s so cute, she's probably too young to vote, don’t you think?” Or “I’m sorry, what language did he ask the question in?”
It’s this sort of stuff that monitors, prosecutors and law officers are supposed to prevent – and even toss out the offenders. They’re geared up for that in Milwaukee. In fact, I’ve been told, for the first time trained lawyers will be present in suburbs previously ignored. That’s why there’s a protection hotline ready to step in at 1-866-OUR-VOTE.
But what will happen in Delafield, Sun Prairie and places like Oconomowoc and Johnson Creek, where a senate recall election is also taking place? The hotline will help, but those who care about the democratic process will have to stay alert. And hope civility continues.