Milwaukee County Labor Council AFL-CIO

April 23, 2014

In The News

JS shills for extremists to explain progressive gains

By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted August 17, 2012


What a cockeyed piece of political reporting in Journal Sentinel August 16, a combination of lazy wordsmithing and outright shilling to the evangelist and right-wing extremes.

From headline to content, the story touted the most radical interpretation of our social upheaval, the concept that women should vote with their ovaries not their brains, that strong liberals are baby destroyers, and that the Democratic Party is no different than the Republican machinery is throttling its moderates into extinction.

Where did this come from? A number of young candidates and the most progressive candidates in Milwaukee races swept to legislative victory August 14 in nine decisive contests – catching not only established Democratic incumbents and noted political family names by surprise but also the newspapers and electronic media.

The reporters were left flatfooted, admitted one of them, since their coverage was so focused on the GOP senate race. It was natural to scramble to explain that lapse.

But my, they came up with a doozie – abortion. The headline said as much: “Group helped force out anti-abortion Democratic incumbents.” Only to this day most winners and voters never heard the issue raised.

The story went further. The Democrats were doing to their party what the Republicans were doing to theirs – weaning out the moderates. Followed by another doozie: The newcomers would be “more ideological lawmakers less interested in bipartisanship and compromise.” In other words, strong views have no place in the political arena. Wimpy more valuable than Popeye. Don’t eat your spinach.

It was so dumb as to be laughable, but it did one thing. The small group pronounced as the key to victory, Wisconsin Progress, had never before gotten such a publicity boost. They are now described as leading the charge though many of the winning candidates were doing doors month before the group showed up, as even basic reporting would have revealed. Of course the candidates were quite happy when many groups and fund-raisers joined in because they shared many social justice views and it was more proof their campaigns were already having an impact. But that doesn’t mean the candidates took any group’s advice on strategy and issues wholesale. In fact, some of those groups were so aggressive they hurt the effort.

Wisconsin Progress was there from the start for Rep. JoCasta Zamarippa in District 8, but she was the incumbent already way ahead of their principles. In many races, it was simply conviction and voter response that drew the support. Meanwhile JS reporters had already dismissed all the progressive challengers as unlikely upstarts and relegated coverage of each race to one compressed round-up story.

The winners across the board were the hardest workers who spoke more believably to the voters. They each had their own ideas, families and supporters. They hardly came out of the same pea pod and won’t in Madison.

In actual interviews, which the JS didn’t do, the candidates described how they were happy for Wisconsin Progress backing but the headlined abortion issue never came up in their contests – except for the well-heeled campaign hires and business groups that are part of the anti-voucher national network, the American Federation for Children, which dropped the biggest money into these races and lost every one.

Wisconsin Progress founder, Scott Spector, a strong-willed spokesman on the left, was available to JS to boast after the victories that the progressives had swept the plate. But it was JS that assumed that meant he was controlling the candidates, rather than getting on board and reveling in voter approval of the ideas.

The progressives ran against vouchers, but only one of the incumbents was under attack for this. It was mainly the losing contenders who tried to grab the AFC funding. While I personally think the state’s voucher system is harmful to children, I note with amusement that in District 7, the young winner cited in the JS story, Daniel Riemer, beat an incumbent who was tolerated because she was a reliable anti-voucher vote. So it was personality and shoe leather that made the difference.

The candidates Thursday laughed off the premise that the most extreme of the Democratic Party, skulking under the radar, had grabbed and strangled the unwitting community and were now throttling pro-lifers in the party.

“What actually happened,” one candidate chuckled, “was that we beat the lazy people. The incumbents who didn’t get out in the community. The famous names who thought they could win on heritage. The people relying on that voucher money. I don’t think it was even about voucher schools and it certainly wasn’t about abortion. It was about who worked the hardest and was willing to continue that commitment.”

What was upsetting in the article was the idea that following US law makes you a baby-killer and flouting that law makes you noble not an outlaw. Until JS chimed in, such excesses only existed in the far nether regions of the religious right. I found it insulting, as did many practicing Catholics who think is quite American to not impose by law your religious views on others. Most liberals I know regard themselves as pro-life as well as pro-choice without the divisiveness suggested by JS – in fact, they find this pro and con interpretation of their beliefs ridiculous.

Apparently most voters agree. Mitt Romney once did. Like Obama and Hillary Clinton still do, he had once embraced the mantra “Abortions should be legal but rare.” It was Paul Ryan’s model thinker, Ayn Rand, who opposed any government intrusion on a woman’s right to an abortion. But then, she also opposed all religion. I guess that makes her a liberal progressive Democrat – how silly such interpretations!

Even today, I don’t know where the winners and losers stand on the abortion issue, except for a few losers who said they were pro-life because it got them abundant AFC money. But I actually covered the campaign, and never saw a JS reporter and rarely saw a media truck What I saw up close was which candidates worked the hardest in the worst conditions and spoke most graciously and listened most gracefully in neighborhoods. They won. The JS problem may be that the paper doesn't trust the voters or the readers.

The story also claimed that “. . . like Republicans, Democrats are increasingly purging lawmakers in their party, especially from once-safe seats, who take moderate stands on issues.”

That is surely a stretch since the winners even in the once-safe seats were the candidates whom the voters saw as more willing to work hard for them, which in Democratic Milwaukee turned out to be the most avid energetic progressives. The losers were tired, self-absorbed or erratic – and that was why they lost.

Around the state, the JS may soon report, Democrats are embracing moderates if they are better at breaking Republican strongholds through candor and willingness to work together. Given the extreme tilt of the GOP that simple change could produce many surprises. But even the best of these moderates come across as strong in their humanity.

Moreover, the JS seemed to assume that strong progressives are less likely to accomplish change than the complacent they replace, which is hardly the lesson of history. In Wisconsin, the progressive movement was based in the Republican Party and it changed the other parties.

For a more accurate analysis of what was happening you had to drop in on the online transcript by noted JS columnist Daniel Bice, who said it all succinctly when asked who were the winners and losers August 14:

“Losers: (1) School choice advocates -- their team lost almost every race it touched; (2) Club for Growth -- bet on the wrong horse in US Senate race; and (3) Coggs clan -- when was the last time we didn't have a member of the dynasty in Madison? Winners: (1) Sen. Chris Larson -- his slate of lefty Dems won big; (2) TV stations -- they appreciated all that money from Hovde and outside groups; and (3) young pols -- Milwaukee elected two 20-somethings in Riemer and (Mandela) Barnes.”

Bice was generally right, though he neglected that Rep. Leon Young, despite the last name, is part of the Coggs clan. The results were a Milwaukee victory for the left, because the progressives recruited better candidates and these days their ideas resonate more with the community than the wishy-washy JS editorial written mainly to justify by pontification the ordered lazy reporting.

It was nonsense to say the legislature is now dominated by “anti-abortion” advocates who can’t work to better the community. But the editorial revealed why I can’t blame the headline creator or even the reporters since this enormous bias patently represented the heavy hand of management. As journalism, it was clearly despicable.