John Smart
Election 2010

To the highest bidder?

By - Nov 6th, 2010 04:00 am
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I’ve written before about the out-of-state-directed campaign up here in the Wisconsin Northwoods to unseat my state senator, Russ Decker, and what a surprise that was.  Even more surprisingly, it worked.  After twenty good and solid years in office, Decker was defeated by a previously unknown candidate named Pam Galloway.

Her campaign was advanced by a shadowy organization called the Republican State Leadership Committee, supposedly run by former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie, from Alexandria, Virginia. Yes, Virginia!  What the hell was Ed Gillespie doing messing around in a northern Wisconsin state senate race?

I wrote about the mailing sent out by this organization that showed a very obviously African-American man’s hand covering a very obviously young white woman’s mouth.  The copy read that Senator Decker “would allow Wisconsin convicts out of prison early,” a clear insinuation that dark-skinned rapists would be marauding the streets up here in rural northern Wisconsin.

Nonsense, of course — but it seems to have worked, as fear tactics often do.

The Democratic candidate for the 87th Assembly District, a very bright young woman named Dana Schultz, raised on a farm in Marathon County, was defeated by the incumbent– a well-entrenched Medford fast-food store mogul named Mary Williams.

The deciding factor in this campaign was a piece by Patrick McIlheran, a right-wing columnist at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, who unearthed a five-year-old paper Schultz wrote for a political science class at UW-Milwaukee in which she described herself as “a hick” and spoke of the rural folks she grew up with.  Selective editing made it sound as though she was demeaning her own friends and neighbors on the farms in north-central Wisconsin, and these selected misquotes made their way into mailings sent out by the Williams campaign.

Nasty, misleading, untruthful. And it worked — Schultz lost.

Photo by Matthew Dwyer

Russ Feingold was defeated by a candidate who charged him with the usual “tax and spend liberal” label, and with being a “typical Washington politician,” (labels that would be laughed at in the District of Columbia) and who spent vast sums of money from his own and other formidable bank accounts.

The phrase “to the highest bidder” comes to mind.

Feingold has worked hard, trying to clean up campaign financing and tactics, and he was ousted for his trouble. His erstwhile partner in the “McCain-Feingold” legislation has turned in his “maverick” credentials. The Roberts Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case has opened the doors to unidentified corporate cash infusions into campaigns for candidates of their choosing — needless to say, that does not include  Feingold.

These campaign tactics are typical of a disturbing direction in our body politic, only most recently culminating in the Republican sweep on November 2nd.  No, I am not happy with the election results, and no, I am not happy with the tactics used to get those results.

And that is not just “sour grapes.”

The campaign was, to my mind, utterly shameful, and not befitting a great nation, much less the world’s leading democracy.  It’s an embarrassment to have to attempt to explain all of this to my two young exchange students. I submit that we’d better do something about campaign finance reform before it’s too late, before we lose our better selves to our political weaknesses.

The post-election situation has also drawn major concern. Mitch McConnell (still the minority leader of the U.S. Senate) has made very public announcements that the principle goal of the newly strengthened Republican Party is to prevent President Obama from having a second term.

Not finding jobs for suffering Americans, not solving the economic crisis, not providing health care for the poor and uninsured. No, their main thrust will be to defeat President Obama in 2012.

By The Official White House Photostream via Wikimedia Commons

I have taken a personal stand on this issue: I am throwing my voice and my support, such as it is, behind totally progressive efforts. I am calling on President Obama and congressional Democrats to do battle with “The Party of No,” to use the bully pulpit to pursue our own agenda. To convince the American people that the Democratic Party — the party of Social Security, of Medicare, of the minimum wage and unemployment insurance and too many human rights programs to itemize —  is on their side.

But the White House seems disinclined to champion this effort.  They are saying that they still want to approach legislation from a bi-partisan standpoint, as though they somehow expect Republicans to exhibit cooperative tendencies that they have kept well hidden so far.

Categories: Commentary, Politics

0 thoughts on “Election 2010: To the highest bidder?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    What, John, you don’t believe in the inalienable right of extremely wealthy people to drop bags of money into smear campaigns while wearing ski masks?

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