People can triumph over Walker's dollars in the recall election--if Walker's opponent lets them.
Strength vs. strength
Is the upcoming recall election against Governor Scott Walker the time and place to finally say “no” to all the money that is corrupting our politics and take a chance that “people power” can actually once again rule the day in Wisconsin?
That’s the plea that came from the recent People’s Legislature gathering at the Alliant Energy Center. That’s what many others around the state are urging the Democratic challenger to Walker, whoever he or she might turn out to be, to embrace in this year’s recall campaign.
Walker has already raised at least $12 million for his fight to save his job and, coupled with the massive expenditures by out-of-state front groups, the pro-Walker forces will undoubtedly spend twice that much.
Matching that kind of money to spend on relentless television attack ads is, first of all, probably not possible. But even an attempt to do so is continuing to engage in the politics of destruction that are threatening the very essence of American democracy, giving in to the conventional theory that no longer do ideas count, only money.
This might well be the time to stand up and say “enough” and trust the people of Wisconsin to make the right decision.
Mike McCabe, executive director of the campaign money-tracking Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, has been one of the state’s most outspoken advocates of proclaiming “enough is enough.”
“If there has ever been a time that screams out for political innovation, this is it,” he told a meeting of the People’s Legislature last month.
McCabe pointed out that the Democrats like to attack Republicans for raising untold sums of money to savage their opponents in expensive TV ads and other campaign spending.
But what is the Democratic alternative? Or the unions’ alternative? It’s to try to match the other party buck for buck so they can conduct their own campaigns of mass destruction.
“What if someone ran for office Bill Proxmire style?” he said, referring to the late Proxmire’s penchant to meet people one-on-one and spend as little as $300 on a statewide campaign for the U.S. Senate, a seat he held for 32 years. “I can feel the collective cringe. I can see the words forming on the lips of party insiders and political establishment types. Oh, my God, he’s talking about UNILATERAL DISARMAMENT!”
But, McCabe insists, the people are calling out for an end to out-of-control spending that creates the impression that every candidate is a pawn in the hands of those with the big money. They want someone to step up and say no, he adds.
Ed Garvey, too, is urging the anti-Walker candidates to figuratively take a “Tin Cup pledge.”
“We are asking all who run in November to refuse super PAC, union and corporate money,” he wrote recently on FightingBob.com. “Only in-state individual contributions should be accepted. There is no question that this is a gamble, but the idea of the Democratic nominee raising millions of dollars in three months is not a gamble. It leads to almost certain defeat.”
What could make 2012 unique is that the recall election will happen because up to 30,000 volunteers spent two months over the winter standing on street corners, knocking on doors, visiting neighbors and otherwise making personal contacts to gather a million signatures.
What if instead of spending countless millions on negative attack ads, those 30,000 volunteers stood on street corners and knocked on doors to personally campaign for their candidate? Would 100 volunteers carrying signs during morning rush hour equal a fancy and expensive billboard? Would a neighbor talking to a neighbor about the issues equal a 30-second attack ad on television or radio?
Would framing a campaign around the question of who’s more powerful — the people or money — rally voters to answer that question?
Admittedly, it’s a gamble and goes against every axiom of modern campaigning that maintains if you don’t fight fire with fire, you lose. As McCabe says, however, that leaves our state and nation and the very idea of government by consent of the governed in ashes.
Yes, it’s a gamble. But what a huge statement it could make for the future of our democracy.
(A version of this article originally appeared in the opinion section of the Capital Times.)
March 18, 2012
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Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of the Capital Times and a FightingBob.com contributing editor.