Mary Burke’s Phony Politics

It will be difficult for Mary Burke to protect both the national and state interests of the Democrat Party.

As a candidate for governor, Ms. Burke’s campaign hinges on her capacity to create jobs in Wisconsin, an area in which she argues Scott Walker has failed. Meanwhile, in defense of the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration and its supporters have been arguing that that jobs are not necessary for a robust economy; the ACA is a solution to the invented problem of job lock.

These are certainly two different stories in two different political spheres, but it certainly will make for interesting political theater. Squaring these seemingly disparate philosophies will also serve as an interesting lesson in federalism for the Democrats, who might finally acknowledge that states’ needs vary, and blanket policies enacted in Washington, D.C. are especially cumbersome when they effect people in both Madison and Honolulu. Job lock maybe a reality in other parts in the country, but for blue collar workers in Wisconsin, this is a fictional issue, much like the fictional “saved” jobs of the recovery circa 2009.

This dichotomy will make for plenty of Gotcha! moments for conservative media, and they would certainly benefit from relentlessly exploiting it, if for no other reason than painting the party as one whose function is not to develop realistic policy, but rather to win political games. Navigating the asymmetry of local interests and the DNC agenda is not incumbent solely on the Burke campaign in Wisconsin; as a midterm election year, plenty of Democrats will have to defend their Congressional seats, and after six years, have no obligation to also defend a Lame Duck president. Get the popcorn ready now.

The same impulse politicians will have to keep the president at a healthy distance will also belong to Democrat voters — at least those who don’t suffer from the crippling guilt that prevents them to see past the president’s race. They will be free to either ignore most of the last six years or actually endorse policies different than those that have been produced by the White House. This is a benefit to Democrats on the ballot in November, and helps speak to Ms. Burke’s humdrum “move Wisconsin forward” campaign boilerplate.

This conflict is manifest in the commenters on a recent Burke for Wisconsin Facebook page post. For example:

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Ignoring the president will not be a fatal error for Ms. Burke. She’s not a Republican, and therefore superior, as evidenced by these gems:

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Mary Burke may have her faults in the eyes of the average Democrat voter, but at least she’s not a Republican. Her base simply doesn’t have the bandwidth for even digesting the complexities and disparities between Democrat policy nationally and Democrat policy in Wisconsin, because a candidate’s most important quality to them is that they’re not a Republican.

These are not the voters the RPW has any chance of connecting with and either converting or getting to the polls for the first time. They’re mostly the Sinicki Democrats, the yellers and the shouters, those whose political vocabularies extend no farther than “Walker bad, Obama good,” and spout stupid platitudes about “Koch whores,” without being able to name either of the brothers’ firsts names, or what they do for a living.

Whether Ms. Burke aggressively distances herself from Washington or not, Republicans have an opportunity to paint her as a hypocrite: one that believes in job growth but also social policy that eliminates job lock; they’re inherently in conflict. She’s already susceptible to having to answer questions about opposing Act 10 and offering realistic alternatives that both empower public sector unions to maintain their benefits and build a budget surplus. When the realities of these complicated economic issues come to light, the casual observers will begin to realize and understand that while Mr. Walker’s policies may have been unpopular, they were certainly effective and just. Hypocrisy can be a fatal character flaw. As has been established about Mr. Walker, he’s never hidden his intentions to execute the policies he has.

Informed voters quickly get over the feelgoodery that Democrats offer in the proposals. Now that the realities of the Affordable Care Act are hitting home, a majority voters thinks it’s bad for the country in the long run. The same happened in a poll that asked about increasing the minimum wage; initially a majority of respondents was in favor, but later against in the context of minimum wage causing layoffs.

Here too Ms. Burke faces a policy dilemma. Savvy businesspeople understand the realities of the minimum wage; if she is an adept student of economics, how will she resolve social policy that negatively impacts economic policy? For her base she won’t have to, but to those without party allegiance, the inconsistency should be clear. It’s important for the Republican party to paint this picture, and for the grassroots to make this conflict evident.

As a newcomer to politics, who only dabbled in the periphery of the Doyle Administration, Ms. Burke could have limited allegiance to either the state or national Democrat parties. It would likely be in her favor to run as moderately as possible, and take pragmatic stands in favor of Act 10 and against the president’s minimum wage policy. Unfortunately, pragmatism is not equated with fundraising. As powerful as her own checkbook is, it’s not enough to compete with Mr. Walker’s nationwide donor base that has already been very charitable.

So when Ms. Burke touts a philosophy that eschews politics in favor of practical policy, it’s hard to take her seriously. She’s a test-tube candidate, one that came out of extensive focus grouping and polling, at significant expense to the state Democrat party, and supported by big-shot alumni of the overwhelmingly successful Obama campaign. In a state like Wisconsin, she’s a living, breathing, recipe for phony politics and inauthenticity, traits in conflict with the good-hearted and honest, hard-working voters in this state.

About the writer: Nik Nelson is publisher of and Founder/CEO of OpenBox Strategies, where he connects political candidates and small businesses with excellent digital marketing tools and strategies.