The Unity Farce

The first tentpole of Mary Burke’s campaign is her capacity to create jobs.

The second is her ability to unite the voters of Wisconsin.

Together, in her stump speeches and in her messaging, they form a parade of self-parody befitting the small-time issues of a High School Class President’s campaign platform.

Ms. Burke’s calls for policies that bring the state together in search of common and pragmatic solutions are designed to paint her as some kind of beneficent facilitator of great ideas. Like the president, her candidate persona transcends political games, positioning her as a reluctant player in politics who’s mission is purely noble. Think back to a young Obama administration that facilitated the reconciliation between Professor Henry Gates and that racist white cop, served over beer in the Rose Garden. For a president to publicly address these issues was absurd, but was, in hindsight, the extent of his diplomatic prowess. Ms. Burke stresses her goal of making a better Wisconsin through unity and talking things out and internal political diplomacy — it’s hope and change without calling it that — but presents no roadmap for doing so.

This argument relies on the key assumption that Governor Walker’s policies are good policies.

They are. Save for the hurt feelings of Democrats disengaged from reality and unionistas crying in front of the Capitol, Wisconsin is better off than it was in 2009.

If the true goal of Mary Burke’s campaign were unity, she would not speak disparagingly about the beloved Republican governor. She might even adopt some of the themes Democrats have adopted nationally and begin waffling about “the law of the land” being irreversible, asking others in the party to do the best they can given the circumstances. Democrats have a track record of coming together despite wild and vast differences, always in the interest of beating Republicans. If she weren’t playing the role of perfect-on-paper Democrat, Ms. Burke might stand the chance to pull conservatives away from Mr. Walker in November. Instead, she’s the anti-Republican, which is the primary function of any Democrat running for office. Any other goals or initiatives are subordinate to not being a Republican.

That’s why she adopts perennial Democrat policies — increased minimum wage, opposition to Act 10, ethereal notions of moving “forward” — and then spouts off high-minded platitudes about bringing people together.

In a recent Facebook post, Ms. Burke summed up her platform: “Let’s set a vision for where we want Wisconsin to go in the long-term. Let’s bring people together!”

It’s meaningless, but probably tests well. Democrats are vitriolic over successive defeats for the Governor’s Mansion, and the tremendous successes from a Republican administration over the last three years. If any candidate wants unity, they must first start by quelling the uprising from within their own party.

I’ll save our reader the trouble of sending a note that declares, “But Republicans are mean and nasty and say awful things too and don’t want to work with Democrats. Just look at the House Republicans!” That’s not what I’m talking about; Republican candidates don’t run their campaigns on banalities.

If Mary Burke were the leader and manager she boasts of being, she would look past the politics and speak to real solutions that appeal to Democrats’ blue collar sensibilities. An increased minimum wage might be good social policy — or at least the lowest-hanging fruit to entice low-income voters — but is awful economic policy. She’s lying if she believes otherwise, and she might be able to effectively straddle the aisle if she weren’t a slave to every Democrat dogma. Faced with economic challenges, griping about social issues falls to the wayside; it’s as if they’re not worrying about if there’s not enough money at the end of the month to pay rent. In this climate, Ms. Burke would have an opportunity to leverage her history of philanthropy and charitable giving into a story about believing in business and economic growth and prosperity without discrediting herself with conservatives by tacking on her allegiance to fundamentally toxic economic social policies. Meanwhile, she could hold on to reliably Democrat votes because, holding to the first principal of running for office as a Democrat, she’s not a Republican.

But this is not the case, and Ms. Burke’s candidacy is built on political expediency. Her opponent’s reputation one of honesty and authenticity, character traits that will perpetually irk his detractors. His politics might be opposite theirs in every way, and they will smear him forward and backward, but they have no grounds to call him a liar. He certainly understood the toxic politics of obliterating union bargaining rights in the interest of financial solvency, a move he oversaw anyway, without having to lie about it; the same certainly can’t be said about the passage of the president’s namesake health care law.

As if achieving cross-party unity weren’t wildly unrealistic enough, it’s a chore to achieve unity even within a single party. Consider: Though Republicans control both legislative houses in Wisconsin, approving the governor’s proposed tax cut — a tax cut! — took lots of negotiating, settling, yammering, and dealing.

Ugly politics aren’t the cause of disunity — people are. It’s an inherent trait of civilization to form opposing groups and find reasons to hate each other. This, again, an assumption that liberals might reject for the same reason they believe Karl Marx had some talking points worth listening to.

Political unity is a farce, impossible and unattainable. Even if the notion of “bringing people together” had merit as a campaign platform, its execution would be perilous. In reality, electoral politics thrive on negotiating and dealing, scratching the backs of donors with cush appointments or tweaked legislation. It might be a nasty reality, but it’s how the system works. Reject any assumption that Mary Burke has the ability to subvert this process. It was certainly a goal of Candidate Obama, whose lofty ideals dissolved when intersected with reality.

Unfortunately for Republicans, lofty ideals get votes more effectively than sound economic theory.

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.