The Party of Yesterday

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The leaders of the Democratic Party in Wisconsin have nothing new or valuable to offer voters in our state. They adhere to demonstrably unworkable dogmas, microwaved for a new and very different century.

Peter Barca, still hanging on as the leader of the Democrats’ cute little Assembly minority, and Jennifer Shilling, who elbowed out Chris Larson to take over the dwindling Democratic caucus in the Senate, have spent their careers peddling the same stale ideas copy-and-pasted out of the generations-old playbook of LBJ liberalism, a policy agenda which has failed so many times during the lives of anyone who is younger than 60 it’s being considered as the replacement for the photo of Charles Manson beside Merriam-Webster’s definition of insanity.

More funding is the answer to our myriad problems in education. Gun control will reduce crime. More taxes and spending will create jobs. The long tentacles of government can create long-term, meaningful social justice. There is no social quandary that’s not solvable by a new government initiative (and of course just a teeny weeny new tax). In the past decade Americans have once again remembered these top-down, technocratic “solutions” don’t really work for anyone except the power hungry statists in the halls of power in Madison and DC, both now islands of prosperity in a nation crippled by debt.

Likewise, thanks to a historically brief period in which Americans gave liberalism one more try under Obama and, in Wisconsin, under Jim Doyle, we have a renewed skepticism over the sparkly rhetoric sprinkled over reheated government-centric policies, a vernacular in which taxes become revenues, spending becomes investments, cronyism becomes targeted incentives, terrorism becomes man-made disasters, Twinkies are calorie-intensive sustenance items, common sense is “the stupidity of the electorate,” and in the specific case of President Obama, ours is mine, except when it comes to his administration, its policies, or its actions.

Shilling and Barca subscribe to this same paint-the-pig approach to policy in which talking point pablum obscures the rottenness of their ideas. But to those who are unaware of the Shilling/Barca dynamic duo’s policy prescriptions, their incomplete websites won’t be much help. Along with the DPW’s disappointingly lacking web presence they illustrate the vapidity of the state’s minority leaders.

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Shilling’s site

Shilling’s site hasn’t been updated since she won re-election in ’12. The last news item is her endorsement by the La Crosse Tribune. Likewise the “Sample Issue” and subsequent fill text on her “issues” page has never been replaced with actual ideas. Back then it was funny; now that she’s in leadership it’s just remarkable.

(Shilling in 2009 told a political science class at UW-La Crosse, when asked what her legislative priorities are, that “it’s hard to get anything done when you’re in the minority.” She’s the perfect leader for the Senate Dems.)

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Barca’s website

Barca’s site is even worse. Other than the sporadic actual sentence, the entire site is fill-text (we geeks call it “Lorem Ipsum”).

The one-term congressman from the ’90s is still trying to figure out Web 2.0, or he’s pulling a Garth Brooks and re-branding himself as Carl Smith, a stand-in candidate that also makes some guest appearances on the Barca site.

It’s not outrageous to think a representative should keep their websites up-to-date. It’s almost 2015 – in an age in which most voters get their information via searching the Interwebs with The Google, this is as basic an expectation as showing up to committee meetings. Hell, a senator could even update their website with a few selfies and thumbs-up from any Illinois motel.

To the Dynamic Duo’s credit, I guess, their rank-and-file don’t really care what their candidates stand for. They’ll support them as long as they’re not Scott Walker, not a Republican, or a trusty warrior in the Republican War on Women (is that still a thing?). Mary Burke’s CTL+C, CTL+V jobs plan is another example of how the Democrats like to use stencils to put on their makeup.

The Dems’ problem is their aversion to intellectual tension. In the GOP, moderates, old fashioned progressives, and the far-right all do battle, the Log Cabin plays tug of war with Family Action, and anti-eminent-domainers and conservationists push back against groups like The Chamber. Meanwhile the Democrats have exerted great energy to shut down the internal intellectual strafing that makes a party better able to argue its point to the electorate, and it has shut down the primary process that produces candidates that better represent their districts. The Democratic coalition might walk in lockstep, but so did the British Army circa 1776. And now the French are coming.

(I’m not sure who the French are in this analogy, but it sounded like a decent way to end the paragraph…I digress.)

The fact is that folks like Shilling and Barca don’t have any substance to offer other than bites of pablum. Both are perfectly content repeating empty talking points devised by someone else and feeding their base vitriol they can pump their fists to, reliving the glory days when they trashed the capitol.

Democrats seem intrinsically incapable of offering any sincere ideas to voters, and shuffling the deck hasn’t yet accelerated their party into intellectual overdrive. A contrast is the style of Scott Walker, who connects with voters and who drives the GOP to do the same. On the other hand Democrats are driven by their party, which telegraphs talking points to comm shops from the Madison bunker.

So while Barca’s career hopefully will crescendo in the Assembly, Shilling is riding a conveyor belt in the same candidate factory that produced Mary Burke. Whether she’s going to run for governor or Congress, as Nik guesses, her opponent will be well advised to just be sincere. Walker’s three gubernatorial victories show that Wisconsin voters appreciate it.

And Walker’s website has an issues page.

About the writer: Chris Rochester is editor in chief of Morning Martini. He’s a communication specialist with experience in the private sector and on various campaigns. He's the communications director for the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy. Commentary here is strictly his own.