Monday, February 27, 2012

A world undone

By Bill Kraus

This title of a wonderful book on WWI has come home to roost.

I listened to a UW political scientist tell a Milwaukee audience in the early fall of 2010 that there would be a Republican tsunami in November of 2010 that would turn out even unbeatable Democrats in Washington and Wisconsin.

The reasons he gave were widespread fear, uneasiness, disappointment with the way the world was going, and an unusually strong urge for major changes, new ideas, straight talk.

After his predicted results came true and the radicalization that followed the tsunami was carried out by the winners, another UW political scientist told this same audience that the independents and uncommitted voters who gave the Republicans their stunning victories a few short months before were now appalled at what they had wrought. The next election, he predicted, would swing the pendulum fully back the other way.

Both of these predictions are based on the assumption that the voters who really decide elections reside in what used to be regarded as the moderate middle. They are people who are looking for a government that works, for candidates who sound like problem solvers.

The natural, rational conclusion that I drew was that the 2012 election (and the recalls that preceded that election in Wisconsin) would be characterized by strong appeals to those swing voters who are persuadable and numerous enough to determine the outcome of the 2012 elections.

It hasn’t happened.

The Republicans are particularly focused on their base constituents and are going beyond being indifferent to the moderate middle to going out of their way to alienate them. They are stuck in old ideologies and prejudices.

The President, since he is in office has to work a wider agenda and is the potential beneficiary of the Republicans’ parochial appeals appeals and tactics, is not going out of his way to address issues and ideas that interest or worry that moderate middle either.

It is true that primary campaigns are usually more partisan than the general election, because the fewer voters who turn out for them are more partisan. But at this stage of the game it is considered prudent to keep one foot on the moderate dock instead of jumping into the true believers’ boats.

All of my experience and history would suggest that the advisers and the candidates would be acknowledging that governing is more about close questions and original responses to new situations than about old, tired subjects that are more crowd pleasers than problem solvers. I would think that there is more to leadership than finding words and images to accompany the petty, personal digs that seem to be a standard part of the current crop of campaign geniuses’ repertoire.

The fact that the delivery system and the people who make the media decisions are tilted toward one liners and 30-second commercials which work best with simple didactic appeals has been a factor in undoing the world I knew.

Even so, I am surprised that all these supposedly smart professionals with all that money are not listening to the predictions and advice of the political scientists. Instead, they are telling their clients to play the same old songs, at a higher decibel level.

Someone is wrong. I don’t think it’s the political scientists.

Follow Bill Kraus on:
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Bill Kraus is the Co-Chair of Common Cause in Wisconsin's State Governing Board

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