Leadership to Move Forward

by Phil Anderson

The struggle is not over. The blue wave was successful in many places across the country. But it was not a tsunami. It did not wash away all the obstacles to building a better, more just America. 
The good news is we no longer have complete Republican control in Wisconsin and nationally. The downside is that we have a divided government, and legislative gridlock will be the likely result. But this does not mean we can’t move forward with a progressive agenda. There is a positive path forward that can build on the success of this election. We can continue the process of building grassroots support for a progressive agenda in preparation for 2020.

But this depends on leadership. Will the Democrats use their electoral gains to provide positive leadership in the next two years? Or will they waste time on futile efforts at bipartisanship? Will they waste energy on internal party rivalries? Democrats should use the limited power they have to push a bold agenda that addresses the real needs and desires of the majority of people.

There are a number of policies that a majority of the public support. People from across the political spectrum want action on these issues. These issues provide the opportunity for Democrats to get out front with a bold agenda and to attract independent and even Republican voters. For years polls have shown the public is more liberal on specific policy issues than the close partisan elections would indicate. 

At the top of the list is healthcare. The majority of people recognize that the cost of healthcare, drugs, and health insurance is exorbitant and unnecessary. Depending on the source, 60-70 percent support some form of universal, government sponsored national insurance program. 
Money in politics is another big area of agreement. Many polls say 80-90 percent of people think money has too big an influence on politics and elections. In Wisconsin, 142 communities have voted, by overwhelming margins, to support a constitution amendment to overturn the Citizens United supreme court ruling that declared corporations are persons and money is equal to free speech. Two weeks ago voters in four counties overwhelmingly approved a referendum to ban gerrymandering. People want clean, fair, secure, democratic elections without partisan manipulation and big money donors. 

In Wisconsin, the majority of people support public schools. In this last election Wisconsin taxpayers approved 77 local referendums to borrow money, or increase funding, for local schools. The result was $1.3 billion more for schools making 2018 a record year for successful school funding referendums. Most of these referendums raised local property taxes. 

A majority of people, including gun owners, support more stringent gun control laws. They favor universal background checks (97%), mandatory waiting periods for firearm purchases (83%) and an assault weapon ban (67%). Polls say 75% of us want Congress to do something to reduce gun violence. 
There are other issues that could have wide support with proper leadership. Issues like debt free college, fixing public infrastructure, family supporting jobs, and a fair economy can unite people. 
In Wisconsin, Governor Tony Evers won’t be able to undo the destructive policies of the last eight years. The Republicans still control the Assembly and Senate. But he can use his power as governor to set a new agenda, frame the debate, and show the people a path forward. He can propose a more fair and progressive budget. He can propose legislation to better fund schools, restore environmental protection, and protect workers’ rights. He can use the “bully pulpit” to advocate for better public policy. Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes can be a huge asset in this process. He has the youth, energy, and speaking ability to keep the blue wave rolling  into 2020.

Tony also has strong veto power to stop Republicans from enacting more bad policy. This is why immediately following the election the Republicans are pushing restrictions on the governor’s powers. After eight years of aggressively expanding the control and power of the governors office, now they suddenly want to change direction. One would think this kind of  power hungry hypocrisy would be soundly punished by voters. But Republicans have been able to use the “politics of resentment” to keep rural and small town Wisconsin voting Republican against their own best interests. 

The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is in a similar position. They can’t legislate, but they can lead. They can pass bills and budgets that address the real needs of the country. They can address the many issues that a majority of the people are concerned about. It doesn’t matter that these will not become law because of the Republicans. What matters is that the Democrats lead. They can set the agenda and offer alternatives to the divisive, destructive Republican agenda.  

Democrats can use the power of Congress to block more bad policy and they can investigate malfeasance and corruption. Investigations are useful tools. But I believe leading with a positive, progressive agenda is the best strategy. As an example, for years the House Progressive Caucus has proposed a “People’s Budget” that balances the budget while reducing military spending and increasing spending on human needs. This budget can now get serious consideration as an alternative to the slash-and-burn austerity of the Republicans. BUT, Democrats will have to LEAD and not just react to the destructive Republican agenda,  lies, and scare tactics.  

Change takes decades – sometimes centuries. Look at how long it took to achieve civil rights for minorities. After centuries, racism is still prevalent in our society. Getting the right to vote took women131 years. Progress doesn’t happen with one election. There has to be a sustained grassroots effort. People have to be engaged and active citizens. People will have to push the Democrats to do the right things. 

If people will keep up the pressure and Democrats can get their act together, the blue wave can grow into a tsunami in 2020. It could be the beginning of making America what it should be for all our people.