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“An informed citizenry is at the heart of a dynamic democracy.” Thomas Jefferson
“If people are informed they will do the right thing. It's when they are not informed that they become hostages to prejudice.” Charlayne Hunter-Gault
Democracy requires well informed, involved citizens to function well. We all know this but many of us don't take the time to be truly informed on issues or the candidates. Too many people blindly swallow the all the misleading soundbites, thirty-second personal attack ads, and meaningless focus-group driven slogans. Too often candidates with thoughtful, detailed policy positions lose the election. Appealing to voter's fears, ignorance, and prejudices works. There are too many of us that are “hostages to prejudice.”
Tom Tiffany, the Republican congressional candidate in Wisconsin's 7th district, is running on empty slogans, fear tactics, and stirring up prejudices. In his public victory speech after the primary he said,
“That's why every day, I will fight socialism, and I will defend freedom" (emphasis added).
Tom seems to be stuck in the Joe McCarthy 1950s with commies under every bed. In the real world the problems affecting people are not caused by socialism. The poor economy, lack of family supporting jobs, exorbitant medical costs, contaminated drinking water, or decline of family farms are not caused by socialism or lack of personal freedom. But labeling your opponent a “socialist” is a tried and true way to bamboozle people. It is a rhetorical smoke screen that obscures how Republican policies hurt people and exacerbate real problems.
You can see Tiffany's rhetorical foolishness in his campaign advertising. He identifies “cutting regulations,” and “limiting government overreach” as the way to “protect Wisconsin families.” This is standard conservative dogma. According to them, without government regulation we would all live in a free market utopia. But this simplistic, antiquated world view isn't true, and doesn't address our real problems.
Regulations are LAWS necessary to protect public health, safety, and provide some minimum of fairness in our economy. They weren't created by out-of-touch bureaucrats to hamstring business. They resulted from real life problems created by unregulated capitalism. In the past people got sick from unsafe food, polluted water, and quack medicines. People got defrauded by dishonest business practices. Workplaces were unsafe and child labor was common. The weak got crushed by the powerful. Poverty, inequality, hunger, disease, and insecurity were common for many people all over America. This has been well documented by history. If you want to go back to the good old days of the 19th century, follow Tom's deregulation agenda.
Government – through laws, the courts, and public expenditures – is the foundation of a modern economy. The capitalist, “free market,” private enterprise system wouldn't function, or function well, without government to provide the rules of the game. Government regulations, social programs, and public schools are the reasons many Americans have prospered. Government is responsible for the current relatively good quality of life most of us enjoy.
But going backward is what the Republican agenda is all about. Whenever they are successful in dismantling or weakening enforcement of necessary laws the public pays the price. There are many examples that prove this statement. A serious one is the 2008 financial meltdown caused by weakened regulations that allowed home loan scams and banking fraud to flourish. Other examples include opioid drugs being pushed by drug companies, food contamination recalls, and undrinkable private water wells in Wisconsin because of lax enforcement of environmental laws. The “common sense” Tom says he brought to Madison makes no sense and will hurt Wisconsin families.
In one of the campaign mailers I received, Tom pledged to “fight for Wisconsin families” by opposing “Obama's regulatory overreach.” Three and a half years after President Obama left office Tom (being on the cutting edge of new ideas) is running against former President Obama! Why is he using this language? The wording in political adverting is carefully selected and is not accidental. Mentioning President Obama was deliberately used to appeal to the racial bigots in the district. I am sure Tom will deny this, but this tactic has been successfully used for decades by conservative Republicans to gain votes.
What does all this tell us about candidate Tom Tiffany? One can learn a great deal by reading between the lines. Tom has no respect for the voters. He assumes they can be easily manipulated with sleazy tactics and meaningless rhetoric.
Tom has little imagination, problem solving skills, or innovative policy ideas. He is an unthinking, misinformed advocate for the failed, non-solutions of the past.
“Freedom” according to Tom means the “free market” can rape and pillage at will with no regulatory controls. You and I will be the collateral damage of an unregulated economy. “Freedom” does not mean having free and fair elections, ending gerrymandering, limiting campaign spending, or having government of, for, and by the people. Freedom does not include freedom from want, living wages, affordable healthcare, affordable housing, or workers being free to have a union. Nor does freedom mean the ability for women to control their own bodies.
Tom is a puppet. He will be a reliable vote for all the issues important to the big money campaign contributors and the conservative agenda. He will represent mega-corp and Wall Street not northwest Wisconsin.
In contrast Tricia Zunker, the Democratic candidate, is talking about real issues. Tricia is discussing healthcare, the cost of prescription drugs, earning enough to support your family, student debt, clean water to drink, improving our schools and having honest elections. But her message is not being heard. She doesn't have deep pocket donors and it takes millions of dollars to run for the House of Representatives.
During George W. Bush's campaign of fear and lies to justify the invasion of Iraq, I saw a protest sign that said, “More Beer Less Fear.” The people of Wisconsin's 7th congressional district deserve to know where the candidates stand on real issues. They need honest debate of the issues, and accurate information not empty slogans or misleading advertising. We need more beer and less fear.