Why Politics Fail Us
At the national level, with Democrats in control of
both houses of Congress and the presidency, many of us were appalled to see how
difficult it still was to accomplish long-held Democratic goals of reforming
health care and creating more jobs.
There, at least, unwieldy rules intended to protect
the rights of the minority party could be blamed for allowing unanimous
Republicans to try to block progress at every turn.
But what’s the excuse of the Wisconsin Legislature?
There, too, Democrats are in control of both houses
and the governor’s office. And legislators are not saddled with obstructionist
rules that require super-majorities to overcome filibusters.
All majority Democrats needed were majority votes to
pass anything they wanted.
Yet, when the legislative session ended, what should
have been high Democratic priorities of promoting jobs and alternative energy
or saving Milwaukee
County’s public transit
system were left on the table.
A couple of other bills badly needed by the
Democrats’ most vulnerable constituents—regulation of predatory payday loan
companies and state intervention in the worst public schools serving poor
children—barely managed to pass in the closing hours.
Clearly, more than partisan majorities are required.
We also have to elect officials who are politically courageous enough to vote
for good things and against dumb things despite ridiculous attacks from the
Two bills—a dumb one that passed and a good one that
didn’t—demonstrate the power of dishonest debate to make it difficult for
gutless legislators to vote against something dumb or in favor of something
It would be difficult to imagine a more unlikely
bill to pass in America’s
Dairyland than one to allow the sale of milk without pasteurization, the
process discovered in the mid-1800s by Louis Pasteur to curb deaths and
sickness from typhoid, diphtheria, scarlet fever and salmonella.
What could possibly prompt politicians to pass such
legislation in the face of opposition from the Food and Drug Administration,
Centers for Disease Control and public health officials everywhere?
Apparently, all it takes is a Tea Party attitude
that government shouldn’t be telling people what to do. That includes telling
businesses not to sell food products that can sicken and kill people.
No sentient being could have failed to notice
massive recalls of beef, spinach, peanut butter and other food products in
recent years. Obviously, we need more government oversight to protect us from
unsafe food, not less.
Eric Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation and his Academy Award-nominated documentary film, Food, Inc., provide all the evidence anyone with a strong stomach could possibly want about the need to restore public protection in the food industry.
But in the Tea Party view of America, the
“people” know better than government, science or a bunch of elitist experts.
In the case of raw milk, it was a very tiny sliver
of people who hold the superstition that milk that hasn’t been treated to kill
deadly toxins is healthier than milk the government certifies as safe.
Voting Rights for All?
Let’s move from an issue that only a very few people
cared about to one that affects all of us: voting. The partisan divide on
voting is well known.
Democrats want to make it as easy as possible for
people to vote in a democracy. There is a partisan advantage to them because
the people who traditionally have had low voter turnout—the poor, racial
minorities and some of the very elderly—are more likely to vote Democratic.
This also puts Democrats on the side of, well,
Republicans, on the other hand, want fewer people to
vote. There’s also a partisan advantage in their position. In low turnout
elections, those most likely to vote are higher income people who are far more
likely to vote Republican than all that Democratic rabble.
This is an elitist, undemocratic position.
Republicans obviously can’t oppose democracy in public. So, instead, they
scream vote fraud.
The Democratic voter registration bill considered in
the closing days didn’t even address the most serious denial of voting rights
restoring voting rights to felons returning to the community after
Democrats didn’t want to face Republican criticism
for encouraging former offenders to become good citizens. And, in the end, they
couldn’t even summon up the courage to expand voter registration by
automatically registering everyone who received a Wisconsin
Since the majority party is going to be attacked by the other side no matter what it does, we should at least expect Democrats to have the guts to vote against the sale of unsafe food and for democracy.