In an election year, Democratic candidate for Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul has taken time out during his campaign to do something extraordinary — defend his opponents’ policies. In fact, he went beyond the rhetorical and even pledged to uphold certain acts if he were elected. The most notable issue he won’t fight on is the question of heavily GOP-slanted redistricting. In Kaul’s words, he thinks it is the Attorney General’s job to “… to defend state statutes and state agency actions if there is a legally defensible position to take,” irrespective of the political effects of those actions.
That may seem rather banal, but it is illustrative of a few troubling electoral motifs for the Democratic Party.
Lone Democratic candidate for attorney general hopes to combat voting laws, opioid epidemicUniversity of Wisconsin College Democrats hosted the only Democratic candidate running for Wisconsin Attorney General, Josh Kaul, Tuesday evening. Kaul Read…
To start, the sentiment behind Kaul’s statement is an honorable one, in a narrow sense. But it’s also naive — the attorney general has always been, and will always be, a political position. Even the decision to kick things into auto-pilot and enforce all the laws equally is a political decision — it just happens to be one in favor of the status quo. Apolitical governance is an oxymoron — one simply can’t grasp the levers of power without being politicized. And while voters may in some way appreciate the idea of blind jurisprudence, even if it is a myth, it’s probably not going to get them to the polls. Trying to get people excited to elect someone with no political angle is like going to a football game and trying to get a cheer going for the referees.
More worrying for the Democrats is Kaul essentially promising, with no pressure on him at all, a continuation of Republican policy. One has to wonder, why say any of this at all? Why take time out of what is supposed to be your own campaign and blur the lines between you and your opponent?
Point Counterpoint: Josh Kaul will lead Wisconsin’s Department of Justice forward againThe College Democrats of the University of Wisconsin are extremely pleased to present our excellent Democratic candidate for attorney general, Read…
Arguably since the Reagan administration, this has been a recurring theme for Democratic candidates, particularly those in “red” states (which now includes Wisconsin) and those on a national level. The idea is simple. America is a fundamentally conservative country — the candidates that they elect are proof of that. The Democratic Party should be the left-wing of what those essentially conservative voters want. After all, the only real shared Democratic tenet is that they should be the left-wing of something.
This is a deeply flawed assumption for a number of reasons. First, one could only be lead to believe that America is a conservative country by looking at the candidates it elects. If one actually polls people on policy, measures like single-payer healthcare, which even leftists traditionally saw as a political non-starter, are revealed to be extraordinarily popular. There aren’t actually a whole lot of people who are willing to directly undermine their own self-interest in service to some grand ideology. One just has to cut through the cultural resentment and sell people on the goods.
In wake of midterm elections, Wisconsin voters are not subject to ideological shiftReading political analyses of Wisconsin can sometimes feel like reading about cold-case murders — it’s all the more horrifying because Read…
Second, there is a misunderstanding, seemingly endemic to Democratic Party operatives, that the American people are electing conservatives. This is not true. The fact is, conservative voters are electing conservatives, and they are not a monolith. When comparing the people who either didn’t vote or voted for the Democratic Party during the last presidential election to those who voted Republican, it isn’t even close. The people who are voting conservative are a minority. The Democrats do not have to appeal to them because they are not the party for them. Why would those voters vote for a paler version of what they really want? Why would they drink diet coke when they want the real thing? But all the Democrats can see is the people who voted, and so they will put out candidates that will push market-based healthcare plans or corporate tax cuts or conservative redistricting. And they will lose more often than not because everyone despises them. People on the right hate them because they’re the left and people on the actual left hate them because they’re just mild-mannered Republicans. The most galling thing about that is that the Democrats have valorized compromise to such an extent that it almost seems like they think that’s a good thing. Nothing could be farther from the truth — there is no gallantry in being the Washington Generals of American politics.
Plotting a way forward for Democrats requires a fundamental break with this paradigm. It requires Democrats to internalize the reality that politics is a contest between different groups with opposing interests for resources and power. They must then think very specifically about whose interests they are representing. They already know who that is — it’s the people who they’ve been pretending to represent for decades now: the poor, racial and ethnic minorities, workers, etc. Finally, they have to make their case to those people. They have to differentiate themselves from the Republicans. It’s not just about Kaul. It’s about how we can build a better world. The fact is, we have to fight for it.
Sam Palmer ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in biology.