Friday, June 23, 2006

The Broad and Worthy Aim of One Wisconsin Now

I want to draw attention to a new Wisconsin organization called One Wisconsin Now (OWN), which is aimed at serving as a grassroots advocacy group and clearinghouse for progressive ideas in the state.

The group’s website can be found here and its blog – penned by our friend from Eye on Wisconsin, Cory Liebmann – is here.

In the front page article on OWN in the Journal-Sentinel today, one quote in particular jumped out at me. According to conservative activist Mike Theo: “If the public truly isn’t as liberal as these organizations are, they can try ‘til hell freezes over to craft a message... but if the public's not there, they’ll always lose.”

This is wrong on a couple of levels.

On a practical level, Wisconsin is not a conservative state. While the GOP currently controls the state legislature, Dems have a hold on the governor’s mansion, the attorney general’s office, both US Senate seats, and 50% of the House delegation. Plus, no Republican presidential candidate has taken Wisconsin since Reagan defeated Mondale over 20 years ago.

More importantly, though, on a theoretical level the political culture in the US has been anything but stagnate over time. Public perceptions are malleable, and I don’t just mean people’s minds can change on a specific issue or candidate – I mean the way the public perceives society and the world as a whole does change over time.

Historians have long held that the power of language and perception is at least on par with the power of physical force. And since the US is not a military state, language and perception take on even greater significance in our political culture.

In his book The Story of American Freedom, historian Eric Foner discusses the various ways the idea of freedom has been conceptualized and re-conceptualized over time in the US, often – but not always – for explicitly political purposes. As the public perception of the idea of freedom changed, so too did the political culture of the country.

And it’s not just specific stump-speech phrases and words like freedom that change over time – more subtle ideas like fairness also have shifted throughout American history. Alice Kessler-Harris, for instance, wrote an award-winning book called In Pursuit of Equity that discusses this very idea. Kessler-Harris traces how public perception of what was considered “fair” shifted over the course of the twentieth century and subsequently helped to create opportunities for women to participate in what the author terms “economic citizenship.”

All of this is my long-winded way of saying that the purpose of One Wisconsin Now is not to simply convince voters to pull the lever for the Dems, but, more broadly than that, to infuse the public with a vision of the world that is decidedly progressive. In other words, the notion that the public might not be “as liberal as these organizations are,” in the words of Mike Theo, is tangential to the overall task at hand (although, as it happens, a public that consistently votes in favor of Russ Feingold is plenty progressive).

And this is hardly an insidious endeavor – just ask the Republican establishment, which has been chasing this same goal for decades with a host of think tanks and advocacy groups (which have really become one-in-the-same in recent decades) along with a handle on various strands of the media. The goal of the movement wasn’t to necessarily elect a candidate that year, but rather to alter the perception of the public to a view of the world that was decidedly conservative.

Indeed, what better state to lead a similar charge for instilling progressive ideas into the public mindset than Wisconsin.

UPDATE: Xoff has more on the formation of One Wisconsin Now.


Blogger publius said...

Are you guys trying to steal Xoff's and GWC's thunder...?

Remember: there is only a finite amount of money for groups like these...

Unless the AG continues to cut checks...

June 23, 2006  
Blogger publius said...

I'd ask to be updated on the fundraising efforts, but Xoff sticks to the letter of the compliance laws...

Wouldn't it be ironic if they all clamored for more transparent campaign finance laws? Better yet, how about publicly financed campaigns? Do you think groups like these would line up with hat in hand?

Oh, that's right - Peg already gives out money to these groups.

June 23, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Note: The first part of this comment, which was in response to the first comment by publius, was accidentally deleted.

OWN and the GWC have different missions. GMC has short-term, election-based goals while OWN is focused more on long-term, ideology-based goals.

Considering the amount of money each has raised so far, there's clearly plenty of love to go around at this point.

Regarding public finance, I do think these groups would back it. I know I would. Would you?

You'll hear far more complaints about public financing on the right than you do on the left -- in fact, much of the left is pushing for it. Granted, not many politicians because they have seen firsthand the power of incumbency -- but the more progressive ones in the Dem ranks, such as Russ Feingold, still support public financing despite the advantages of incumbency.

Until public financing becomes a reality, though, fundraising will remain an integral part of the game.

June 23, 2006  
Blogger publius said...

Since you ask:

No, I don't support publicly financed political campaigns - it is a clear impingement on my first amendment rights. While one could argue that paying for a military is as well, there exists a clear constitutional mandate for the military.

My very limited income should not be taxed from me to go to finance political speech - whether I agree with it or not. Because it is overtly POLITICAL (now, I'm sure you'll retort to the effect that we already do via White House spin or Congressional newsletters, etc., but the mechanism exists to discern real legislative issues from spin via the many media outlets - like this very blog, newspapers, radio, sewing circles, etc.).

If you don't want politicians to be on the take, don't vote for politicians who seem to be on the take. Don't blame the two big Parties - there are other candidates for whom you can vote.

Re: CFR? I support full and immediate disclosure of donations for everyone (and every group) - let voters decide the level of corruptibility by the said donation. Because then I'd know fully and immediately that One Wisconsin Now was receiving a sizeable amount of its funding from Massachusetts (

June 23, 2006  
Blogger publius said...

I should add that I don't have a problem with groups like these - I actually value their involvement in the process.

However, I do take exception when their goals/issues do, or will, seem incongruent with their practices.

June 23, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

You never actually explained how OWN's goals/issues are inconsistent with their practices.

Regarding public financing of campaigns, money wouldn't be going to just one candidate, it would be going to all legitimate candidates evenly (how we define "legitimate" is up for debate). I don't see how that impedes your personal right to free speech. Many locales around the country currently have public financing of their local elections, and I can't imagine any residents in those places have felt a strain on their right to free speech since those laws were enacted.

And, I should note, a likely GOP presidential candidate in 2008 -- John McCain -- supports public financing of campaigns, too. Well, at least he did -- perhaps he's switched in recent months as he's veered to the right to please the Republican establishment.

Campaigns for public office are, by nature, public -- I don't see why we shouldn't fund them publicly.

June 23, 2006  

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