Lessons From Wisconsin

While we didn't win everything we wanted in Wisconsin, we scored a significant victory. Of the Republicans the left tried to recall in the state, three of the seven were successful. That's a pretty powerful message, since there were only four

While we didn't win everything we wanted in Wisconsin, we scored a significant victory. Of the Republicans the left tried to recall in the state, three of the seven were successful. That's a pretty powerful message, since there were only four recall elections prior to that in the state's history. There are a number of important things we learned last night, or at least, a number of things we should learn...

1. The grassroots can overcome Citizens United-inspired massive spending: Between $20-$40 million was spent by the right on this recall. The results of that were two losses and several narrow victories in strongly Republican districts. This is very encouraging.

2. Money still talks, although the influence is less than it used to be: Alberta Darling is still a state senator because $8 million was spent on her campaign. That's the only reason. Similarly, Rick Scott is governor of Florida because he spent $72 million. Without these large sums of money, these candidates couldn't have won. They have nothing else going for them.

3. Left-wing GOTV methods are inadequate: Looking at the narrow margins in these races (and many other races in recent years) it is obvious that better GOTV could have swung a lot races, particularly in the 2010 midterms. I think it's time to completely, and scientifically, re-examine left-wing GOTV efforts. Learn what works and doesn't work and abandon the traditional methods that don't work. And there are probably a lot of them. Then we need a coordinated and well-funded effort to train everyone on the left nationwide how to do things the right way.

4. Republican districts, everywhere, are mostly just districts where people with good values just don't show up to vote: Can anyone honestly say that there weren't a few thousand more leftists in each of these losing districts last night that couldn't have voted? There is a mountain of evidence that our issue positions are the majority positions across the nation. How do we get that majority to show up to the polls? In every election? If we figure that out, the right is doomed for generations.

5. Left-wing messaging is still inadequate: This is less about last night than it is about the left in general. Democrats did pretty well last night because there was a clear message -- Scott Walker and his cronies are hurting the state and hurting you. That drove turnout pretty well and Democrats picked up traditionally Republican seats. The problem is that message won't work twice. It never does. Shilling and King have to get rid of the crony part of the message now and focus on Walker. But what happens when they have no boogeyman/men to go after? What happens to Democratic incumbents? If they don't have good messaging, they'll be on the wrong side of the anger that is growing with the public.

6. The right-wing agenda is toxic when the public knows about it and understands it: Democrats didn't do well last night because they outspent the other side. And there's ample evidence that the other side was very active in the grassroots, too. So how did Democrats do so well? Because the Republican agenda sucks. And when people know that, anyone who isn't a right-wing ideologue votes against that agenda.

7. Left-wing infrastructure is still inadequate: Last night showed that there has been major improvement in our infrastructure in recent years. Tons of groups helped out in Wisconsin and it made a difference. But what happens when that infrastructure has to focus on 50 states at the same time? The right has good infrastructure in almost every city. They are constantly training the next generation of activists and candidates and funding them to make sure they don't leave the movement. We're nowhere near anything like that. This might be our most pressing need, though.

8. Democrats still don't know how to fight: Why would anyone concede a close election where there are potential shenanigans with the clerk counting the votes? Recounts are not about overturning close elections, they are about ensuring the integrity of the vote. Don't give up until you know that you've lost. Don't assume it because that's the way it looks. Stand up and fight. Even if you lose this battle, people will remember you as a fighter and will support you next time. Quit worrying about what the media and Republicans are going to say about you -- they're going to say that anyway. Get over it. Assume it's going to happen (it always does) and do the right thing.

9. Things are changing because the people want change: The process is slow and very painful. It could be going more quickly and many people who could be doing better should be doing better (yes, I'm talking to you Mr. President). But things are moving in the right direction. They are far from perfect and we are losing some battles in the short run. Wisconsin is a great example of this. Things moved in the right direction last night and now there is a legitimate chance (with a crossover Republican vote) of stopping the most extreme things Scott Walker wants to do. That's progress. And it's happening because more and more people are growing tired of the same old nonsense. Now, our job is to capitalize on that and to increase the pace of that change.

10. The media isn't on our side, but that doesn't really matter: Every election cycle, the mainstream media become less and less important in determining the outcome of elections. People already use the Internet for their information on candidates and use DVR and other technology to skip campaign commercials. And, really, who gets their voting advice from TV pundits? I'm sure some do, but that influence is decreasing.

I'm sure there are other things we should be discussing about last night, but we certainly shouldn't be upset about the results. We should be encouraged that we were able to take out three Republican districts in very short order and against a tide of money and right-wing activism. There is something going on in America and if we pay attention and approach it the right way, we can achieve the bigger change we want. It isn't going to be easy and it isn't going to be quick, but we can make it happen. Wisconsin showed us that.

About Kenneth Quinnell

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