Roach to state Dems: Be more like the Cubs

Wisconsin Democrats should take a page from the...
Roach to state Dems: Be more like the Cubs

Like the Chicago Cubs of old, Wisconsin Democrats proved once again this spring that they are the Party of False Hope.

The Supreme Court contest between Rebecca Bradley and Joanne Kloppenburg offered the notion that the Dems’ five-year losing streak might finally come to an end, and the people of Wisconsin could begin a return to a viable two-party system of governance.

Bradley was barely qualified. Her remarkably ignorant college essay transcended the usual boneheaded sophomoric blather into toxic homophobic hatred of the worst kind. Certainly words you would hope that no state Supreme Court justice would ever have rattling around in her head.

But when the votes were counted, Bradley gave Kloppenburg a solid thumping, and state Dems trudged slowly back to the showers, wondering when, if ever, they might win another statewide election.

Let’s face it. Wisconsin Democrats are on the brink of extinction. Republicans have retained control over all three branches of government for more than five years, a status that benefits no one. Walker’s regime is running the table with one conservative initiative after another. They are organized, disciplined and funded.

Meanwhile, the Dems have achieved a status no political party wants to reach: irrelevance. At times, it appears not that the Republicans are winners so much as the Democrats are losers. How did this happen?

A quick review of recent history would indicate that as smart as Democrats think they are, they weren’t.

Wisconsin Dems completely misread the impact of the Great Recession on the Wisconsin electorate. By 2010, when Walker was running against Tom Barrett, the recession had hit full force, with an attendant fear never experienced in our lives. Republicans were able to gain traction with their traditional message of smaller, less costly government. The Dems had no answer. Barrett, a good man, ran a listless campaign that never really connected with voters.

And then in the wake of Act 10, state Dems fled to Illinois. Fourteen legislators took off in support of the state’s most securely employed workers with the best benefits to be found, while private-sector voters–and 92 percent of the electorate–were staggered by 10 percent unemployment and record-high home foreclosures and personal bankruptcies.

Walker’s recall win made him a national figure and the Rockford 14–the heart of the Dem Party–were politically damaged. Taking flight, no matter how righteous, ain’t good optics.

What’s made matters worse is how Dems have reacted since then. In some instances they have blamed the Wisconsin voting public, using snide terms like “low information voters,” ignoring the fact that our state went for President Obama twice and put the first openly gay senator in American history, Tammy Baldwin, into the U.S. Senate.

And Dems continue to wander into booby traps set by the Republicans, the latest being the debate over tenure for University of Wisconsin professors. Students and parents are buckling under the load of college tuition debt spurred on by runaway inflationary costs in the higher ed economy resulting in an unimaginable statistic: Student loan debt is now greater than our national credit card debt. No matter how important tenure may be, Republicans have lured Dems into yet another entitlement defense.

What makes matters worse is that Democrats don’t seem to have a plan.

So let me offer one. Wisconsin Dems should take a page from the Greatest Losers in History, the Chicago Cubs.

After more than a century of hapless performances, the Cubbies might just have the best team in baseball this year. Even if they don’t win the series, they have managed to make it through April without being mathematically eliminated.

And how did they do it? A complete overhaul. They faced their suckiness and changed.

The Cubs brought in new ownership and Theo Epstein, a baseball wunderkind, as president of baseball operations. Epstein proceeded to trade away all the old guys and invested in young talent. And most importantly, Epstein created a new culture. As remarkable as it may seem, the Chicago Cubs are now a team that expects to win.

So what should Wisconsin Dems do to avoid extinction? They should do what Mr. Epstein did: Get new ownership. Go young. Change culture. And then maybe, just maybe, we’ll have a Wisconsin Democratic Party that expects to win.