Anywhere you go in Wisconsin, if you run into someone from the Democratic Party's rank and file, you get the same question: Who's going to run against Walker?
Sorry Democrats, but that's the wrong question.
It's not who or what you are against that matters. It's what you are for that will count. If your party just runs against Walker, the governor will be reelected.
In this age of growing income inequality and economic injustice, Democrats have been unable to trademark an effective alternative to Republican supply-side theory, better known as "trickle-down economics." Come on, how hard is it? Hell, any farmer knows that if you've got cows and pigs and chickens, you can't just feed the cows and hope some nourishment trickles down – splatters is more like it – to the pigs and chickens. All of the animals need to be fed. Call it "farmer economics" for Christ's sake and get busy putting some common sense policies behind the brand.
Oh, and when you challenge trickle-down insanity, you will be called socialists. Instead of indulging your party's impulse to duck and cover, grow a pair and stand your ground for a change. America – which has never been socialist – had economic policies under which the country grew together for the three decades after World War II. Every income class got ahead. Since trickle-down became the economic law of the land a little over three decades ago, America's rich got vastly richer, the poor got poorer and the middle class has been slowly but surely disappearing.
Farm country used to be fertile territory for Democrats, but they have been getting their heads handed to them in rural Wisconsin for quite some time now, including in almost all of the state's poorest counties. Used to be the Democrats were known as the party of the poor. But it's hard to be the party of the rural poor when you don't have a rural agenda. Name me a signature modern-day Democratic program or policy addressing the challenges facing rural communities. It's not that Democrats don't have a compelling or even coherent rural agenda. They don't have rural agenda, period.
Nothing shapes today's politics more than the widely shared fear that the American Dream is being downsized, especially for our kids and grandkids. All across our state and nation, mom and dads are anguishing over how this generation of young people might wind up being the first in our country's history not to be better off than their parents. It's increasingly difficult to see how kids will have any shot at a middle-class existence without education or training beyond high school, but equally hard to see how paying for college is affordable.
Walker is outflanking the Democrats on access to higher education, calling for a two-year freeze on UW tuition. Despite the growing anxiety over the increasingly uncertain pathway to the middle class, Democrats haven't offered much of anything to allay the fears that will define our politics for years to come. A high school diploma clearly doesn't cut it anymore. Where are the voices saying it's time to extend the promise of free public education beyond high school?
Democrats don't ask that question because they fear the question that follows: How could we possibly afford that? Well, how did people without any formal schooling and with far more limited financial means than we have today manage to build a first-rate public school system in the first place? And the nation's first kindergartens? And America's first system of vocational, technical and adult education? And a world-class university system? They afforded these things because they knew their kids and grandkids would need them. Same goes today.
Democrats need to search their souls before searching for candidates. They need to find some nerve before they can find someone who can beat Scott Walker.