Democrats need to right the ship
When I was in the Navy, I learned that an aircraft carrier is an amazing ship. For one, it is extremely large and heavy. That alone makes the task to stop it — once it gets going — very hard. In fact, for the average aircraft carrier it takes about four miles with all the engines in full reverse to bring it to a stop. That's amazing!
Political parties are a lot like aircraft carriers. They are huge organizations. When a political party gets underway, like an aircraft carrier, it is a major task to stop. It's also a major undertaking just to make a minor course correction.
Last year, despite Bernie Sanders, Democrats trying to change the course of the party, Hillary Clinton and the Democrats steamed ahead, hit a big rock and sank. Warnings about those rocks were known for years. But, the Democratic Party did not just ignore those warnings; it punished anyone who pointed them out.
Here's one example. Back in 2010, Mike Simonson invited me over to KUWS radio to talk politics. At one point, Mike asked me about a Democratic candidate. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of saying what I really thought. And, worse, I offered some advice to the candidate. I pointed out that this new movement called the Tea Party was responding to some real frustrations — frustrations largely ignored by Democrats.
Many workers were left out as we moved into a global economy. Moreover, the path up became more and more difficult for average working families. Many Wisconsin families couldn't even afford to send their kids to our own state university. The University of Wisconsin in Madison now costs more than half the income of the average Wisconsin worker. Heaven forbid you have more than one child.
I called this candidate a "generic Democrat." I said you couldn't run against real frustrations with mere silence — just offering yourself as a generic Democrat. A good candidate, I said, should respond with Democratic solutions.
Well, some in the party took my attempt to be helpful as downright disloyal. The very next day, I got a phone call and was taken to the woodshed for my candor.
But ignoring these frustrations became a curse on the party. And curses like chickens come home to roost. They came home in 2016. Let's look at Kenosha. For 40 years, it voted Democratic. In 2016, Kenosha walked away from the Democrats. Former UAW workers (now delivering pizzas) heard patronizing sermons on political correctness from Hillary. But, they heard rage about the loss of good jobs from Trump. Never mind that Trump is a fear mongering con man — he was on message. And many in the working class, once the heart of the Democratic Party, rewarded him. As they say in the Navy — any port in a storm.
Sure some were protest votes against a condescending and arrogant party — but the result is the same. Maybe now my fellow Democrats will use this defeat as an opportunity to find out what — and who — they stand for. John F. Kennedy said it best. "We don't want to be like the leader in the French Revolution who said, 'There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them.'"
Dan Hannula is a former chairman of the Douglas County Democratic Party.