If there's one thing the Democratic Party knows well, it's dissent among the ranks. Where Republicans have, over the past few decades, nearly perfected the art of closing file and staying on message, Democrats tend to be all over the place.
Imagine the Democratic Party as Darwin's Galapagos finches, closely related but still wildly diverse and ever-evolving, and the Republican Party as, let's say, a clan of Neanderthals facing a choice between extinction or inter-breeding with Homo sapiens.
That sounds about right.
Personally, I like disagreement and a variety of opinions on a subject. Having one hive mind-like angle on something has always struck me as stultifying and dangerous, but I do recognize its power in currying votes and support. I mean, who wouldn't prefer for complex social and political problems to be made simple and easy? But they aren't and never will be, and so as much as we might like the sound of a one-size-fits-all solution they just don't work.
The Republican Party has relied fairly heavily on the public's willingness to overlook that fact, though. And until recently, they'd been generally successful (at the polls, if not in terms of actual social progress) because of it. With the rise of the more extreme elements, including some of the Tea Party, however, things have taken a turn for the Democrat on the Grand Ol' Party and it seems to have taken them entirely off guard.
Take, for example, Dick Leinenkugel's recent and abrupt exit from the Republican race against U.S. Senator Russ Feingold and decision to back relative newcomer Ron Johnson. His reasons for his withdrawal were, I think, quite telling:
Leinenkugel cited a lack of diversity among the delegates at the GOP convention in Milwaukee. He also blamed Milwaukee conservative talk radio hosts for creating an atmosphere of quote, "hatred, not anger" saying anger can be channeled into good while hatred leads to nothing.
Talk radio and the Tea Party elements of the party had all been hammering away at the fact that Leinenkugel had dared work as Commerce Secretary for a brief period under Democratic Governor Jim Doyle. These days, the so-called Republican base seems to treat any and all bipartisanship (or even mixed employment) like touching a leper. "Leinenkugel also said 'reasonable people' understand why a conservative businessman would go to work for government, even with Democrats running it." Trouble is the new Republican base isn't big on reason.
Instead, they've worked themselves into such an extreme lather that any politician wishing to win their favor now has to paint themselves into an ideological corner. That is, even if a Democrat came up with an idea they actually liked, the simple fact of it being a Democrat's idea would bar them from publicly teaming up because the "base" would tar and feather them for it.
The outgoing chair of the Wisconsin College Republicans has even recognized the problem now. Lora Rae Anderson, of UW-Eau Claire, decided to switch parties and become a Democrat upon graduation because, she said, the GOP had become too "extreme" and that it was "alienating a younger, more progressive generation."
Even those who made less principled decisions to leave the party Arlen Specter, for example, who seems to have switched simply because he wanted to keep his job demonstrate an increased divisiveness within the GOP.
Last but not least, the Tea Party movement itself represents an intensely interesting change. Rather than presenting a new and coherent, unified front on the right of American political thought, the Tea Partiers appear to be just as, if not more fractured than the Democratic / left.
And, unfamiliar with so many shades of gray, they don't seem to be handling this Brave New World very well. Instead of embracing a diversity of opinion and working toward a middle way, the extremes appear to be, so far, winning-or at least making the most noise. And extremes, whether they be left, right, up or down, rarely if ever lead to good long-term results.
It may indeed be evolve or die time for the GOP. First, of course, they're going to have to convince some of their base not to fear diversity and change…and that evolution is real.
Encouraging news on the new biomass and natural gas fueled Charter Street power plant: 59 state businesses have expressed an ability to and interest in becoming sources for that project. That means good economic opportunity right here in Wisconsin and a more environmentally friendly power source in Madison. It's these sorts of partnerships that we should be looking at more like Toyota teaming up with Tesla to both manufacture a mass-market electric car while reopening a production facility and creating thousands of good jobs.
Debate rages on over the high-speed rail upgrade and what it would mean for neighborhoods in terms of safety and noise. I fully support continued and rigorous discussion of the issues, but I also hope it doesn't become a "perfect becomes the enemy of good" situation. On either side. That is, citizens and planners alike must be willing to come to the table and work toward the most equitable (and safe) solution for everyone. That may mean making a few concessions here and there, but I'm optimistic that it won't spell anyone's lasting frustration. The new passenger rail line will, I believe, be a huge boon to the area. It would be a shame, then, to mar it by either shoving it down the throats of its neighbors or stonewalling reasonable plans.
Are we fostering a new race of house-poor Morlocks? The Plan Commission just approved a new 75-unit apartment high-rise apartment building on Spring Street where nearly a third of the bedrooms would be entirely windowless. This despite the fact that the apartments would rent for anywhere from $500-$700 a month, compared to $400-$450 at the older buildings being demolished to make way for the new development. Nice, sturdy apartment projects are all well and good, but I worry that we're pricing out too many people while also creating more and more coffin-like accommodations. There's a reason I live in Madison and not New York City, and I don't think I'm alone in that.