I like Dave Cieslewicz, but his column "The Local Left Needs to Look to the Future" (5/9/2014) was way off the mark.
He accuses The Capital Times and The Progressive of having "an obsession" with Fighting Bob La Follette. The Cap Times sure doesn't need me to defend it, but please permit me a few words to defend The Progressive.
The reason we honor Fighting Bob La Follette is because he, more than any other figure in Wisconsin's history, struggled mightily for democracy and the other values we hold dear.
Dave smeared La Follette when he said that Fighting Bob "represented an agrarian form of pure white Eurocentric populism that has little or no relevance for our modern urban, polyglot nation."
Actually, Fighting Bob and his wife, Belle Case La Follette, did more to advance the rights of African Americans than practically any other white politicians of their day. Fighting Bob thundered against white mob violence against blacks, and Belle Case championed integration in the civil service and in public transportation.
Fighting Bob was an ardent defender of civil liberties. He was opposed to U.S. adventurism overseas. He pioneered progressive taxation. He preached about the need for an independent media. He was prescient on the environment, writing that we were consuming too much coal and oil and gas.
Above all, La Follette fought against economic inequality and corporate power, recognizing before almost anyone else that this power distorts our economy and corrupts our democracy, a fact we all increasingly face in today's America.
So for Dave to say that La Follette has "little or no relevance" today is flat-out false.
It's important for people to know their history, to understand that the fights we are in today have been with us for a long time, to grasp that we've won many battles along the way and that we are tied to a great progressive tradition that does not shy away from the magnitude of the threats arrayed against us but takes pride in the struggle of the people against the forces of greed and war and bigotry and oligarchy.
Matt Rothschild, Senior editor, The Progressive magazine, and board member of Fighting Bob Fest
I just happened to be working on a piece for a liberal religious outfit on the use of the word "solidarity" over several centuries when the column by ex-mayor Dave Cieslewicz caught my eye. My great-great-grandfather was an abolitionist who marched with Sherman through Georgia, singing "John Brown's Body," the original, so to speak, of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." The sentiment was transformed into "Solidarity Forever" during the 20th century and used by many African Americans, Martin Luther King Jr. included, and their supporters.
Our technocratic-minded former mayor, evidently still aggrieved at his defeat by the '60s-linked Paul Soglin, has had it with "progressivism," with overpaid (in his opinion) teachers and with the whole notion of social solidarity. Liberalism, actually neo-liberalism, points in another direction: The world changes through business and the collaborations of government with business. Even Bob La Follette's anti-monopolism, his resistance to corporate interests outside Wisconsin controlling our fate, is evidently outmoded and unwanted. Whatever made Wisconsin political traditions special is over and unwanted.
Madison loves recycling, especially the former mayor, who makes a habit of it in his Isthmus column. This is the second time in the past six months where he has taken it upon himself to advise The Progressive magazine to retire any reference to Bob La Follette ("Rob Ford and Robert La Follette," TheDailyPage.com, 11/13/2013).
Maybe the reason he hates historical figures so much is because one crawled out of the Madison dustbin to take his job away. If we really wanted Citizen Dave's advice, we wouldn't have fired him in the first place.
Contrast Cieslewicz's point-by-point critique of liberals with his "welcome to the 21st century" approval of Republicans -- a testimony to the power of lowered expectations. Dave writes like he's been hanging out with Republicans and wants to keep doing it. He celebrates the GOP rejection of secession and general nuttiness. They are going back to the core values...like voter suppression, environmental degradation and plain old obstruction. What's not to be happy about that? Liberals are advised to reform taxicabs and quit saying solidarity so they too can join the Republicans in the 21st century.
It escapes me why a publication as good as Isthmus would offer a forum to the former mayor of Madison. His writings only show why he is the former mayor. He certainly seems unaware of the issues that beat him -- his continual overspending, especially to those who need it the least, and his attempts to sidestep the Landmarks Commission, to name just a couple of them.
Interestingly, he touted his great relationship with the city unions, but when he lost the election (with many of those unions privately campaigning against him), he calls for the elimination of the word "solidarity" from the public conversation. I believe that Isthmus loses some credibility every time he appears in this otherwise fine publication.