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Friday, November 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 29.0° F  A Few Clouds
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2012: The end of the world as we know it
And that's a good thing

Credit:Kim Keyes

For 27 families the world ended on Dec. 14. No year in review can ignore the senseless deaths of 20 6- and 7-year-olds, six teachers and the shooter's mother at or near the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

The best way to honor those innocent kids and brave teachers is to do everything we can to eliminate the primary element in that tragedy: the easy availability of massive deadly force.

So let's start with that. It could be that the Sandy Hook tragedy is what it took to get this country to wake up to the public health danger of being a gun-saturated society. This could put us on the road to meaningful restrictions on the number and kinds of weapons that are legal in the United States.

This will also go down as the year that the nation's first African American president was elected to a second term, a term in which some of us hope that, freed from the cautiousness dictated by the drive for reelection, this president can really tackle fundamental issues that he barely touched before, like gun control, global climate change, and the dangerously out-of-balance distribution of income and wealth in America.

And the 2012 election may turn out to be historically significant for another reason: It signaled the strong advance of a demographic glacier that has been heading our way for some time. Conservative white Americans turned out in greater numbers than ever, and that still wasn't enough to turn back the increasing numbers of more liberal women, blacks and Hispanics who are coming to define our new political landscape. This is so profound that some pollsters are now predicting that once deeply red states like Georgia, Texas and Arizona will be in play for the Democratic presidential candidate in 2016.

At the state level the news is less cheery, but there is still some reason for hope. Through an undemocratic, closed-door process, Wisconsin Republicans redrew legislative districts in a way that would seem to lock in their legislative majorities in at least the Assembly for the foreseeable future. The Republicans hold a 60-39 majority in that house despite the fact that Democratic Assembly candidates got almost 200,000 more votes in the aggregate. If the districts had been more fairly drawn, the party split would certainly be closer.

But don't despair. The Assembly GOP caucus is about one-third crazy. The tea partiers strengthened their hold, which means that any sensible legislation or tax increases will be blocked by these extremists. That means the Democrats could wedge their way into a co-governing position by supplying the votes to pass a budget with their more progressive mark on it.

In addition, Gov. Scott Walker has pretty clearly decided that his future is in the center. He's shot down extremist ideas that he used to support, like ending same-day voter registration, and he has even talked about a pay raise for state employees. He's done his damage, but the worst may be over.

Of course, he strengthened his hand by easily turning back a historic recall attempt last June. But even there I can see some silver lining. The Democratic primary was so badly bungled by the big public employee unions, AFSCME and WEAC, that it weakened their long entrenched leadership. Those leaders still, inexplicably, survive, but my guess is it won't be for long.

For the union movement to regroup and start to rebuild strength it has to change. The militant, grumpy leaders of the past have to give way to modern, forward-looking union strategists who understand how to communicate with a public that supports their goals but can't relate to their old-timey image and anachronistic sloganeering.

Along those lines it's a good and some what surprising thing that Jon "Sly" Sylvester remains off the air after being fired in November. Sly's brand of coarse, misogynistic ranting was an embarrassment to anyone who thought of themselves as a progressive or a liberal. I wish him well in another market or career, but it would be a very good sign about the health of our public discourse if he didn't return to the air in Madison.

One target of Sylvester's frequent anti-woman attacks was Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin. Another encouraging sign is that Wisconsin elected not just our first woman to the United States Senate, but one with a very liberal voting record and a lesbian to boot.

This is even better than it sounds. Tammy Baldwin's sexual orientation was never a serious issue during the campaign. This is not because it never occurred to Karl Rove to make it an issue. It's because Rove polled on it and found that Wisconsinites didn't care. This is more wonderful than you can imagine. That state constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage? It will be repealed by the voters in less than a decade if it isn't struck down by the courts well before then.

Finally, here in Madison we have two more encouraging signs. One is the quiet rise of County Executive Joe Parisi. Joe is reasonable, thoughtful, able to reach out across the aisle and, because of all that, effective in his progressive agenda. He should easily win reelection in April, and then let's hope he thinks about the next step.

And at the city of Madison we've seen a much more effective Madison city council start to assert itself in relation to a dour and fairly conservative mayor.

So, in the final analysis, 2012 may have been a watershed year in which, despite the disappointments and the heart-wrenching tragedies, we found ourselves on a more liberal and more civil road. Here's to more forward progress in 2013.

Dave Cieslewicz is the former mayor of Madison. He blogs as Citizen Dave.

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