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Citizen Dave: Liberals need to talk about liberal ideas
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See what he did right there?
Credit:Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce

Scott Manley is a wise man. The vice president of government relations for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce was quoted in a State Journal story a week ago saying that "the debate's not going to happen unless somebody starts the conversation."

Now, I don't like the debate Manley wants. The conversation he refers to is the one Governor Scott Walker has started over ending the state income tax, which in my view is just another way of increasing the income and wealth disparity that is both unhealthy for our society and just plain wrong.

But the spirit of Manley's comment is one that needs to be adopted by liberals. It's a spirit that has guided conservative policy makers for the last few decades. Conservatives have not been shy about proposing things that at first seem to be way out of the mainstream, only to hammer away until some of those ideas become adopted as policy. Charter schools, ending public employee unions and concealed carry laws are just three examples of ideas that seemed out there when they were first proposed and are law now.

They don't always prevail. Privatizing Social Security was a radical idea that was gaining traction until the market tanked in the Great Recession. But even when they’re not successful, just talking about conservative ideas moves the debate in their direction.

In fact, Manley implicitly acknowledged that in his quote about eliminating the income tax. He said the debate was good because it might result in "eliminating the income tax or making a significant reduction." See what he did right there? He defined the parameters of the debate. Even if WMC doesn't achieve its ultimate goal, it figures to at least get another big tax cut out of it.

For me, the biggest example of liberals failing to move the needle is on gun control. Liberals have allowed the far, far, far right to totally dominate the issue and define the parameters of the debate. Because liberals are afraid to even mention really tough gun control measures, they cede the field to gun zealots who pull the debate ever further in their direction. The result is Newtown and so many other senseless gun massacres.

Democrats will point to polling that shows gun control to be a loser. You think a big increase in the sales tax (which is the flip side of eliminating the income tax) is politically popular? No it is not. It's so unpopular in fact that Bobby Jindal, Louisiana's Republican governor, had to back off on his own proposal to end the income tax because of opposition to it.

But Jindahl tried -- and that's my point. I totally disagree with the conservatives' policy direction, but I’m impressed by the fact that they have one.

Democrats used to think this way. It's good to remind ourselves of what Franklin D. Roosevelt said in the depths of the Great Depression: "It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something."

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