I used to have a press secretary who could say, "What the mayor meant to say was..." Actually, Rachel Strauch-Nelson rarely needed to do that, as she usually just cut me off at the pass before I said dumb things out loud to the press.
What I wrote last week about the recall results wasn't dumb, but I am a little alarmed to see so many Democrats at last weekend's state convention picking up the theme that the only reason they lost was because Wisconsinites don't like recalls. I'm not saying that they're echoing what I wrote. They're coming to this conclusion all on their own and that's the problem.
So let me clarify. My party lost because the other guy got more votes, and because a majority of Wisconsinites like most of his policies. I believe that in a regular election that was a straight up or down vote on Scott Walker's policies the result might have been different, but probably not.
This is important, because to the extent that we allow ourselves to fool ourselves that we lost because the other guy had more money (he did, but almost everybody had their minds made up long before the air war started), or our candidate was weak (he wasn't, Tom Barrett was our best shot), or Republican voting procedure changes suppressed turnout (which was massive), or the Koch brothers did it (these guys have been blamed for everything from high gas prices to the Brewers' streak of injures, but they're not that powerful), than we excuse ourselves the necessity of confronting our own unpopularity.
The public isn't buying what Democrats have to offer and it's time we stopped whining about it and complaining about how stupid our customers are. UW political science professor Ken Mayer made this point really well in Saturday's State Journal.
What's needed is some kind of movement, preferably within but possibly outside of, the Democratic Party. A movement that appeals to the vast majority of people who are not party activists, not especially ideological one way or the other, and just want a government that listens to them and works.
Chanting that "The People, United, Will Never Be Defeated' just doesn't cut it among the big middle. That kind of stuff just turns them off.
The Democratic Party and its allies were never better organized and focused than they have been the last eighteen months. This result wasn't about the techie side of politics. It was about substance. And it's substance that we need to change.
What the public doesn't get from either party right now and from most interest groups is honest discussion of the issues in language that doesn't condescend or pander.
Give me a politician who says what he thinks and makes a case that what he thinks is intelligent. Give me a politician who isn't afraid to disagree with his own friends and supporters when he thinks they're wrong. Give me a politician who reaches out to the other side and tries to understand them, not just vilify them.
That's the style of politics that the vast middle wants. Is my party capable of giving it to them?