Mar 5, 201901:04 PMMaking Madison
with Buckley Brinkman
Capitol’s partisan divide looks like a middle school dance
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“It takes two to tango.”
Those were usually my dad’s last words before he meted out punishment for a fight between my siblings and me. When I was the target, clearly my brother or sister started the altercation. After all, I was a model child. However, dad didn’t care and never tried to figure it out; he grounded both of us. We knew the rules and the consequences.
I feel like we’re in a similar situation right now. Much of the gridlock in Washington seems to be caused by adult versions of, “They started it!” Now I see the first seeds of these fights happening here in Wisconsin. We can’t allow our state to sink to that same level because the pace of change continues to accelerate and the problems we must address are too pervasive for us to slow down progress by dissolving into partisan fights.
The start of Wisconsin’s budget process shows this very clearly. I have close friends on both sides of the discussions and their opinions sound much like the “It’s not my fault” protests of my childhood. My friends in the Evers camp talk about how eight years of Republican rule ruined Wisconsin. Likewise, my conservative friends take every change proposed as an end to capitalism. Those of us in the middle feel torn because our friends are both right — and both wrong.
The national debate contaminates our local discussions. Both sides use harsh language — accusations we would rarely use about anyone — to demonize their opponents. The fight is to win, rather than find what’s best for the most citizens. In this environment, we hear sound-bite banter, rather than engaging discussions. These actions quickly lead to all-or-nothing positions, rather than compromise.
The initial salvos of Wisconsin’s budget process also show these disturbing characteristics. The governor invested time across the state listening to people discuss major problems, yet his budget is a very partisan proposal. Of course, the formulaic response followed from most Republicans — irresponsible, can’t afford it, the start of socialism. It seems our leaders learned their lessons too well from their national counterparts.
I understand positioning and the need for negotiating room. Still, it’s dangerous to take initial extreme positions. They can quickly harden into intractable commitments. These stances stunt compromise — compromise we desperately need.
The issues we face are far too complicated to be solved entirely by the approaches of one side or the other. Our future growth requires more than more money for education or tax credits for investment. Current trends are complex. They demand more attention than simply allowing market forces to act. At the same time, technological change and emerging capabilities move much faster than the government can react. Our times require pragmatic, not philosophical, approaches.
Fortunately, we Wisconsinites are pragmatic by nature. Our predecessors were farmers, mechanics, and manufacturers — professions that know how to get things done. Solving problems is in our DNA. Plus, our grandparents understood the importance of helping each other and making sure the community thrived. We need those skills now more than ever.