Blue Jeans in High Places
“The Coming Makeover of American Politics”
by Mike McCabe
A review by Fritz Pointer 6/4/17
Dear friends suggested this book to me, Drs. Ralph and Nancy Knudson, retired MD’s, from La Crosse, Wisconsin. Last week, in Madison, Wisconsin, on a trip to “Unveil” my wife’s father’s tombstone, Prof. Daniel Kunene, a customary South African tradition that must be fulfilled no later than one year after the passing of a relative or loved one, Ralph told me that Mike McCabe will possibly be running for Governor of Wisconsin and he and Nancy may support him.
For the past 15 years, Mike McCabe, Director and founder of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, has followed the money in American politics. He believes that the inheritance of American democracy has been squandered, “largely because we have allowed bribery to become legal again.” Of course old-fashioned bribery remains a crime, but “Today’s legal bribes aren’t called bribes. Now they’re called campaign contributions.” So, what is bribery sounds charitable, philanthropic.
And, with the 2010 Supreme Court promulgating Citizens United, one of the dumbest rulings ever concocted, standing democracy on its head, by allowing corporations and other powerful groups to spend unlimited sums on elections with the simplistic logic: if people could be property, then property can be people, McCabe finds appalling, and accelerating America’s plunge into the abyss of oligarchy.
Indicative of this is the 2012 election when, according to McCabe: “32 donors of Super PACs matched all of the money raised from small donors by President Obama and his rival Mitt Romney combined. Yep…the top 32 Super PAC donors – giving nearly $10 million apiece – contributed a total of $313 million to finance election advertising by these special interest committees.” Oh, yes, we have “freedom of speech,” but If money is speech, then who is being heard?
McCabe asks us to question why and how “in the span of a single generation, Wisconsin (like many other states) has gone from a place where it was possible to run successfully for statewide office for $145 (Bill Proxmire, 1982) to one that has seen $81 million spent to decide who sits in the governor’s office.” He reminds us that in 1897 and again in 1905 Wisconsin took a stand “banning corporate campaign contributions and election spending,” and (the nation) should do this again.
“Where are the voices” McCabe asks, “saying it’s time to extend the promise of free public education beyond high school? Where are the voices saying higher education and advanced vocational training needs to be as accessible and affordable in the twenty-first century as elementary and secondary education were made in the twentieth?” They are not saying it, he says, because they are not being paid to say it. Instead, not a single new state university campus has been created in Wisconsin since 1968. But since 1994, eight new prisons have been built and a ninth purchased.
Like “Fighting Bob” La Follette, who called himself a “Progressive Republican” McCabe believes: “the business of government is not business, but service to the common people”…. and, that “the will of the people is the law of the land.” And, with that, he recognizes that, “More and more every day, our country is becoming less white, less male-dominated, less Christian, less ‘traditional’,” hence, Citizens United.
So, Mike McCabe reminds us that The Founders wanted a wall between not only church and state, but also between business and state.
Whether we realize it or not he says, “the political spectrum has been turned on its head. It is vertical, not horizontal. The definitive question in today’s politics is not whether you are standing with those on the left, right or middle; it is whether you are with those on the top or bottom or somewhere in between.” Who are the Democrats and Republicans standing with? Who are they working for: Those on the top or those on the bottom?
“One party is scary and the other is scared” McCabe repeats, and we know what he’s talking about. “Both parties belong at or near the top because both are catering to wealthy special interests and neither major party is listening to ordinary people or reliably acting on their behalf… The horizontal spectrum continues to foster the illusion of two parties with separate and distinct masters.” Rather, we might want to begin to talk about “royals” and “commoners.”
McCabe makes clear, “I am not talking about creating a third party. I am talking about having at least one that truly owes its allegiance to the people.” We need, he believes, a new political identity, thinking, vocabulary and new symbols. Liberal and Conservative, for example boxes us into horizontal thinking. We refer to politicians as leaders, yet “With a few impressive exceptions, politicians are consummate followers. They don’t move a muscle without getting marching orders from their key supporters.” The current symbols for the Democratic and Republican parties are the donkey and the elephant. When giving lectures, McCabe begins by asking: “How many of you own a donkey?” No hands go up. Then he asks, “How many of you own an elephant?” Of course no hands go up. Then he asks, “How many of you own a pair of blue jeans?” And, every hand goes up. So, “what would better represent people, an elephant or donkey or pair of blue jeans?”
What would better distinguish us from the suits on Wall Street or on K Street where all the lobbyists hang out or the suits on Capitol Hill whose pockets are lined? “What” he asks, “could better symbolize the political identity of the masses than blue jeans? “ Overall, the book is as refreshing as Mike’s speeches. He leaves us with hope: “We face nothing today that hasn’t been faced – and defeated – before. Right on this soil.” He gives us strategies, things we can do, starting locally and thinking globally.