Friday December 9, 2022

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Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation

Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation

Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue Jeans in High Places: The Coming Makeover of American Politics.
Mike wants to hear from you.
Blue Jean Nation, P.O. Box 70788, Madison, WI 53707
Email: one4all@bluejeannation.com
Phone: 608-443-6086

Blue Jean Nation "Can’t we at least agree on this?"

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
User is currently offline
on Friday, 23 September 2016
in Wisconsin

critic-bridgeWe Americans always will have our disagreements. But three goals should be about right and wrong rather than left and right. Create an economy that serves all, making education affordable, and bringing high-speed Internet and mobile phone service to every doorstep.


ALTOONA, WI - No doubt about it, Americans are at each other’s throats, politically speaking. Some consider themselves Democrats, and most of them are not terribly fond of their party but absolutely can’t stand Republicans. Others call themselves Republicans, and most who do have no great love of their party either but are driven mad by Democrats.

Most numerous of all are the independents, who are turned off by both and refuse to wear either major party label. But even self-described independents tend to lean when it comes time to vote, reliably favoring one of the major parties. The thing is, these days they lean not toward what they like most but rather in the opposite direction of what they fear and hate.

Against this backdrop, it can be hard to see where to even start the search for common ground in America.

Part of the problem is that we’ve all been conditioned to think and talk about politics in ways that drive wedges between us and make us active participants in our own disempowerment. One secret to escaping the trap we’re in is to consciously and creatively work to change our political vocabulary, discarding words like “left” and “right” and “liberal” or “conservative” in favor of terms that could knit us together instead of tear us apart.

Another strategy worth giving a try is to steer conversations away from programs and policies and ideologies and toward discussions of what kind of society we want. We argue about things like food stamps and other forms of public assistance. One person sees a safety net, another sees a hammock. The argument accomplishes nothing except to further convince each that the other is evil.

How about changing the conversation, focusing instead on how to create an economy where if you work you won’t be poor? Each side has no choice but to admit that we don’t currently have such an economy. That’s some common ground right there. Some more might be found once we start talking about how to build one.

Here are three goals for our country that are about right and wrong rather than left and right.

Create an economy that makes the term “working poor” disappear from our vocabulary. This is no small task. But if we can’t all agree that those who go to work every day should not go hungry or be unable to afford shelter, then what kind of nation do we have? Who are we as a people?

If we’re serious about reaching this goal, there are at least two others that need to be pursued too.

When most people in this country lived off the land, a high school diploma wasn’t essential to making a decent living. When most American workers moved to factories and offices, more schooling was needed. In this digital age and with the emergence of an increasingly global economy, living the American Dream depends on even more education and training. That being the case, there has to be a commitment to making education as affordable for our kids and grandkids as past generations made it for us. The education needed to be able to live the kind of life I wanted to live was remarkably inexpensive and readily attainable in my youth. Today’s young people are being buried under a mountain of debt to get what they need to make it in life. That’s not right.

And given the world we now live in, you can’t run a business or do most jobs or fully participate in American life without access to 21st Century information and communications technology. Every American needs it. Not every American has it. That reality challenges us to do what it takes to bring high-speed Internet and mobile phone service to every American doorstep.

We Americans always will have our disagreements. But let’s at least try to argue about how to reach goals we all can agree on.

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Blue Jean Nation "Things heard on the outside"

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 13 September 2016
in Wisconsin

capitol-night-wiscMost people living in small towns or out in the country claim to be Republicans, but only because they seem to despise Democrats. Few actually seem to like the Republicans deep down.


ALTOONA, WI - My past work as a government watchdog led me to spend more time than I liked in the State Capitol. With seemingly each passing day, I found the place increasingly unpleasant. Just setting foot in the building had a way of dampening my spirits. It’s a beautiful setting, but there’s growing ugliness in what goes on inside.

Since joining with others from around the state to give birth to Blue Jean Nation about a year and a half ago, I’ve been in the Capitol only three times, and none of the visits was my idea. I’ve made a point of staying away from the Capitol and hitting the road instead.

On a few occasions my recent travels have taken me outside Wisconsin’s borders. But for the most part, I’ve criss-crossed the countryside in my home state. Community events and gatherings from Argyle to Appleton to Ashland, from Waukesha to Waterloo to Wausau. Sometimes it’s bigger towns like Eau Claire, Green Bay, Janesville or La Crosse. Other times small towns like Lake Mills, Darlington, Viroqua, Elkhorn and Owen. For every trip to Milwaukee there have been visits to Menasha and Menomonie, Hayward and Hudson, Brookfield and Baraboo, Portage and Prairie du Chien. And dozens of other locales. Plans have me heading soon to Tomah, Waupun and New Glarus, among other places.

I’ve met with local residents in churches, coffee shops, cafes, bowling alleys, libraries, taverns, barns, feed mills, town halls and community centers. I’ve been invited into high school classrooms and to college campuses. Everywhere I go, I talk politics with those I meet. What I hear varies from place to place but at the same time is strikingly similar. Distill all the stories down and common themes emerge.

People are reluctant to talk politics, but you can tell they want to. Political discussions have been too painful lately.

The most commonly used word to describe both the economy and the political system has got to be “rigged.” It amazes me how often that word is chosen.

Pessimism is rampant. People seem afraid of what the future holds. Many are beaten down. No matter how hard they work, they see themselves falling behind. They have a hard time imagining how that’s going to change. This leads not only to intense frustration but also a strong suspicion that America’s best days are behind her.

Optimism is dormant but not dead. People want to believe things can get better, and are on the lookout for signs we might be turning the corner. Leadership is craved.

Few see themselves being the ones able to satisfy the craving. Most see leadership coming from someone else.

Someone else isn’t leading.

The word “Democrat” is toxic most everywhere outside of Madison and Milwaukee.

Most people living in small towns or out in the country are Republicans, but only because they despise Democrats. Few actually seem to like the Republicans deep down.

Most people can tell you what Republicans believe in, whether they agree with it or not. Most struggle to put into words what Democrats stand for. What they do say isn’t flattering.

Young people are not nearly as apathetic as older people think they are. They know what’s going on. They care. They may feel powerless, but that’s different than not caring.

People of every age tell you who’s to blame for the mess that’s been made, but then they say something that hints at understanding of how all the resentment and scapegoating lead nowhere good.

These are things you never hear in the State Capitol. And doesn’t that say something revealing about the Capitol?

— Mike McCabe

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Blue Jean Nation "Yogurt and presidents"

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
User is currently offline
on Saturday, 10 September 2016
in Wisconsin

nose-holder-memeWe see ourselves stuck with two choices, and not just in presidential elections. But we have more power than we know, more choices than we realize.


ALTOONA, WI - Henry Ford famously said his customers could get one of his cars in any color they wanted as long as it was black. American consumers have come a long way since the days of the Model T.

American voters haven’t. Ford’s “they can have what I say they can have” philosophy is nowhere to be seen anymore in commerce but it still looms large in elections. Some 150 years ago Boss Tweed quipped “I don’t care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating.” It’s not so very different today.

As Daily Show host Trevor Noah recently wisecracked: “When it comes to everything except presidential candidates, Americans have the most choices for more things that anyone else in the world. Like, I can walk into a supermarket — any supermarket in America — and choose from literally 400 different kinds of yogurt…. And yet, when it comes to selecting America’s leader for the next four years, you’re stuck with two choices: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Or to put that in yogurt terms: vanilla and Sriracha baboon anus.”

This is the truth, but not the whole truth. We see ourselves stuck with two choices alright, and not just in presidential elections but all partisan elections. We can vote for major party nominees who occasionally win but rarely do what we want once elected and regularly sell us out. Or we can vote for minor party candidates who seem less compromised and more likely to act in our interests but never win. An inadequate and profoundly unsatisfying choice, to say the least.

Here’s what’s amazing. As demanding as we are as consumers, that’s just how passively accepting we are as citizens.

We don’t have to be passive. We don’t have to be accepting. We have more power than we know. And we have more choices than we realize.

When major party establishments offer us bleak and bleaker, our choices are not limited to either holding our noses and selecting what we consider the lesser of evils or saying the hell with it and casting a protest vote for someone with no chance of winning. There is another option.

Almost exactly a century ago, farmers in North Dakota were at wit’s end about the insensitivity of elected officials to their economic plight. A couple of socialists organized tens of thousands of disgruntled North Dakotans and lined up reform candidates to run for office all across the state. But they didn’t run under the Socialist Party banner. Their movement and their candidates were embedded in North Dakota’s ruling Republican Party and in a few short years they took it over.

Almost exactly a century later, at the beginning of this decade, anti-government feelings smoldered in poor, recession-ravaged communities and was fanned by rich right-wing ideologues, exploding into a prairie fire that swept the country. It was dubbed the Tea Party, but it was not a party at all. Its organizers took cues from those North Dakota socialists and embedded their insurgency within the Republican Party, and in a few short years lightning struck again in the same place. The GOP was pretty much taken over.

Now go all the way back to the 19th Century. The Progressives of the late 1800s tried for a time to establish a separate party, but did not truly gain traction until their kind were embedded in both major parties. Once you had Teddy Roosevelt successfully running for president as a Progressive on the Republican ticket and some years later Woodrow Wilson winning the presidency as a Progressive on the Democratic ticket, the major parties had no choice but to embrace the Progressive agenda and enact Progressive reforms. America was radically transformed.

Consider what was done by Wisconsin’s legislature in 1911 alone. Child labor laws and protections for women in the workplace were put in place. Workers’ compensation was established to help injured laborers. And so much more. Railroad regulation. Insurance reform. The first state life insurance program anywhere in the country. The nation’s first system of taxation based on ability to pay, namely the progressive income tax. America’s first vocational, technical and adult education system. All done by a legislature made up almost entirely of Republicans and Democrats. All done by Progressives embedded in those major parties.

All done by people who refused to accept the dismal choice we assume we are stuck with today.

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Blue Jean Nation "How Democrats might escape from exile"

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
User is currently offline
on Sunday, 04 September 2016
in Wisconsin

trump-rncToday’s Republican Party seems bound and determined to implode. For you Democrats, there is no shortage of opportunity. Are you up for it?


ALTOONA, WI - Now here’s a telling measure of how weird our political system has gotten. The Republican Party is more unpopular than it’s been in nearly 25 years and is turning more people off with each passing day, yet the GOP is undeniably the majority party in this country.

Republicans control Congress. They control two-thirds of statehouses across America. Here in Wisconsin, they control a majority of congressional seats, both houses of the state legislature, the governor’s office and the state Supreme Court.

Elections don’t lie. As much as voters dislike the Republicans, they’ve repeatedly shown they’d rather have Republicans running the government than Democrats.

The Democratic establishment shows little willingness to change and little openness to outside advice. In all likelihood this will fall on deaf ears, but here goes anyway. Democrats, you won’t likely find your way out of the political wilderness unless you:

  • Stop trying to shame voters into backing candidates that wide swaths of the population find unappealing with scare tactics about what disaster will befall us if the latest ever-more-extreme Republican wins and how the catastrophe will be all their fault if they don’t vote Democratic. Only saying the other side is worse is an admission that your side is bad. Aspire to thrill voters instead.
  • Stop blaming voters for your defeats with the lame excuse that they are voting against their own best interests. Figure out how they see their interests and make them a better offer. Voters can be persuaded to realign. FDR turned a whole bunch of Republicans into Democrats, and Reagan turned a bunch of Democrats into Republicans. If you are consistently falling short of 50% in elections, that’s not the voters’ fault. It’s on the losing party to do something different to become more appealing to more people.
  • Stop using the vast Republican spin machine as an excuse for repeated losses. Of course opponents go to great lengths to badmouth you. Always have and always will. You can’t control that. Focus on what you can control.
  • Focus less on policies that benefit a particular constituency and more on programs with universal reach where everyone pays and everyone benefits. Wisconsin Democrats staked the last several elections on bargaining rights for a small minority of the state’s workers in just one sector of the economy, and lost decisively. This kind of strategy reinforces the image of a party devoted to benefiting favored interests and also makes the party vulnerable to divide-and-conquer tactics that were indeed successfully employed by Republican opponents.
  • Think long and hard about the fact that lower-income white working-class voters, especially those living in small towns and rural areas, used to support Democrats but most no longer do. There’s no shortage of clues about why they now prefer the Republicans. In those clues is a call to think bigger, to start doing things for blue-collar workers the Republicans won’t. Rebuilding governing majorities depends on it.
  • Try to become more than a confederation of interest groups, confined to their own issue silos, operating largely in isolation and sometimes even working at cross purposes. Doing this requires agreeing on and then expressing overarching values that knit these interests together. Republicans do a far better job staying focused on bedrock values while Democrats concentrate on issues and try to persuade people with a torrent of facts while not being willing or able to confidently describe a coherent underlying world view.

And then if and when voters decide to trust Democrats with power, you need to actually do what you say you believe in. No more hand-wringing about how acting boldly could cost you the next election. Doing little or nothing when given the opportunity to steer the ship of state has cost you way more elections than decisive action ever has.

Today’s Republican Party seems bound and determined to implode. Democrats, there is no shortage of opportunity for your party. There also is no shortage of doubt that you will take advantage of the opening.

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Blue Jean Nation "They All Suck 2016"

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 23 August 2016
in Wisconsin

all-suckThe Republicans started as a party of liberation under Lincoln, but has morphed into a party of the privileged. The Democratic Party has become synonymous with handouts. Big change is coming. What form will it take?


ALTOONA, WI - There is never a shortage of grumbling when it comes to politics, but there’s no denying that typical American discontent has turned into a level of ire rarely seen. Most people in this country currently think both major political parties suck, and not without good reason.

The Republican Party started as a party of liberation under Lincoln and was a party of opportunity that worked for a broad expansion of the middle class under Eisenhower. Even a corrupted soul like Nixon once proposedguaranteed basic income for every American family. The GOP has since morphed into a party of privilege. Both its rhetoric and actions regularly show a devotion to hierarchy — rich over poor, man over woman, white over brown or black, old over young, straight over gay, management over labor.

dems-v-repubThe Democratic Party, on the other hand, has become synonymous with handouts. It is widely seen as the party of entitlement. This irks loyal Democratic partisans to no end, but the truth is the party’s actions over the years have repeatedly reinforced this image.

Most Americans deeply value equality. Our nation was born out of rebellion against a king’s power. The rejection of royalty is in our DNA, giving us a natural sense of fairness and distaste for privilege. Getting to start out at third base is repugnant to most Americans. But at the same time, there is a widespread belief that you should earn your keep. Taking without paying, getting without giving, rubs your average American the wrong way too.

All this leaves most people in this country at odds with what the two major parties presently stand for. In fairness, what the major parties have become is a reflection of two generations worth of emphasis on individual advancement and self fulfillment in American society. Both privilege and entitlement are products of me-focused politics. But conditions require — and predict — a politics that is more we-centered, and visible signs indicate movement in that direction. That leaves the parties in step with where we’ve been but out of step with where we’re headed.

Entitlement needs to give way to a focus on service, to each other and to society as a whole. Privilege must be replaced by a commitment to equality and democracy. The longer the parties fail to change their ways and remake themselves, the more likely it becomes that a new major party will eventually emerge. Having so many voters looking at the parties and increasingly despising what they see is not a sustainable condition. It creates a vacuum, and nature hates vacuums.

Big change is coming. What form it will take and when it arrives is up to the parties . . . and the people.

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