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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

Republicanism at Death’s Door

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 Thursday, 17 December 2015
in Wisconsin

republicanToday's Republican Party appears to be terminally ill. Gone is Reagan’s optimistic faith that our best days are ahead of us, replaced by a dark fatalism about America’s decline and eventual demise.


MADISON - When political parties die they don’t suffer heart attacks. They contract terminal illnesses. The end does not come abruptly. There is advance notice.

Notice has been given. The Republican Party appears to be terminally ill.

The GOP was the party of Lincoln. It was the party of Teddy Roosevelt. The party of Eisenhower. It was a party dedicated to creating opportunity for all. Today it’s given itself up to the 1%. Today’s Republicans clearly have lost confidence in their ability to peddle their ideas to another 49%, and have resorted to a dizzying array of voter suppression tactics to whittle down the size of the electorate and blatant manipulation of political boundaries in hopes of rigging election outcomes. But they still aren’t sure enough people will buy the feed-the-rich, screw-the-poor policies they are selling, so they desperately turn to shameless — and shameful — appeals to racism and xenophobia to dredge up enough energy to stay alive.

Gone is Reagan’s optimistic faith that our best days are ahead of us, replaced by a dark fatalism about America’s decline and eventual demise. A true love of country and a sincere belief in the inscription on the Statue of Liberty have given way to paranoid obsessions with walls and borders and surveillance.

The Republican Party has lost its way. It has become a party that deserves to die.

It tends to be forgotten that parties have died before. It tends to be forgotten that the American experiment was underway for three quarters of a century before the Republican Party was born. It tends to be forgotten that the GOP’s birth in the 1850s coincided with the death of one of the two major parties at the time. Slavery not only divided the nation, it divided the Whig Party. The Whigs lost their leader in Illinois, none other than Abraham Lincoln, along with most of their northern supporters. The party could not survive the injury.

Like the ill-fated Whigs of the 19th Century, today’s Republicans have lost their right of association with Lincoln. They no longer sound anything like Teddy Roosevelt. They no longer act anything like Eisenhower. They try to evoke Reagan’s memory, but have grown estranged from his ways.

The signs are clear and conspicuous. The Republican Party is on the verge of flatlining.

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Democrats Must Learn "The Art of Losing Purposefully"

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, 15 December 2015
in Wisconsin

vince-lombardi-at-lambeauMike McCabe of Blue Jean Nation makes the point that Democrats (and Progressives) may gain more in the long run by standing up for their values than by being "smart" campaigners.


MADISON - A great football coach once said “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

That line is often attributed to legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi. Lombardi wasn’t the first to say it. Maybe he heard it first from college football coach Red Sanders, who said it close to a decade before Lombardi made the aphorism famous. Maybe he lifted his signature saying from the 1953 John Wayne movie Trouble Along the Way. It’s doubtful Lombardi actually believed winning is the only thing. Roughly three years after he made the “only thing” remark, he was quoted in a magazine article offering an amended version: “Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.”

Good coaches are good teachers, and they realize that more can be learned from a loss than a win. They tend to see long winning streaks as fool’s gold, because they know from experience that bad habits have a way of forming while their teams are stringing together wins, and those habits are only exposed as damaging after they lead to a defeat.

So it is in politics. You win some and you lose some. But when you lose, you need to lose with a purpose. Something has to be gained from every defeat. Seeds planted during today’s loss grow into the fruits of tomorrow’s victory. How you lose is what defines you.

In recent times, Republicans have lost much more purposefully than Democrats. Democratic Party dominance in the 1960s and especially Barry Goldwater’s landslide loss in 1964 inspired the 1971 Powell Memo that was a blueprint for a merger of corporation and state and an accompanying Republican renaissance.

The Democratic establishment’s response to what the Powell Memo has wrought has been curious to say the least. I wrote in my book Blue Jeans in High Places about a young woman in rural Wisconsin who ran for a seat in the state Assembly. Democratic operatives coached her to avoid being pinned down on issues and to steer clear of controversial stands. The Democrats’ nominee for governor similarly advised her to be as vague as possible on the issues and said her job as a candidate was to be “present and pleasant.” She followed the script. She lost.

In fact, the Democrats lost twice in that instance. Not only was that election lost, but nothing was said or done to get voters to start thinking differently or challenge the other side’s orthodoxy. Nothing was said or done to create conditions favorable to winning the next election.

Since my book was published, I’ve lost count of the number of former candidates for state and federal offices who have told me they received the same coaching. They followed the same script. They also lost. Twice. Democrats across the country are making a habit of running scared for the sake of “electability” . . . and losing anyway.

You lose in politics sometimes. But every loss has to have a purpose. There was a purpose to Goldwater’s defeat. Present and pleasant serves no purpose.

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Like Nobody’s Business

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 Wednesday, 09 December 2015
in Wisconsin

capitol-dome-mdsnPoliticians are fond of saying government should be run like a business. The WEDC is proof of the folly in that philosophy. Business and government are totally different creatures, and they have separate purposes.


MADISON - To the greatest extent possible, government should stick to doing those things private businesses can’t or won’t do.

This rule gets broken all the time, almost always with less than favorable results.

Take Wisconsin’s approach to promoting job creation, for example. The state’s economic development agency has been a complete failure. No wonder. What you have in the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation is a bunch of state bureaucrats pretending to be investment bankers. Wannabe entrepreneurs who’ve sought private financing and had their projects turned down by investment banks, venture capitalists and angel investors are able to make a few well-placed political donations, get some strings pulled, and get financing from the WEDC courtesy of state taxpayers.

Here we have the public sector acting as the investor of last resort for enterprises that private sector financiers won’t touch. That’s not only proven to be a waste of taxpayer money, but a prime example of government getting involved where it does not belong.

Politicians are fond of saying government should be run like a business. The WEDC is proof of the folly in that philosophy. Business and government are totally different creatures, and they have separate purposes.

Successful private businesses have to be able to turn a profit. But not everything that is profitable has social value or promotes the common good. And not everything that is socially valuable or advances the public interest is profitable. Pornography is undeniably profitable and thrives in the private sector, but has questionable social value and is often associated with social ills. Likewise, it is hard to see how gambling makes us better people or strengthens our society but it is a lucrative business. The same can generally be said for sports, fashion and most television programming.

On the other hand, it can’t be plausibly disputed that such things as schools, libraries, parks, police and fire departments, sanitation crews, and military forces are valuable or even indispensable to our society, but none of them would exist if they had to be profitable.

Here is another place where Wisconsin has strayed from common sense. Educating all of our children, regardless of need or disability, is not profitable. The private sector can’t do it. The only sure way to run a school and turn a profit is to cherry-pick students who are easiest to teach and steer clear of those whose needs make them considerably more costly to educate. Wisconsin has chosen to favor schools that are not required to take all comers, rapidly expanding its private school voucher program and sharply increasing funding for voucher schools while cutting state aid for public schools that are mandated to accommodate all students no matter how expensive they are to serve.

Business and government are different creatures that serve separate purposes. Government cannot be run like a business because the public sector’s role in our society is so fundamentally different than the private sector’s. And businesses surely should not be expected to operate like the government. The private sector has its place, and its rules. So does the public sector.

To each its own.

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Defining Representation Down

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 Monday, 30 November 2015
in Wisconsin

protest-capitol-policeMADISON - In the 1990s the late sociologist and senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined the phrase “defining deviancy down” to describe the tendency of societies to respond to destructive behaviors by lowering standards for what is permissible.

Today it’s clear the same thing has happened to political representation. Here in Wisconsin, we’ve unquestionably grown more tolerant of political corruption, and the same probably goes for the whole country. All across America, standards for what it means to be represented have been lowered. We still have the habit of calling elected officials our “representatives” even though we are convinced they don’t care what we think, put their own interests ahead of the country’s and are slaves to wealthy donors.

We are considered to be represented even though we have elections for Congress and state legislatures where one party gets the most votes but the other party wins the most seats.

Supermajorities of voters in cities and small rural towns, in Republican and Democratic strongholds alike, have made it clear they think there is too much money in politics. Their “representatives” think there is not enough, and went to work changing the law to allow vastly larger political donations with considerably less donor disclosure.

Voters crossed party boundaries to show support for increasing the minimum wage. Their “representatives” ignored their wishes. Voters cast ballots in favor of Wisconsin accepting federal funds to expand health care coverage. Their “representatives” did the opposite, rejecting the federal money.

They not only disregard what voters want. They actively work to make it harder to vote.

It’s clear the representation that is a central feature of any true republic has been diminished, demeaned and devalued in today’s America. It’s equally clear that supposed representatives will not undertake the restoration of authentic representation. This work will have to be an undertaking of the supposedly represented. Standards for what it means to be represented will have to be raised. Intolerance of corruption and what currently passes for representation will have to grow. And we need to question everything about how the system works, because it obviously isn’t working for most of us at the moment.

With the advanced information technology we now have, why isn’t thereautomatic voter registration? Why do we still have to vote on Tuesdays? Why do we have winner-take-all elections? Why do voters have to choose just one candidate for an office? Why can’t we rank all the candidates in order of preference? Why do we still need primary elections and general elections? In this computer age we could save a lot of money by having instant runoffs.

For that matter, why do we have just one representative in each office? If one candidate gets 55% of the vote and another gets 45%, why pretend the top vote-getter “represents” everyone? Computer technology could easily be put to work in the halls of government to allow both to serve as representatives, with their representation of the voting jurisdiction instantly apportioned according to the percentage of the vote each received. That way, the wishes of all those voters would be reflected in decisions made by governing bodies, not just the wishes of just over half of them.

While we are questioning the system, we also have to question our own habits. Why do we call elected officials our “representatives” if we do not feel they represent us? Why do we call office holders our nation’s or our state’s or our community’s “leaders” when they are supposed to be taking their cues from us? Why don’t we recognize ourselves as the leaders and them as our servants?

Really, why?

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5 Things Rural Folks Need From Democrats

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, 28 November 2015
in Wisconsin

paradeMADISON - There was an insightful and thought provoking story in the New York Times the other day by journalist Alec MacGillis about why the poorest parts of the country are inclined to support the politicians who are most hostile to any form of government assistance to the poor.

Democrats may not want to hear it, but MacGillis is speaking directly to them when he says: “The temptation for coastal liberals is to shake their heads over those godforsaken white-working-class provincials who are voting against their own interests. But this reaction misses the complexity of the political dynamic that’s taken hold in these parts of the country. It misdiagnoses the Democratic Party’s growing conundrum with working-class white voters. And it also keeps us from fully grasping what’s going on in communities where conditions have deteriorated to the point where researchers have detected alarming trends in their mortality rates.”

Democrats used to appeal to rural voters but don’t anymore, and this fact makes it next to impossible for them to construct coalitions broad enough to produce governing majorities.

If the Democrats are to avoid going the way of the dinosaur, they have to solve the rural riddle. There are countless clues to be found and just as many potential solutions to be tried. Here are five to start with:

  1. Restore home rule. Republicans used to be for local control, now they are controlling the locals. If local communities want to put rules in place to protect their air and water and landscape from sand mining or put limits on high-capacity wells or manure spreading by large-scale animal feedlots, let ’em. Give ’em back control over their schools, their local zoning, their taxation. Let ’em manage their affairs.
  2. Keep rural schools open. A local school is a rural community’s bedrock, even to a greater degree than in urban or suburban areas. The rural school is a hub of community activity. Everyone goes to the school play or the high school football game. School district consolidation and school closings have hit many rural communities with the force of a bomb. Anyone who cares about the vitality of rural communities knows that extreme measures need to be taken to keep rural districts viable and their community schools operating.
  3. Rethink bypass-happy highway planning. Most every major highway project done any time in recent or distant memory that reaches out into rural areas has featured bypasses of small towns. Think about the impact this has on those communities. Their family-owned cafes and coffee shops and restaurants close. Their main streets die. Shaving a few minutes off your or my travel time can be a death sentence for a small town. Rural communities don’t need multi-lane monstrosities with clover leafs and traffic circles. They need high-quality, well maintained paved roads. Most city folk have no idea how many country roads are still unpaved to this day and how many of the paved ones are rutted and chock full of potholes.
  4. Universal access to high-speed Internet and mobile phone service. Look at a map showing which parts of the U.S. have access to broadband. The urban centers do and the rural areas don’t. The telecommunications industry and its apologists in public office often are heard saying that programs are in place to address this disparity. But the fact remains that in 2015 over half of all rural Americans lack access to high-speed Internet. Most can’t get reliable cell phone signals either. How can you start a business and compete in today’s economy without access to these services? High-speed Internet and mobile voice are to the 21st Century what telephones were in the 20th, namely essential communications technologies. Essential technologies that remain out of the reach of most rural people.
  5. Stop means testing. Making everyone pay for government programs when only a few end up being eligible to receive the benefits may not be the cause of the growing division and political polarization in American society, but it surely has contributed to the problem and continues to aggravate it. The point MacGillis makes in his article about how many rural voters oppose programs to help what they regard as the “undeserving” poor is an incredibly important point for Democrats to ponder. For decades now the Democrats have ignored the political law of universality: That the most widely supported and successful government programs are ones where everyone pays and everyone benefits. When the Democrats won the hearts of a majority of people in the past, it was because the party had a big hand in creating things that tangibly benefited everyone or at least directly touched every American family. Things like Social Security and Medicare, rural electrification, the GI Bill and the interstate highway system. Today’s Democrats seem to want to means test everything and target assistance to particular constituencies, which makes their programs highly vulnerable to the divide-and-conquer tactics of the Republicans.

Doing these five things would be enormously helpful to rural areas. But today’s GOP won’t do any of them. They won’t do the first four because today’s breed of Republican is philosophically at odds with the measures required to accomplish those aims. In fact, they are moving in the exact opposite direction. And they won’t do the fifth because it is politically advantageous for them to be able to pit the poor against the nearly-poor.

If these five steps are to be taken, it’ll be the Democrats taking them. If enough of them wake up to the need . . . and the opportunity.

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