Lack of leadership and rise of ‘faux’ news fuel heated political divide


In a nation that’s more divided along partisan lines than at any time in recent memory, Wisconsin is the most divided of all states.

That’s not just an opinion, it’s the conclusion of a comprehensive survey conducted by Public Policy Polling. Researchers found the gaps here between Republican and Democratic support for both the governor and the president are the country’s widest.

Divisiveness pervades throughout the ranks of Wisconsin’s elected officials. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan has a favorability rating of 92 percent among Republicans, but only 8 percent of Democrats like him. That’s the largest gap for any House member that PPP has surveyed in recent years. The gaps in partisan support for U.S. Sens. Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin are considerably wider than they are for senators in other states.

The partisanship in Wisconsin is not only reflected in statistics. Partisanship manifests in the intensity of political debate in the state, from the blogosphere to the kitchen table. Ideological differences over such hot-button issues as choice, labor representation and school vouchers have torn apart families, friends and business relationships. Midwest nice has been buried under inflammatory headlines and opinionated “news.”

What happened to the middle – the people who amicably agreed to disagree on some issues while finding common ground to work together on others? For Republicans, the art of compromise – which even the Ayn Rand lexicon defines as “an adjustment of conflicting claims by mutual concessions” – has become the target of ridicule. The GOP has adopted a scorched earth approach to politics in which nothing gets done in order to ensure that the other side can claim no victories. In fact, their party marginalizes Republicans who are willing to cooperate with Democrats for the sake of progress.

As a result, the nation is paralyzed with hopelessness and uncertainty – and no state suffers more from the ambient negativity than Wisconsin. Between the extremism and adversarial style of Madison’s Republican leadership and the inability of Democrats to stop taking the GOP’s bait and focus on selling solutions, we are stuck in perpetual campaign mode, going nowhere.

Leaders are supposed to build consensus through their abilities to persuade and inspire. Their conviction and character must be strong enough to unite us behind them. Honesty and transparency are essential to this process.

While Wisconsin has women and men who possess these qualities, too few have managed to rise high enough in state government to make a difference. Why? Because we have chosen badly in the voting booth, misdirected by facile character assassinations and the faux “facts” of campaign mailers and commercials paid for by special interests.

Talking heads, hate radio hosts, moneyed special interests and bloggers have usurped the role once played by a legitimate media, flooding us with lies and propaganda. Our votes are no longer based on facts and solutions. Our elections are popularity contests between celebrities created by the new, corporate-backed punditocracy – a disastrous situation that has incrementally worsened since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United.

We have been turned against each other by those whose wealth multiples through our division. Unless this stops, we will soon be united in our mutual subjugation.