Good riddance to 2011 and prepare for a tumultuous 2012

As we were looking forward on 2011, the Wausau Daily Herald called and asked me about New Year’s resolutions. I offered something pretty simple:

“If I were offering a New Year’s resolution, it would probably be that we should resolve to employ a more civil and reasoned tone to our public dialogue. I think it would go a long way toward resolving some very difficult issues with public policy that we will be facing at all levels in the year ahead.”

They adopted it under the heading of “disagreeing without being disagreeable” and we all embarked upon the adventures of 2011:

“When passions run hot, it’s easy for the issues to become personalized. Let’s resist those temptations. The fact is that in any complex issue, there will be more than one point of view that has merit. … Let’s all resolve to show respect to those who hold viewpoints that are not our own.”

Today, the Herald is looking back on those resolutions to ask how we did and this particular resolution stands out in its stunning failure:

“Results: Absolutely terrible. Last year was the worst year ever for disagreeing without being disagreeable. Whether it was protesters’ signs depicting Gov. Scott Walker with a Hitler mustache or angry denunciations of public school teachers as lazy parasites, it’s fair to say there was a massive failure of empathy in our state’s public debates last year.

We certainly don’t want the passion drained from anyone’s argument. Political activists feel strongly because the stakes in these arguments are very real. But we would all do better if we could from time to time take a step back and try to understand another’s viewpoint.”

I can’t argue with that assessment and I’m not going to bother with calling for more civility in this New Year, either. As low as the bar is now set and as easy as it might therefore seem to accomplish some improvement, that’s not going to be happening in 2012. We’re opening the year with a recall election of Wisconsin’s governor being a virtual certainty. Walker and the GOP used their November 2010 victories to stomp all over their opposition and they already have the loss of several legislative seats in 2011 recall elections to show for it.

What Wisconsin Republicans are assured of for now is the opportunity to spend tens of millions of dollars in a game where the best they can possibly do is break even in the first half of the year and which will set the stage for the fall elections. They will continue to object, obstruct, obfuscate and delay the inevitable until they are eventually forced to face reality and that reality is this: far more Wisconsin voters than required have already signed petitions to demand a new election for governor. Continuing to insist that it’s any different is not going to be a winning strategy and denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.

Of course, 2012 was going to be a big election year anyway – from the presidency to federal legislative races, state legislative races and all the way down to local councils and boards. Much may be riding on developments in the economy, over which there will be many factors beyond the control of candidates or for which office holders have failed to have positive impact.

Before 2011 began, I warned people to fasten their seatbelts. We’re not turning off the seatbelt light for 2012 and in fact, we’re turning it up and making it flash. And as much fun as it is for people like me to just watch it all from the sidelines, I’ve decided to throw my hat back in the ring with a run for Marathon County Board. It’s going to be a year of big change, with long-time board chair Keith Langenhahn leaving to take a legislative liaison position with the Wisconsin Counties Association.

While it often flies under the radar, county government is frequently where the rubber hits the road in terms of how state services are delivered locally. Dramatic changes in direction at the state and the possibility of more on the way have made these into especially challenging times for Marathon County. With new districts in play and a number of incumbents deciding to call it quits, it should be a very interesting term for the board and I would like to be there for it, so we’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, can somebody explain why the music bed on Walker’s holiday ad is “The Ballad of Barbara Allen?”

JR

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2 Responses to “Good riddance to 2011 and prepare for a tumultuous 2012”

  1. Hi Jim–I’ve followed your blog for the past 10 months, since I found it, and have recommended it to a number of people. I appreciate getting a knowledgeable perspective on events which isn’t from Milwaukee or Madison. As it happens, my daughter is in Wausau right now and got a flat tire. I remembered you mentioned a tire place that put a sign in its window saying they support public employees. My daughter would probably prefer to go to a tire place that feels that way. If you get this comment in a timely way, could you please name the store? Thanks!

  2. At this point, I’ll have to rely on others to remember who that was.

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