Daily Dose: Why are Democratic supporters of gubernatorial candidates so quick in stooping to personal attacks?

July 28, 2017


I've talked with some of the people running for Governor in Wisconsin, and have been carefully watching social media comments and reaction from their supporters - especially towards people who are not the candidate they are supporting, or people who are not supporting their favored candidate. It's still early, but camps and cliques are already forming, and it's disheartening (as someone who strongly advocates for positive, progressive campaigns about core beliefs, values, and vision for the future) to see the overtly personal attacks against our own. In terms of cognitive strategy, this is highly damaging to progressive values (which are, after all, based on empathy) AND are a gift to Republicans, who already hold the upper hand.


It is also disheartening that for the most part, there are good people attacking good people in a very personal manner - having nothing to do with values, ideas, or what the future of our state ought to look like. These personal attacks have been questioning people's intelligence, moral certitude, and whether of not someone is a "real Democrat" based on some arbitrary litmus test contrived to suit one's own position on a laundry list of pet issues. When has this type of behavior ever helped Democrats win a statewide election? It's a rhetorical question - the answer is never. Quite the contrary, the behavior that divides us into our high school-style cliques has only served to divide us, and reinforce the way conservatives frame us - that we are undisciplined, elitist, and only care about our big government issues and programs (also see my blog on Foxconn yesterday).


Why are we so quick to jump into negative, personal territory in these situations?


It's largely the result of progressives going for decades (with very few exceptions that have had no staying power) without hearing consistently, positively, progressively framed messages from Democratic campaigns, leaders, strategists, of media. In fact, take a look at the last 5 years - everything coming out of the above actors has been negative, attacking, personal, and largely reinforcing of the conservative worldview!


While it's easy to see WHY this has become our default, it is much harder to change the behavior. I was encouraged by our discussion last night in New Glarus at a Drinking Liberally event. People really got it, and we had a great discussion about campaign ads, messages, and community - and most importantly, how to connect with their neighbors in a positive, progressive way. 


I will be contacting each of the candidates, and sharing this post with them, as well as on social media for their supporters. Let's have a primary that is about people's ideas, values, and vision. That's not to say that you can't criticize or discuss someone's ideas if you feel they are not consistent with your own - but it  can be done in a way that also presents your (or your candidate's) ideas and values if there is a contrast.


Most importantly, this will help us elect an authentic candidate that will represent our values and beliefs to the people of Wisconsin - instead of merely tearing each other down trying to achieve an impossible "perfect" Democratic candidate based on some arbitrary checklist.

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