Daily Dose: Peter Barca's failure to lead on progressive values put him in a corner

August 21, 2017


Peter Barca has been the Democratic Minority Leader in the Wisconsin Assembly for the last four sessions, from 2011 to today. Last month, I had a conversation with a fellow progressive (and Democrat) who suggested that the Democratic caucus should adopt a policy of term limits for their Minority Leaders. After all, if you keep losing elections by greater margins, you're doing something wrong.


Nowhere has Barca's "doing something wrong" been more evident than in failing to provide a message that evokes real progressive values. In terms of effective messaging and cognitive framing, he might as well be a Republican. It was no surprise to me that he voted for the Foxconn scam. His constant evoking of conservative, free market values put him in a corner. It's sad that Barca has been in a room with both myself and George Lakoff and listened to (and been told) how to effectively communicate real progressive values based on empathy. Instead of leading, he's merely following conservative framing ideas with language that will benefit him in his home district. Even his own caucus know that this was a betrayal of their values, though no one has messaged it that way.


From the beginning, Barca was following the conservative "job creation" and "free market" worldview message. On May 21 of this year, Barca was calling for a "special session" on "job creation and economic growth":


“It’s time to turn that bipartisan concern into bipartisan reform. The purpose of WEDC is to create jobs for Wisconsin workers and grow our economy.”


That might as well be a 2014 report from The Heritage Foundation. Oh, wait, it was.


Those metaphorical phrases can be found everywhere in conservative ideology, and with good reason. They were created to evoke ideas consistent with their worldview, as I've written about many times.


When you use the metaphorical ideas of "job creation" and economic growth, you are evoking the conservative, free market idea that says only the private sector creates jobs and grows the economy. Government is immoral, as it gets in the way because of regulations and taxes.  There's more, but that's the quick version. Even Republicans can effectively talk about opportunity evoking these ideas!


In statement after statement after statement, Barca evoked the same, conservative ideas (cognitive frame) of "job creation", economic growth", "protecting taxpayers" (get immoral government out of people's lives and pocketbooks), "good deals", "better deals", and "return on investment". 


After his vote in support of the Foxconn scam, Barca tied his own family's prosperity to the idea of private sector "job creation". This completely denies and suppresses the role that "we the people" play in providing each other with what is necessary for a prosperous life, through government (based on our empathy), of which he is a representative:


“When my father immigrated to the United States and settled our family in Kenosha, it was a factory job that gave him the chance to eventually buy his own business and achieve the American dream. But as time passed, manufacturing left my hometown and communities all across Wisconsin. If we can create new good-paying, family-supporting jobs in a high-tech industry, it could give future generations the same opportunities my family had."


He might as well have said, "Foxconn is the hero here, and is deserving of investment from the people of Wisconsin, because they will create the jobs that will provide people with a better future. I'll make sure government doesn't get in the way of economic growth."


I've made many suggestions over the years, and more specifically since the 2016 election, of how Democrats could do better. If Barca can't do any better than that, he ought to step down and make room for someone who is able to provide leadership based on real progressive values.


Tomorrow - what the Solar Eclipse taught us about people, science, and empathy.