This is the third in a series on Whitewater’s local politics of 2021. There’s a joke that a Democrat told me at the turn of the century about Democrats in Whitewater: “Do you know who’s the head of the Whitewater Democrats? No? Well, neither do we.”
Those days are long past.
The Great Recession (‘07-‘09), its lingering aftermath, and a divisive statewide politics under Walker led to the rise of a more visible group of Democrats in town. The traditional conservatives in the city were shocked, simply shocked to see that residents were protesting Walker, collecting signatures for a recall, or campaigning more openly than before for Democratic candidates.
Politicking that was normal and ordinary for other cities breached traditional Whitewater’s cultural perimeter fence. About a decade ago, a traditional conservative worried himself about “pickets” protesting on a sidewalk, and sought to reassure others that the protest was under the watch of a strong law enforcement presence. Oh, brother.
Now, a decade on, Democrats in the city are more visible than before.
They will self-define as they wish, but I’ll divide the city’s Democrats into two main types: the center-left and progressives. While these terms vary from person to person, the distinction here is between someone like Biden (center-left) and someone like Sanders (progressive). Some ham-handedly misidentify distinct type after type, and fling terms with disregard (e.g., center-left, progressives, socialists, Marxists, Mauritanians, Lithuanians, whatever…). There are obvious & meaningful distinctions.
It’s the center-left that predominates among Democrats in Whitewater (as they do among Democrats in most places).
They are now, and are likely to to remain, a group that can easily recognize its own, more-numerous members.
Whether they develop as a group that acts confidently for its views, advocating and defending locally, will determine their future in the city. (Conservatives in Whitewater, by contrast, consistently assert and defend their own views. They are outspoken. The traditional conservatives speak by habit, the transactionalists by calculation, and the populists by instinct. For decades conservatives predominated in the city, and saw themselves as the eternal, unalterable default politics of the city.)
While the center-left has grown more numerous, and so more visible, it is notably less assertive than any kind of conservative in town. Perhaps a memory of being less common makes them softer spoken and more deferential. It’s evident that the center-left in many other cities, including nearby ones, is more assertive than the center-left in Whitewater.
The local center-left is chiefly uniform in manner and expression, so that (unlike the conservative populists) the messaging of some would not likely undermine the messaging of others (but there’s an exception to mention later in this series).
They face two big challenges in Whitewater.
First, as some among the center-left now have opportunities for boards and commissions that they did not have before, a tendency for compromise and concession makes them vulnerable to conservative transactionalists’ proposals and deal-making. (While many conservative populists consider deals with the center-left inherently unacceptable, the transactionalists know the value of a temporary deal that makes them look fair-minded while concurrently redistributing public resources to their right-leaning cronies.)
Second, they’ve the tendency of many in Whitewater to ignore local political adversaries in the hope that those adversaries will simply go away. Doubtless, some adversaries will fade away. It’s a mistake, however, to think that all of one’s political adversaries will go away. The traditional conservatives lived behind a cultural perimeter fence of their own construction, convinced they could ignore anyone beyond, and it’s brought them only decline.
Tomorrow: The City’s Few Progressives.