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Paul Fanlund: Jill Karofsky’s win tops a week of feel-good political moments

Paul Fanlund: Jill Karofsky’s win tops a week of feel-good political moments

Paul Fanlund is editor and publisher of The Capital Times. A longtime Madisonian, he was a State Journal reporter and editor before becoming a vice president of Madison Newspapers. He joined the Cap Times in 2006.

For mainstream progressives, some historical moments stand out.

There was election night 1992, when Bill Clinton ended the 12-year run of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, both of whom had cynically racialized politics, pushed trickle-down fiscal policies and demonized government.

There was election night 2008 and the exhilarating sight of Barack Obama and his young family celebrating before an estimated 240,000 people — many of them in tears — in and around Chicago’s Grant Park.

In Wisconsin, there was election night 2018, when Democrat Tony Evers beat Scott Walker, ending a nightmarish eight years of single-party rule defined by radical conservatism and election-fixing via gerrymandering and voter suppression. While the Capitol struggle rages on, Evers represents a crucial check on authoritarian GOP tendencies.

Recent events pale against those climactic moments, but they’ve been pretty good.

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Start with progressive Jill Karofsky’s double-digit victory in the closely watched state Supreme Court race, an outcome that might signal an end to the era in which Wisconsin Republicans assume the public will always overlook their dirty tricks.

In the days leading up to Karofsky’s emphatic triumph, Wisconsin occupied an unflattering national spotlight for planning to conduct in-person voting. The state and federal supreme courts, whose majorities align with the GOP, dictated that the election go ahead without delay, forcing many voters to risk their health in the pandemic. Typical was the tone of a headline in The Guardian: “Wisconsin: the state where democracy went to die.”

Karofsky’s victory was made sweeter by her comfortable margins in places like Kenosha County, where Trump beat Hillary Clinton in 2016. This was not one of your if-not-for-Madison-and-Milwaukee elections, the go-to narrative for Republican operatives whose candidates lose.

Happily, the election also marked another step in undoing Walker’s legacy. He certainly set the state backward on multiple policy fronts, but he also made damaging hyperpartisan appointments. Daniel Kelly, the incumbent justice whom Karofsky thumped, was among them.

Icing on the cake were the widely distributed images of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos donning a mask, gloves and a full-body protective gown while serving as a volunteer poll worker to demonstrate how “safe” voting in person was.

[Editorial: These ghouls will stop at nothing]

Exactly what costume would Vos have worn if he deemed in-person voting to be dangerous?

Vos, who seems to fancy himself as a Republican governor-in-waiting, was excoriated over the images on social media. Maybe one of them can illustrate a future Democratic message: “The Wisconsin GOP: Willing to risk your life for their votes.”

Another Republican embarrassing his home state is U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. Johnson, in absolute fealty to President Donald Trump, promises summer release of parts of an inquiry into Hunter Biden, the son of presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Johnson preposterously told Politico the investigation into Hunter Biden’s role on the board of a Ukrainian energy company has nothing to do with the election.

Just to remind you, this is always how the GOP works.

Republicans just need an inquiry — not a finding of wrongdoing — to propel a 24/7 narrative on Fox news and talk radio. That’s why Trump tried so hard to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. It’s never about the outcome, but about the storyline.

[Madison nurses experience desperation and ‘beautiful spots of light’ in COVID-19 hospital ward]

Another uplifting recent Wisconsin headline was the Trump campaign suing a Rhinelander television station for airing a brilliant and devastating anti-Trump commercial produced by a Democratic political action committee.

The ad connects a series of audio clips of Trump downplaying the COVID-19 crisis while an on-screen chart shows the number of cases skyrocketing. His campaign says the ad is misleading and false.

The lawsuit is a transparent attempt to bully a small-market station into pulling the ad. Instead, Trump’s lawyers apparently succeeded in drawing even more attention to the ad and its damning message, which you might think of as poetic justice.

For many, the political good news doesn’t end there.

It extends to Joe Biden and his rapid-fire endorsements by Bernie Sanders, Obama, and Elizabeth Warren.

To be clear, Biden finally prevailed not because of some dark intervention by the Democratic establishment or hostile pundit class. There always was a critical mass of moderate-to-liberal mainstream Democrats disgusted by Trump who eventually would rally around one candidate and overwhelm the far-left coalition. They represented a clear majority of Democrats, including African Americans, hardly the “tools” of any “establishment.”

[Gov. Tony Evers’ extension of ‘safer at home’ order through May eases some restrictions]

One assumes a majority of Sanders’ backers will come to see Biden as a coalition candidate, one that pursues some progressive ideals but at its foundation values truth-telling and expertise and, not incidentally, aims to stanch the flow of right-wing extremist appointments to the nation’s courts.

Especially uplifting were Warren’s endorsement remarks, for which she reportedly didn’t ask for any policy concessions in return.

In her video, Warren said: “One thing I appreciate about Joe Biden is that he will always tell you where he stands. When you disagree, he’ll listen — not just listen, but really hear you and treat you with respect, no matter where you’re coming from. … He’s not too afraid or too proud to be persuaded.”

That is precisely the message everyone who supported any Democratic candidate this election cycle needs to hear.

Finally, there was the good news of Trump himself, whose real character has been on full display.

To some, it may have been entertaining to watch him lie and brag about “always winning” back when times were good and people safe. And sure, the zealots who attend his rallies will probably stick with him, but one hopes that many unaligned or even conservative-leaning voters will now be repulsed at this unprecedented display of incompetence in a crisis.

Some question whether Democrats are sufficiently passionate about Biden. My answer? Just keep televising Trump, who consistently makes it all about himself and not the dead and dying. That’ll help.

Yes, this has been another week of pandemic fears, social distancing and stay-at-home monotony. But, on politics, not a bad week.

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Paul Fanlund is editor and publisher of The Capital Times. A longtime Madisonian, he was a State Journal reporter and editor before becoming a vice president of Madison Newspapers. He joined the Cap Times in 2006.

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