I Wish

The theme of this year’s Bob Fest is “Holding Them Accountable.” I Wish

Remarks by Executive Director Mike McCabe at the 5th Annual Fighting Bob Fest
September 9, 2006

Posted: September 11, 2006

The government we have right now is a measure of our failure to hold them accountable.

When it comes to accountability, I believe two things above all else:

  • corruption is like the pupil of an eye . . . the more light is shined on it the more it shrinks
  • elected officials serve us best when they serve in fear . . . fear of the voters and the media
WDC Executive Director
Mike McCabe’s Remarks

Video courtesy of
On The Earth Productions

When the Democracy Campaign shines light in dark places and follows the money trail, we get our share of fan mail….

After we called Mark Green on a half-million dollars in illegal donations he’s using in his campaign for governor, we got one e-mail calling us “bootlicking Doyle buddies.” Another called us hypocrites. Yet another just said “Go Away Scum!”

A Republican legislator sent us a note saying “…you have shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are indeed the partisan hacks that I always knew you were.”

Another e-mail said “…your organization is really nothing more than an extension of the Democrat Party.”

When we shine light in the other direction, we get fan mail of a different variety. We were taken to task recently for our “daily unrestrained hammering on Doyle.” Another told us we were “basically campaigning for Green” and said “you are helping a party (the GOP) that needs no help.”

I was even told to my face that our work is “dangerous” because it risks making people cynical about politicians and undercuts public confidence in government.

No, holding them accountable means holding all of them accountable.

It means love of truth. And it means trusting people with the truth. There is nothing dangerous about that. If ever our allegiance to the state surpasses our allegiance to the truth, democracy’s dead. Love of truth always needs to be stronger than love of government or love of party or even love of a favorite public figure.

These are scary days. A lot is at stake. Like the soul of our state and nation. There are so many official lies. So much injustice.

There are days when I walk out of the Capitol and never want to go back. There are days when I walk out of the Capitol and want to shoot myself in the temple. I’m feeling what many of you are no doubt feeling. I’m feeling afraid. And angry. And discouraged. Downhearted. Depressed. Hopeless. Cynical. Who cares? What’s the use?

Then I think . . . that’s exactly how they want us to feel.

Holding them accountable means not letting them hold us emotionally hostage.

Holding them accountable also means spelling out what we’re holding them accountable for.

We need to list our demands…. We need to let them know how we want to be governed…. We need to make our wishes known. We need to wish fervently, persistently, relentlessly….

I start by wishing for things that are fundamental but which we cannot take for granted. If we ever thought we could before, we sure know better now.

I wish for peace. I wish for justice. I wish for democracy. I wish for an end to privilege.

Then I wish Republicans would remember that theirs was the party of Fighting Bob La Follette.

I wish Democrats would forget everything they’ve learned these last 30 years about winning elections and governing.

I wish Mark Green would give back his illegal money.

I wish Jim Doyle would come to terms with the fact that appearances matter.

I wish both of them would realize the difference between doing what’s legal and doing what’s right.

I wish our nation’s leaders would stop asking me to love my country differently than I love my son or my wife or any other loved one. Unconditional love doesn’t mean unconditional acceptance of stupid, dangerous or just plain mean behavior.

I wish concern for the common good wasn’t so uncommon.

I wish our state and our nation would stop paying so much for failure and invest more in success. Make more classrooms, not more prison cells.

The hell with socialized medicine. I just wish we had civilized medicine. If you wonder what I mean, as far as I’m concerned, the smaller the role of insurance companies the more civil it gets.

I wish when politicians tell us that taxes are too high, they’d say whose taxes they are talking about. If you pay nothing, are your taxes too high? I wish we had one tax system, not two – one for those who can afford $200-an-hour lobbyists and another for the rest of us.

I wish our leaders could see that demand, not supply, is the engine that drives the economy. I wish they could see how important it is to have a middle class.

I wish we’d all see how wrong it is to make it easier for government to watch citizens and harder for citizens to watch the government.

I wish we’d be less choosy about which living things we revere in our culture.

I wish we’d build fewer walls.

But I wish two walls would be rebuilt . . . the wall separating church and state . . . and the wall separating corporation and state.

I wish free speech wasn’t so blasted expensive.

I wish when politicians finish their speeches by saying “God Bless America,” it would sound more like a request and less like a command. I wish they’d spend less time claiming God is on their side and more time worrying about whether they are on God’s side.

You surely can add to my list. Or make a whole new one. But don’t stop there.

Holding them accountable means acting on our wishes.

We can start next Tuesday. Then carry on November 7.

But then the real work begins.

Remember Senate Bill 1. This ethics reform bill would have replaced the fox guarding the chicken coop with an ethics enforcement agency with real teeth. In a democracy, the majority is supposed to rule. Playing by those rules we won. We got it passed in the Senate on a 28-5 vote. The governor promised to sign it. We had more than 50 votes in the 99-member Assembly. But the Capitol bosses stonewalled it.

What happened to this ethics reform legislation last session shows how our government is controlled by people who don’t have an ounce of respect for the basic democratic principle of majority rule. That is what we are up against.

That’s why we started what’s come to be known as the People’s Legislature. We wanted to engage people in way they haven’t been engaged before to take on the Lobbyists’ Legislature.

But we’re up against bosses who don’t have an ounce of respect for the clear wishes of the public. So we need the People’s Legislature to grow bigger and more muscular. That’s why we’re announcing today a new initiative of the People’s Legislature. We’re calling it the Ruckus Corps. We plan to train willing volunteers to engage in direct action and even civil disobedience to take on the obstructionists at the Capitol and make a stronger push than ever for reforms that will clean up our state government.

I hope you’ll attend the noon breakout session. And I hope you’ll sign up to become a part of the Ruckus Corps. We need you.

We have no reason to fear, or feel depressed, downhearted, discouraged, cynical or hopeless.

We have it in our power to rehabilitate our democracy. We have it in our power to take back our state and take back our country. We have it in our power to hold them accountable.

Mark my words, by the end of this day and the end of this wonderful gathering, you will be filled with the spirit of Fightin’ Bob and feel more powerful than when you woke up this morning.

We have it in our power. By God, we have it in our power.