Friday, April 22, 2011

I do not need my freedom when I'm dead (Friday's Sunday's Poem/Hot Actress 79)

By Langston Hughes

Democracy will not come
Today, this year
Nor ever
Through compromise and fear.

I have as much right
As the other fellow has
To stand
On my two feet
And own the land.

I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom when I'm dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow's bread.

Is a strong seed
In a great need.

I live here, too.
I want freedom
Just as you.


About the poem: I don't always think about politics. In fact, a relatively small percentage of my time is spent thinking about politics. Today, for example, I slept in until 7 a.m., then got Mr F and Mr Bunches dressed, then I showered and got dressed, and then I ate breakfast and read webcomics on my phone, and only then did I begin thinking about anything serious -- mortgage foreclosure consent decrees-- but then I stopped that after a while and instead thought about songs about sports and then swung Mr F around in a blanket for a while, and now I'm back to thinking about politics, but only for another moment because then I'll be talking

About the Hot Actress: who is Anna Chlumsky, and here's what I know about her: she was in "My Girl," a movie that, if you ever get stung by bees, you will be told about over and over even if you never watched it. I never saw that movie, and I didn't know who Anna Chlumsky was, but then some website this week said she's all grown up, and she's just over 30, so she makes the list for reasons that, as I look back on them, seem pretty weak.

So maybe it'll strengthen the case if I mention that she was in Law & Order twice? I've never forgotten about the Law&Orderpocalypse, you know.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Bristol... (Publicus Proventus.)

If you want to win in politics, you have to understand Bristol Palin's dancing ability.

I'm not being facetious or trying to be funny. I'm being right.

Lots of people were confused about how Bristol Palin could get so far on Dancing With The Stars when she "competed" on that show. She was a terrible dancer, and not very popular with people in general. Conspiracy theories abounded -- the show is rigged, people said, but they were wrong.

The show wasn't rigged, any more than our democracy is rigged: Dancing With The Stars operates, in many respects, exactly like American politics... which, coincidentally, people also frequently think is rigged. (I'm all too frequently one of those people.)

Bristol Palin succeeded on DWTS despite her obvious lack of skill and mass appeal because Bristol Palin appealed to a small but highly motivated group of people: People who liked Bristol Palin were outnumbered by people who disliked her, but the people who liked her were more motivated to act and had a clearer goal to act on, making it easier for them to win.

If you liked Bristol Palin and wanted her to win, all you had to do was call the voting line, and you supported her.

But, if you didn't like Bristol Palin, what were your options? You had to go vote for someone else -- someone you also may not like very much, but who you dislike less than Bristol Palin.

And all the Bristol Palin dislikers had numerous options to choose from: they could vote for one of the front-runners, or they could vote for someone close to the bottom and help them, but in any event, the Bristol-haters were spread out: If you assume that only 1 in 10 viewers liked Bristol, then that 1 person voted for Bristol. The other 9 voted for... possibly nine other people.

If that happened, the final results are that each of the 10 people gets 1 vote, and Bristol is tied for first, even though 90% of the people voted against her.

It gets worse: if you didn't like Bristol but didn't care that much one way or the other, there wasn't very much you could do about it either way, other than turn off the news the next morning and shrug about how they keep covering this stuff.

See where I'm going with this?

If you liked Governor Patsy in the 2010 elections, you were motivated to go vote for him and probably got up and voted, early. (And often, if you lived in Waukesha County.)

If you didn't like Governor Patsy, then the question is is there someone else you felt really strongly about voting for? Because if not, then you were casting a protest vote (if you voted at all) and a protest vote might have gone to one of the four people running against him, or to a write-in.

According to vote totals (I found them on Wikipedia, so take that for what it's worth) if everyone who'd voted for a third-party candidate or write-in in 2010 had instead voted for Tom Barrett, Barrett would have still lost by just under 100,000 votes, 1,029,974 to Gov. Patsy's 1,128,941.

That's not the whole story, though. 2,158,915 people voted in 2010 for the governor's race. In 2008, with no statewide race on the ballot but with a presidential election, 2,887,000 voters cast ballots in Wisconsin. (Source.) Obama got 1,677,211 votes in that contest, 600,000 more than Tom Barrett got in 2010.

Where were those Democrats, or sometimes-Democrats? Where were the six hundred thousand people who felt strongly enough about something in 2008 to vote for Barack Obama, but didn't get up and vote in 2010? Was it that they didn't feel strongly enough about Barrett to vote for him, or about Gov. Patsy to vote against him?

That 600,000 people, made up of people like me before 2004 and probably made up of people like you or people you know, are what I call the Disinterested Majority. They are people like my Oldest Daughter, Oldest, who, in 2010, when Sweetie reminded her to vote the next day, said "I don't have time. I'll do it Saturday."

They don't much care; in the metaphor I began this post with, they are people who don't watch Dancing With The Stars, and so even though they don't like Bristol Palin, they don't bother to do anything about it because they don't think it matters who wins.

And it doesn't really matter who wins Dancing With The Stars, but as we've seen, it really matters who wins in politics.

And because it matters who wins, it matters how we fight.

Republicans, as bad as they are about caring about people -- and, honestly, they don't even try to pretend anymore that they care, do they?

As bad as they are about that, they're very good about how they convince people that things are good, or bad.

Republicans sell their message not by actually telling people what they're doing; Gov. Patsy, who's list of legislative goals can be discerned simply by looking at his list of campaign contributors (seriously: Every single policy initiative of his will directly benefit a major campaign contributor, making his administration the most obvious quid pro quo elected official in my memory) doesn't tell people he's going to cut taxes on his campaign contributors.

He tells people he's going to cut taxes, and reduce government. He focuses on those things because Americans, even liberal Americans, inherently dislike taxes and government -- and who wouldn't? Taxes take money from us, and government pushes around. Government is a schoolyard bully to many people.

But Gov. Patsy and the rest of his ilk don't much care about most Americans. He cares about a select few Americans: Those who will vote for Bristol Palin.

Gov. Patsy doesn't want you to vote and doesn't care what you think about him. He cares about getting his very interested minority to the polls, and so he pitches his message to them. He talks to the racist Tea Party members and sells his message in terms that they will listen to and get them to the polls: Witness Glenn Grothman asking about keeping illegal immigrants from getting state funds. That touches every hot button of the Racist Tea Party that is in control of the government: Our taxes are going to pay minorities not to work is what Glenn Grothman is saying to them, and that gets them mad and they go vote.

That was the fundamental shift in politics that led to what the GOP thinks is a fundamental shift in Americans' viewpoints: With Karl Rove and the Bush Administration, the GOP began not to try to appeal to the broadest base possible (the big tent that Tommy Thompson talked about in 2001 when he went to work for Bush) but to get their very narrow base to the polls.

That has led to success at the polls, and led most Americans to think that the GOP is winning the hearts and minds of Americans... but they're not. They're just voting for Bristol Palin.

Polls show that most people in America favor raising taxes over cutting spending. More surprisingly to those who don't understand the Bristol Palin Effect on politics, most Republicans favor raising taxes, as well. (Source.) And 80% of the people polled hated Hypocrite Paul Ryan's plan to destroy Medicare and let your grandparents die in the street. (Same Source.)

80% of the people hate Republican ideas, but the Republicans control Wisconsin's government, and have control of just over 2/3 of the federal government. And that's because Republicans are good at voting for Bristol Palin.

So Democrats have to be good at that, too, and that means learning how to fight. And in particular, that means understanding that politics isn't governing, and vice versa.

To govern, you have to win at politics. The two require very different tactics, but you can't do one without the other.

The problem with Democrats is they keep trying to win at politics by governing. I first thought this when I listened on the radio the Feingold-Johnson debates, and heard Ron Johnson keep saying that ObamaCare was the "greatest assault" on his freedom ever, and in response, Russ Feingold delved into the policies of ObamaCare, giving great detailed responses about this and that and the other portion of the law, and losing the audience.

Ron Johnson didn't care if people in general understood the law, or how it worked -- he may not have himself understood it. What he cared about was that by repeating greatest assault on freedom ever, his voters -- the Racist Tea Party people -- would respond by going to vote for him.

Those motivated voters hated the government and hated the idea that the government would tell them they had to buy insurance. Most of them probably had insurance, anyway -- but that didn't make them hate the idea less.

Meanwhile, over on the Feingold side were people who heard "Medicare doughnut hole" and other wonky stuff, and who ever got up early to vote in favor of closing a loophole in the government regulations about copays on prescription drugs?

What I wondered was why Feingold didn't say "The health care reform law doesn't assault your freedom. It keeps your mother from dying because she can't afford her medication."

Or simply ObamaCare will save your mother's life. Or something better than that; I'm not a PR guy.

That's something I've wondered about since that day: why Democrats don't fight better, why they keep confusing governing with politics. It's fine to worry about closing the Medicare doughnut hole... once you're in office. But you'll never get there with that message.

Over and over, I see on The Daily Show and other outlets, montages of Republicans spreading out over the talk shows and repeating the same weekly mantras -- talking points -- and winning. And over and over, I see Democrats shaking their heads at that and saying government shouldn't work that way.

Okay, well, Bristol Palin shouldn't have been on DWTS. But she was and she almost won. Had her Mom really pushed it, she would have won, and Bristol Palin would be considered one of the greatest "celebrity" dancers ever.

The problem came up again for me today when I suggested, via Twitter, that the people helping organize opposition to Gov. Patsy's budget use talking points and focus on a few simple goals and messages, spreading the word about items in the budget. I was responding to a couple of people's posts-- people who are smarter and more politically active than me, I should note -- suggesting that everyone talk to a couple people about the budget and spread the word that Gov. Patsy's budget is a terrible idea for most people.

My idea: pick a talking point each day and focus on that. Get motivated people to talk about one thing and Tweet about one thing.

Doing that worked for me yesterday when I got hundreds of posts about how goverment works for me. (Which I'm continuing, by the way.)

My suggestion was met with the entirely valid point that lots of people are passionate about just a few things in the budget, and by the not-as-valid point that people don't want to sound like they're reading from a script.

In other words, the smarter-than-me/more-motivated-than-me people said "We don't want to all say the same thing and we all care about different things."

Which is exactly what Paul Begala told This American Life not long ago. And which is exactly why Democrats won't win, for a long time, unless and until they understand that politics is not governing.

To win at politics, you have to make people care enough to vote for you. You have to get those 600,000 people to keep coming to the polls, something that the Democrats couldn't do between 2008 and 2010.

Think about what happened in those two years: Obama got elected, got the stimulus bill passed, got Cash For Clunkers passed, got Health Care Reform passed, got the economy started turning around, pulled combat troops out of Iraq... I can name those accomplishments without even looking them up.

In Wisconsin, in those two years, Democrats mandated increased liability protection on insurance policies and required drivers to have insurance, so that you will be more protected if you get in an accident, and so that your premiums wouldn't be raised by forcing you to pay more for underinsured motorist coverage. (Gov. Patsy has since undone one of those, you know.) Democrats got insurers to cover autism treatment. They expanded BadgerCare. They reduced taxes, making Wisconsin go from 4th highest in taxes to 15th highest.

So why did Republicans win? Because Democrats are terrible at politics. Democrats want to go in 50 different directions all at once, and all talk about the things they care about and get into the details of it and get everyone to understand everything at once.

That's an awful strategy. People can't absorb it all. I've been closely following the budget battles for three months and I don't know everything about it -- and if I wasn't motivated, I wouldn't even follow that, as most people don't.

So if you rush up to someone and tell them that the budget does this and that and the other thing, they stop listening. And if you get into details, people tune out; people don't want to know the details of legislation. How closely do you listen when your mechanic explains what's wrong with your car? Not very, I bet -- what you want to know is how much is this going to cost me and how quickly will it be done?

Republicans get that message out: they tell their voters what it'll cost and when it'll be done, and they do that by appealing to the narrowest but most motivated sector. The Democrats' response has been to alienate their own base -- it took Obama two years to get around to kind of dealing with Don't Ask/Don't Tell and the DOMA -- and to try to sell the general populace by giving them detailed wonky lectures.

In other words, Republicans simply narrowcast to racist people and get them to the polls, while Democrats do their best to repel everyone.

Or, to stick with the metaphor: Republicans tell their people to call in for Bristol Palin. Democrats make people want to switch the channel.

It's amazing to me that with eighty percent of the people on their side, Democrats can continue to lose elections, and even more amazing that they ignore evidence that's right in front of them. If you want to see the efficacy of focusing on one issue at a time and simplifying it, look at the collective bargaining issue and recall elections.

Democrats looked at the budget repair bill and all its problems, and focused on one thing: It takes away collective bargaining rights. That was a very narrow issue, and one that was easy to understand and hit right at a motivated base, and man, did it motivate people. It's still motivating people.

And from that, Democrats managed to get more people in the state to pay attention to politics, at least for a little while, using a simple message and a single issue. They then took that motivated, focused message and turned it into action: As of today, Democrats have filed four recall petitions for Republican legislators, while the GOP has only managed to put one together.

Those recall petitions aren't all signed by people who work for state government or their relatives: Democrats took a single, focused issue and managed to convince people to sign a petition by focusing on that. Their highly motivated base managed to spread their focused message to a larger majority and as a result, Democrats are (for now) winning at the polls: there will be four recall elections for Republican senators.

Democrats didn't do that by telling voters about all the bad things Republicans did. They did that by telling them about one really bad thing.

So now, the whole budget is up for debate, and Democrats are "mobilizing" the way a firecracker mobilizes when you light its fuse: going off in 1 zillion different directions.

The argument I got against focusing on talking points, when I suggested it, was that the budget is too big to deal with on a 1-issue at a time basis, and that people care about different things. Those are both true, and both miss the point: talking about all the things wrong with the budget is what governing is for. Legislators in debate should discuss each and every point of the budget.

But politics doesn't work the same way. In politics you have 30 seconds... if that... to get your listener to listen, and people have busy lives and no time to work through the details. They want to know what's it going to cost me and when will it be done.

So I pointed out that the GOP, in trying to fight ObamaCare so that people could die in the streets, didn't pick at every single thing that they disliked about it. They picked on one or two things and hammered on those. It makes employers buy insurance and will hurt business they said, over and over and over.

Hypocrite Paul Ryan's "Roadmap For America's Future" has numerous proposals in it -- it's ninety-nine pages long -- but I dare you to name more than two. Name, right now, without looking at anything, three things in his proposal. I bet you can't, and I bet most Americans can't. They can say it lowers taxes, that it converts Medicaid to vouchers, and that it cuts the deficit.

You can say that because that's all they keep saying about it, and people will hear that and say "lower taxes? Vouchers? Hmmm."

So Democrats fire back with... what? Getting mad at Obama because he singled out Paul Ryan and said he's not going to do that? Getting into details? Google Respones to Ryan's Budget proposal and you'll find:

Nancy Pelosi saying the proposal will starve seniors

A response saying that Ryan guts social programs and we should create jobs instead.

An article talking about how Ryan converts Medicaid into a block grant.

A posting thread reminding people that Ryan's proposal favors the rich in tax cuts.

And boom goes the dynamite. I gave up there. Those are all true, and none of them got the message across.

Where were the unified Democrats going out and talking about one point... any one point... enough to make people listen? This is how things get Bristol Palin'ed:

Republicans propose the Ryan plan, and the highly motivated people who hate government go out and support it.

Democrats respond with a fragmented message, so that some people go and support not increasing taxes, while some people support not starving seniors, and some people support creating jobs, and nobody reads the "block grant" stuff.

And everyone ends up tied for first... unless enough Democrats simply don't care and stay home, in which case we get the Ryan plan.

Why would Democrats stay home? And why wouldn't the disinterested majority -- those 600,000 people -- back them? Because they weren't given a reason to care, or they were given too many reasons to care.

There's something admirable about the Quixotic attempts to change the way the wind blows or reverse the tide; I love underdogs and always want them to win. But underdogs rarely do that; that's why it's such big news when they do. If Don Quixote ever beat a windmill, he'd have been a legend instead of a good story.

So Democrats can continue their admirable quest to make people care about the details and get involved and they can continue to lose, mostly, for the rest of their lives, and things will continue to get worse and worse and worse, until we all live in a tax-free state and drive on private roads and have to get our drivers' licenses from Xe, and until we have the freedom to die in the streets the way the Republicans want us to.

Or Democrats can start doing things the smart way, and give their voters a reason to get to the polls, and start convincing the disinterested majority that they're right by talking to them the way they want to be talked to.

Get your voters -- me and other people-- to the polls by giving us something to go there for. Don't just say I won't do that but say I will do this!

Doing things, after all, is what people elect politicians for, a message even so-called conservatives understand: No person ever got elected to office by saying I won't do anything, even though that's the basic message of conservatism: government should do less, conservatives say, and then make it do more anyway: Bush presided over No Child Left Behind and TARP, two massive federal programs. Tommy Thompson created BadgerCare.

Obama got elected because he promised to do things, but he didn't do enough of them, and now he's saying he won't do things, but that won't work. He won't agree not to raise taxes on the rich, and he won't dismantle Medicare. Big whoop. Obama, if he intends to actually get re-elected (I think his heart isn't in it) has to tell people what he will do, and he has to convince them he means it this time. It's not that people will vote Republican; they'll just stay home.

They'll change the channel.

And Democrats have to tell the disinterested majority, that 600,000 people, why they care -- but they have to do that the way people actually listen. Quit saying 50,000 things at once; quit voting for everyone but Bristol. If people really wanted Bristol off that show, they all could have teamed up to keep voting for one person to make sure that person won and Bristol didn't.

If Democrats want clean water and collective bargaining and libraries and school funding and all the rest, that's great -- but win first, and you win by focusing your message and repeating it, over and over and over.

Start now, with the budget: don't talk about everything at once. Pick out the three worst things, and hammer on those, in brief, emotional, messages. People don't listen to block grant reduction blah blah blah blah.

They listen to: If you pass this budget, Christopher's parents are going to have to put him in a home, and the only people he loves won't be able to take care of him.

They listen to: If you pass this budget, every third grader in the state will have $1,100 less spent on her, and will have to use outdated textbooks and sit in moldy classrooms filled with 60 kids because the school district laid off your neighbor the teacher.

They listen to stuff like that. They listen when you say See that person next door? He's your neighbor, and he's a prison guard, and his pay just got cut by $2,760. He'll make $200 less per month now, thanks to Scott Walker. How would you like it if Scott Walker took $200 out of your paycheck every month? Vote for our side, and we'll make sure that your neighbor, and you, earn more, not less.

You can either learn how Bristol Palin does it, or you can sit back and watch her win week after week after week.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sometimes, people just plain SUCK. (Life With Unicorns.)

We live near Lake Mendota. Not on the lake, but within shouting distance of it, were one inclined to shout at a lake, which I never do.

Behind our house runs a "private road," Waconia Lane, in Middleton, Wisconsin. It has about 15 houses on it. The road runs from where it intersects our house to the lake. Here's a Google map of it:

The yellow line is Waconia Lane; the red arrow will be important in a minute.

Waconia Lane, as I said, is a "private road." It runs, though, right behind our backyard, and there's a gap in the hedge where some next-door neighbor kids used to cut through (before we lived there; those kids are grown now.)

About 2 years ago, I started walking with Mr F and Mr Bunches around the neighborhood -- and we'd always walk out our backyard, and down to where you see the red arrow on the map. At that point on Waconia Lane, the road deadends, and there's a small grassy embankment with some rocks on it and a stairway to a pier. We'd go there and look at the lake and I'd point out boats or ducks, and the boys would sometimes throw a rock or two in. That was it; then we'd turn around and walk back to the "public" roads, around our little neighborhood, and home.

Last summer, two or three times, the lady whose house is right at the end of the road came out to talk to us, introducing us to her two dogs and saying "hi" to Mr F and Mr Bunches.

This year, when the weather got warm, we started that again -- but the very first time out, some guy up the street came out on his deck and yelled at us.

"You're not supposed to be doing that," he said.

I said, politely "We've spoken to the lady whose yard this is, and she doesn't mind." (Keep in mind, we do not go down the stairs or onto anyone's property, other than the few feet of grass at the top of the hill.)

"That lake belongs to all of us! You shouldn't be throwing rocks into it," he said, somewhat bizarrely.

I got Mr F and Mr Bunches and we left that day, not wanting trouble. But the boys like that walk, and so I took another step: I drafted up a letter and distributed it to the people on that road. This is that letter:

I didn't hear anything back until today, when I got this:

You know, I never said anything when the "private road" people let their dogs run through the neighborhood, including in my yard, and I never said anything when the lady behind my house came walking all along my backyard frontage removing things (including, I think, wildflowers that I liked.)

But I did now, and emailed Mr. Brzezinski back that he's to remind his people to stay off my property, too.

I'll show those stupid Star-Bellied Sneetches.

Government Works For Me! (Publicus Proventus)

Government works for me. It saves lives.

This post is long. But it's worth reading, and worth thinking about, and not just to get to the heartbreaking part where a man pleads with a government official not to take his son away from him... but that's worth reading, too.

It's worth reading because government works and you know it.

Not just in an abstract, metaphorical way, like "The government is protecting me from Communists and maybe asteroids." While that's true (kind of; I'm not sure the government is actually doing much against either of those threats, specifically), it's not really what I was thinking of when, this morning, I paused getting ready for work and thought to myself "Government works for me."

Nor am I talking about government working for me in the sense of "I pay taxes and so all you government workers are my employees." That's kind of true, too, but that's not what I was thinking of, either.

What I was thinking was very specifically, there are a lot of government programs that really work and really make my life better, and that if I noticed that, then maybe other people noticed that, too.

From there, I went on to thinking that if I and other people who actually realize how government actually helps us began talking about it, in specific terms, it might help show others that government is not a bad thing -- and bring home the point that needs to be made, which is this:

When we talk about cutting spending, and cutting government, we are talking about taking away money to do those things that many people find helpful or even necessary.

In the abstract, most people dislike government and dislike taxes. But poll after poll shows that when you aren't talking abstracts -- when you aren't relying on fancy graphics and giant numbers a la Paul Ryan (for whom government definitely works, given that it put him through college and that he's mostly worked for government in his career) -- people don't support cutting spending to the bone.

In other words, when people see the actual programs and actual people that are going to be cut, they don't want to do it.

I got to thinking about these issues this morning in particular when I read a sterling article in the Capital Times about compassionate conservatism. As a framing device for his discussion about the differences between old-school conservatives and the slash-and-burn Republicans of today, writer Shawn Doherty attended a public hearing in Fennimore where Wisconsin Health Services Secretary Dennis Smith pretended to listen to people's concerns and offered them platitudes rather than hope.

Doherty focused in particular on one man who testified:

A white-haired factory worker from Hazel Green walks in holding the hand of a 20-year-old young man who towers over him.

“This is my son Christopher,” he tells Smith when it is his turn to speak. “I’m here to ask you to find some way to keep Family Care going. My biggest concern is that Christopher gets to stay in our home so we can continue to care for him. Nobody can take better care of him than me and my wife. Nobody can love him more.

Randy Hillary’s voice breaks, and he pauses. His son, who has been staring around the room and smiling at strangers, turns in the sudden silence to look at his father.

Christopher makes a questioning sound and brushes at the tears on his father’s face.

After a few moments, Hillary continues. “So I guess I’m just here asking if you can find some way to keep Family Care going.”
Hillary says later that he has never asked for help publicly before or spoken about the pressures that his son’s cognitive disability place on the family. “It ain’t real easy to come out and ask for services,” he says. “I had to swallow my pride.”

Christopher is smiling again, this time at a stranger from the town meeting who bought him a candy bar. “We got to worry about you all the time and you don’t worry about nothing,” he tells his son, ruffling his hair. “He’s the happiest boy on earth,” he says.

Hillary wants to be sure Christopher stays that way, he explains, when his parents are gone.
But Hillary leaves still worried. Smith does not say that the state will provide the care for Christopher that his dad hopes will keep him out of an institution. Instead, Smith says that there are “other options” for the family. “There’s no freeze on personal care,” he says.

It's easy these days to listen to the political back-and-forth about cutting spending, or cutting more spending, and hear in the politicians' voices continued disparagement of government. On the right, Republicans routinely degrade the very entity they work for; meanwhile, Democrats (until recently) buy into the idea that they can't talk about taxes and they can't talk about nationalizing programs that are necessary to keep people alive, and they run from their accomplishments and the debate shifts from what can we as a society do to make sure that people can excel while also making sure nobody gets left behind? to how little can we do for everyone?

But how little can we do for everyone isn't the American way. It isn't our way. This country wasn't founded on and isn't made up of people who don't want to help others, and isn't made up of people who think that millionaires deserve tax breaks or that providing chemotherapy to the elderly is something we can't afford.

That's what it looks like, because the government is currently controlled by a small but very determined group of people who act in the interests of a smaller but very rich group of people, and the history of America is that for a short time, small-but-determined and small-but-rich groups can get their way.

Until, that is, the rest of America starts listening.

Most people, after all, don't care much about political issues on a day-to-day basis. That includes me: I'm a political science major and lawyer who has run for office a few times in his life. And yet I didn't pay that much attention to day-to-day political issues for a long time, until the 2004 elections got me more involved, and the 2008 elections and health care reform debates woke me up.

I didn't start paying attention because of grand issues like neoconservatism or anything like that. I started paying more attention because I saw, in my everyday life, the effect that the Bush presidency was having, and then I began to notice more things, like the fact that there were little boys who needed medical care but who ran the risk of not getting it because they'd used up their lifetime insurance cap.

That got me paying attention, and once I tuned in I stayed tuned in -- not because I cared about whether the proper role of the federal government was to manage the health care system, but because I cared about whether two little boys could get operations they needed to save their lives.

Then, things really hit home for me: My own two sons were diagnosed as autistic. The diagnosis was made just after their 3rd birthday, in September, 2009, by a teacher from our school district, the Middleton-Cross Plains School District. The teacher had come to visit because we had told the boys' doctor that we were concerned because they weren't talking much, and he'd suggested that we have a speech therapist check them out. The school district provides speech therapist services for free to parents who reside there, so we had the school come do it.

After the autism diagnosis, we were referred for treatment for the boys. The general consensus is that intensive therapy -- 20 or 30 hours a week, at times -- is best for autism and ensures the best results.

We had insurance, through a private insurer. My firm pays about 3/4 of my insurance costs and we pay the rest out of pocket. So we contacted the insurer to find out what coverage was available, and were surprised to learn that, at the time, our health insurance would provide... about six hours of treatment.

Per year.

That's roughly 0.6% of the treatment the boys would need. And this was treatment to get them to talk and communicate with us.

The school district stepped in: they began providing almost 10 hours of therapy per boy per week, with speech and occupational therapists coming in to our house and working with the boys, and teaching us how to work with them, too. I don't want to give the idea that we simply said "Hey, professionals, raise our kids." We spent hours per day -- my wife, Sweetie is a stay-at-home mom -- teaching the boys, and almost every single thing we do has some sort of therapeutic or teaching aspect to it; when I swing the older twin around by his arms, something he loves to do, I have to stop about every third time to make him say More so that he learns to communicate.

The boys began coming along, slowly -- and we counted the time until August 1, 2010, because that was when government-mandated autism coverage would kick in, providing $50,000 per year per child for the therapy. And on August 1, 2010, a full team of therapists and other professionals began working with our family, and the boys' progress was amazing.

And also much-needed, because while one part of government was starting to work well for our family, another part of government saved one of our boys. Last summer, I took a day off to spend with the boys and give Sweetie a break. I was sitting in the living room of our house playing with the younger twin, Mr Bunches, while Mr F sat over by the kitchen table, just around the corner from me.

Every five or ten minutes, I'd go check on Mr F to see if he wanted to join us, but he was looking at a book and didn't want to be bothered.

On one of the checks, Mr F wasn't by the kitchen table. I went downstairs to the TV room, and he wasn't there. I checked his bedroom, and he wasn't there, either. I walked through every room in our house, methodically checking every nook and cranny, and didn't find him anywhere.

Then I noticed that one of the screens on a window by the patio was pushed out. I grabbed my cell phone and went out to the yard, calling him over and over. He wasn't in the yard.

We live near Lake Mendota, and in the summer I take the boys to go look at the lake and walk around the neighborhood. Thinking that he might have gone on that route, I called 911 and told them that my son was missing, and explained that he was only 3 years old and autistic and can't talk and was wearing just a diaper and had been gone for maybe 10 minutes.

The police had already found him; he'd walked nearly a half-mile in that ten minutes, going down the sidewalk of a busy street until he was stopped by a woman walking; that woman happened to be a nurse and realized that something was wrong. She'd kept him calm until the police arrived and then they kept him there until I'd run the half-mile to meet them and walked Mr F home.

Following that episode, the Dane County Sheriff came out and fitted Mr F, who has a tendency to run away, with a small bracelet used in their "Project Lifesaver" program. Using that, if he ever gets away again, they can locate him almost instantly.

Again, we're not relying on just the government. We've locked our windows and used duct-tape to seal them up. We put hooks on the doors where he can't reach them. My brother-in-law will help us this year put bars over the windows so that we can open the windows this summer. (We don't have central air conditioning.)

But once a month, a sheriff's deputy -- a government employee-- comes and makes sure Mr F still has the bracelet, which we test every morning, and the police and deputies in our area know about Mr F and are on the lookout for him.

And we can relax a little, knowing that if Mr F were to wander away again, it wouldn't take a search party to find him.

There are numerous other ways that government has helped me. The Income Based Repayment option for student loans helped keep my payments low enough that Sweetie could stay at home and take care of the boys; the government lets me deduct the interest on my mortgage so that we were able to stop renting a house and could buy a place where we were free to put hooks on all the doors. I attended public schools from third grade on, and got federally-subsidized student loans for college. When I graduated law school, I opened my own practice and subsisted largely on working as appointed counsel for the State Public Defender; I paid for my honeymoon with Sweetie using a large payment I got from the federal government for representing a criminal defendant.

So government works for me. And it works for a lot of other people, too -- directly or indirectly, government works for people in ways that we don't always take the time to quantify.

But if we're going to debate whether or not we should cut spending, if we're going to offer tax breaks to corporations and cut social spending and debate whether or not we should provide health care, it shouldn't be done abstractly with charts and numbers and rhetoric about reining in the beast.

It should be done honestly. If we're going to cut spending, then I want the Paul Ryans and Scott Walkers and others like them to look people like me in the face and explain why it's more important that corporations get reduced taxes than that my son be taught to talk. I want Glenn Grothman to go to a school full of 4- and 5-year-olds attending 4K and explain to them and their parents, face-to-face, why they shouldn't learn to read and thereby reduce the chances that they'll end up poor or criminal or both.

And I want all the people who support them, who vote for them and who won't sign recall petitions to get them back out of office once it's apparent what a mistake they made, to do that, too. You people who are sitting quietly, or, worse yet, attending rallies on behalf of Tea Parties, you James T. Harrises and Andrew Breitbarts, you look me and everyone else in the eye, too, and explain how it's better that kids not have school buses to take them to a real school, and tell me why we can use government money to pave roads we can't use government money to manage a woman's lupus and so we let her die instead.

The message will only get out if we, people who know that government can work and who know that because it works for us, tell people that. We have to tell people that in our blogs and Twitter accounts and in our jobs and through videos. We have to keep saying that government works for me, because, while the message might never get through to the Ryans and Breitbarts, it'll get through to the people who either voted for those people, or who sat on the sidelines and did nothing and let them get elected anyway - -and maybe those people will get motivated, too.

I didn't wait until I needed a deputy to find my son to begin believing it was necessary to have, and pay attention to, a government -- but I was darn close, and I don't want to let it slip any further.

So I started today, on my Twitter account, asking people to tweet whenever they used government and say how government works for them. My own first post was that I'd looked up, on the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access Program (CCAP) a case in which I represented a party, to make sure that a hearing which was supposed to be cancelled really was cancelled. I was able to do that at 7:45 a.m., before the courts opened, and was therefore able to spend a little more time eating breakfast with my family, rather than hurrying to my office to call the clerk of courts.

That's a pretty minor example -- but since Gov. Patsy is trying to kill off CCAP, it's important to note it. CCAP helped my coworkers help ensure that none of my cases went unattended when I had a heart attack last summer, and CCAP helps my people keep informed about cases that are underway.

And minor as it is, it demonstrates my concern: most nights I go to sleep worrying that when I wake up in the morning my job will be harder or my health care costs will be more expensive or, God forbid, Gov. Patsy will turn his attention to that law that required autism coverage and my boys will lose all the benefits they've enjoyed. And if that worries me, as lucky as I am, it must frighten the hell out of others.

The response so far has been overwhelming; I lost track of the number of posts people put up, ranging from pictures of Mars to their kids being invited to sit in a garbage truck. The FDIC saving people's accounts from failing banks, libraries making books available... the list goes on and on (and can be read here.)

I didn't have time this morning to expand on the idea, because I had other work to do. But I want to keep this going; I know things tend to flare up and flame out on the Internet, but I think it's important to change the tone and nature of the debate, and the only way to do that is to begin selling ourselves and our neighbors on how government actually works.

So I'm asking you to keep it up: To keep on Tweeting every time you use a government service, every time you think of a regulation or law that helped you or helped someone else, every time you see someone else do that.

And, those of you who want to be more involved, I suggest that this be taken to an additional level: writing to people who want to cut down government or who criticize it, and posting videos to convey the message, too.

The videos don't have to be anything special, and neither do the letters; they just have to say Here's who I am and here's how government works for me.

Over the next few days, I plan to make the first such video and when I do, I'll post it on Youtube and share it with you here and on my other blogs. If someone beats me to it, let me know and I'll post that. (Heck, I'll post them all, if I can.)

And I'll post email and contact addresses for people who need to hear Government Works For Me.

And if anyone else has any ideas on how to further this, I welcome them. Already, @legaleagle really helped the idea take off and also made the all-important contribution of suggesting that we shorten my original hashtag; @danpotacke wants to use the hashtag for a cartoon (and I freely grant permission to anyone to use this idea in a way that's in keeping with the spirit of it).

I get frustrated with people and with government, but that's not the only way to deal with things, and I've offered legitimate proposals to address the problems, and I've watched as people marched and protested and wrote emails and filed recall petitions, and I'm trying to do what I can to help out. So I appreciate any help you can give this, and any attention you can give it.

In the meantime, click these links to send an email to the people and tell them Government works for me, and why, and get talking to your friends, neighbors, coworkers, mothers-in-law, and anyone else who'll listen; get posting videos and keep tweeting and blogging, and keep it up.

Email me with your suggestions, links to your videos and anything else you want me to know

Click here to send an email to Gov. Scott (Patsy) Walker and tell him how government works for you.

Paul Ryan won't let you email him directly, so you have to do it through his site. Click this link to go directly to the page where you can email him, and enter "53545" and "3959" in the ZIP code boxes.

I've already sent mine: