Milwaukee—The Democratic presidential candidates will debate in Wisconsin on Thursday, five years to the day after Governor Scott Walker attacked Wisconsin public employees, public schools, and public services. The mass protests that began in Wisconsin and extended to Ohio, to Wall Street, and across the country in 2011 helped to frame a challenge to assaults on workers, income inequality, and the madness of austerity economics.
Those issues have come to be pivotal concerns in the 2016 presidential campaign. When voters in New Hampshire cast their ballots in this week’s Democratic presidential primary, exit polls identified income inequality as the top issue, and opposition to austerity ran high. In dramatic contrast to the opposition to public initiatives advocated by Walker and other Republicans, two-thirds of those surveyed endorsing the replacement of the current healthcare system with a “single taxpayer-funded plan for all Americans.”
The change in American politics began long before the 2016 campaign, with mass protests like those in Wisconsin and an Occupy Wall Street movement that put a whole new set of issues on the table.
When Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton debate in Milwaukee, much of the focus will be on the petty bickering between the campaigns. That’s to be expected, as this race has turned into a real contest, which is now expected to extend through February and March and on to Wisconsin’s April 5 presidential primary.
That makes the Milwaukee debate a critical test, with meaning that extends beyond any state. The debate itself is being run by national media—in this case, PBS—and that’s understandable. Debates have become major news events for the candidates and for media outlets. In this volatile year, debates stir passions and ratings.
But a debate in Wisconsin, especially on this day, could offer some distinct perspectives and insights regarding the moment in which the Democratic candidates—and Democratic and independent voters—find themselves.
Here are three questions the moderators might ask the candidates in this regard:
1. What have been your most serious concerns about Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s impact on the state and about the austerity policies he has advanced nationally? Did you support efforts to hold Walker and his allies to account? What are you doing now to challenge and reverse the policies Walker advanced then and continues to advance? What have you done and what are you doing to challenge the austerity policies of other Republican governors such as Michigan’s Rick Snyder?