Vogeler Challenges Media Blackout

Media Rants

By Tony Palmeri

from the September, 2006 edition of The Valley Scene

Wisconsin’s millionaire Democratic Senator Herb Kohl visited Oshkosh in late August to deliver a $150,000 federal grant to the UW Oshkosh Living Healthy Community Clinic. No one is really sure what Kohl’s role was in securing the grant, nor does it really matter. Herb Kohl sits in the Senate because of his personal fortune, because he is marginally competent and avoids controversy, and because an irresponsible corporate media won’t give challengers a fair shake. Kohl’s September 12th Democratic Party primary challenger, Madison activist Ben Masel, is all but nonexistent in the mainstream press, ensuring that Kohl will be on the November ballot seeking a 4th term.

The Wisconsin Green Party’s candidate for US Senate, Rae Vogeler (www.voterae.org/), will be on the November ballot. Running a spirited grassroots campaign, Vogeler last month met voters in northeast Wisconsin at the Fond du Lac public library, South Park in Oshkosh, Appleton’s Harmony Café’, and a peace rally in Green Bay. Cheryl Hentz and I also had the opportunity to interview her for an hour on our cable access television program “Eye on Oshkosh.” Vogeler, a 50-year-old working mom originally from Milwaukee and now residing in Oregon, WI, is an articulate citizens’ candidate who presents herself as a viable alternative to the wealthy Kohl.

“For the last three years, George Bush and Herb Kohl have been spending our nation’s wealth on Iraq. It is time we bring it home and start focusing on rebuilding our own communities here in Wisconsin,” said Vogeler in a press release announcing the northeast Wisconsin tour. “Voters across the nation are demanding their voices be heard. I am running to be the voice of Wisconsin voters in Washington.”

Vogeler wants to be the voice of Wisconsin in Washington, but will the establishment media allow voters to hear HER voice? As a Green party member and someone who has worked on Green campaigns and run for office as a Green, I can attest to the difficulty of getting heard when one chooses to challenge the Republicrat duopoly. During Vogeler’s Fox Valley visit, I asked her about media non-recognition of her campaign:

“Wisconsin’s major media gave us a ton of stories about whether or not Tommy Thompson would challenge Kohl, and then a ton more when Tommy decided not to run,” she said. “Why not give the focus instead to candidates like me who are actually in the race?”

Vogeler pointed to Ned Lamont’s victory over long-time incumbent Joe Lieberman in last month’s Connecticut primary as an example of the appeal of anti-war candidates: “Lamont’s a millionaire who has the resources to produce expensive ads, but the success of his campaign really had more to do with word of mouth at the grassroots level. Connecticut’s primary voters discovered that they had the power not only to send Joe Lieberman a message, but to remove him from office.” Not surprisingly, Lieberman is now running for the seat as an Independent after a lifetime of castigating anyone who dares run for office as anything other than a Republicrat.

Is Herb Kohl vulnerable on the Iraq War? John Nichols of the Madison Capital Times thinks so. After Kohl’s re-election campaign announcement was disrupted by peace activists who asked the senator to sign an Iraq withdrawal pledge and vote against supplemental funding for the war, Nichols wrote:

Kohl missed a chance to be the sort of leader that is needed at a point when a disastrous war is spiraling deeper into chaos.

The senator refused to sign the pledge, which was his right. But, after criticizing President Bush for misusing the authority given him by Congress to pressure Iraq and for mishandling the war itself, Kohl essentially echoed the administration's line on staying the course.

"My own position is we ought to do much more to encourage, if not insist, that the Iraqi government, the leadership, come together in a unified manner so that they can, number one, govern their country and, number two, take over security," Kohl said. "That will enable the U.S. to draw down and then hopefully phase out of the occupation."

By any meaningful measure, those words are indistinguishable from the talking points of a White House that Kohl admits has misused its authority and mishandled one of the most important responsibilities given any president - that of sending the sons and daughters of this country into combat.

Herb Kohl: Nobody's sports team owner but yours

Incredibly, Kohl’s campaign website does not even include the Iraq War under its “Issues” link. What a sad commentary on the major media in this state that it is willing to let a United States senator go through a reelection campaign without seriously challenging him on the most critical issue of our time. Last spring 24 of 32 Wisconsin communities voted to bring the troops home now, powerful evidence that the electorate wants to hear about peace candidates on the ballot.

Kohl’s Republican challenger, Robert Lorge, supports the war. That leaves Rae Vogeler as the only peace candidate in the race. She says, “It’s really our obligation to come forward and challenge this business- and politics-as-usual.” Mainstream media should have the same obligation, which is why the blackout of the Vogeler campaign is wrong and should end now.

Tony Palmeri (www.tonypalmeri.com) is an associate professor of communication at uw Oshkosh. You can reach him at tony@tonypalmeri.com