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Bystanders
Kurt Chandler's editor's letter from the August issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Illustration: venimo/Shutterstock

A recent report by the Pew Research Center caught my eye the other day. In a study of the Red versus Blue division in American politics, researchers sorted potential voters into eight groups, based on attitudes and values: Steadfast Conservatives, Business Conservatives, Solid Liberals, Hard-Pressed Skeptics, and so on.

The final category was Bystanders, individuals who are not registered to vote and couldn’t care less about politics. The Bystanders represent 10 percent of the public.

Coincidentally, a few days after reading the Pew report, I received a couple of emails from subscribers who said they were quitting the magazine because they considered our content too political. Between our profile of Gov. Scott Walker in the May issue and our article about Democratic candidate Mary Burke in July, the politics are just getting “too heavy,” complained one anonymous reader.

It’s hard for many to not feel disenfranchised from the political process. I get that – especially in Wisconsin, where we’re reminded again and again just how polarized the two-party electorate has become. To hear the pollsters and pundits tell it, you’d think we were on the brink of a civil war, each side ready to charge, bayonets fixed, across 124th Street, our Mason-Dixon line separating deep-blue Milwaukee County and deep-red Waukesha County. 

I sometimes wonder whether our extreme polarization is self-fulfilling: The more we hear this is one of the most divided places in the nation, the more we think and behave divisively. 

But is it better to ignore politics altogether, as some would suggest? Instead of examining Walker’s record and scrutinizing Burke’s leadership ability, should we bypass major statewide elections, or anything at all controversial? I don’t think so. While the political process can seem pointless and hypocritical and downright ugly at times, it spares no one from its reach. Like it or not, politics touches our lives at all levels – home, schools, workplace, community. There are no innocent bystanders.

This magazine has always covered politics. We don’t make endorsements or publish editorials. Yet it’s part of our mission to inform readers and engage them in a discussion about the issues of the day. 

As the state gears up for the November election – an election that has captured national attention – Milwaukee Magazine is doing what it can to advance the debate, publishing profiles of Walker and of Burke. 

This month, we include “The Aftermath”, an analysis by Contributing Editor Erik Gunn of Walker’s signature piece of legislation, Act 10. The law eliminates collective bargaining among most public workers and requires them to pay health insurance and retirement contributions. So far, it has saved the state and local governments billions of dollars. It’s an important article, a fair airing out of the law’s effects on virtually everyone in Wisconsin. 

A head-in-the-sand approach doesn’t do anyone any good. Information is power. An informed electorate is the essence of our democratic system. 

Whatever your leanings, we encourage you to stay engaged in the conversation.

This article appears in the August 2014 issue of Milwaukee Magazine. 
Read the rest of August issue online here, or subscribe to Milwaukee Magazine.




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