Back during the Iraqi war, when the neocons of George Bush and Dick Cheney were happily dancing about the globe committing all sorts of atrocities and war crimes, there emerged from the shadows of the bloodletting some comical relief — yes, the neocons tell us, war is funny! —by the name of a fellow everyone called Baghdad Bob.
Baghdad Bob was Saddam Hussein’s media minister, and, during the war, he would regularly appear before the media with outrageous pronouncements. According to Baghdad Bob, the Iraqis were massacring American soldiers everywhere, slaughtering them at the airport and cutting their throats in their tanks. He proclaimed that those soldiers the Iraqis did not kill committed suicide “by the hundreds” and American tanks were nowhere near the city, when in fact they were two blocks way from him.
It was all an elaborate fiction, the depiction of a world that did not exist and that would not have been supported by most Iraqis even if it did. Iraq was fighting the infidels, and the infidels would pay, Baghdad Bob said, but it was all a propaganda fantasy in which reality was perversely, if somewhat comically, stood on its head.
Baghdad Bob wasn’t his real name, of course, but Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf. The media cooked up the nickname to go with his absurd pronouncements.
We were thinking about Baghdad Bob the other day because we have our own version of him right here in the Northwoods. We’re not sure what his nickname should be, but his real name is Kirk Bangstad.
Bangstad is much like Baghdad Bob. He has organized a grassroots army in his mind, a self-proclaimed band of campaign contributors, many of whom live far, far away from the Northwoods, in Madison and in other states. They are on a crusade against the infidels of the right who dominate politics up here — you know the majority of people who vote in elections, as opposed to campaign contributors who can’t vote here and know nothing of our communities.
They’ve started up a little podcast, the better to amplify their echo chamber, and, oh yeah, there’s that Biden Beer, not to mention a vice-presidential stout, which somehow seems sexist to us, but what do we know. The beer, and probably all of Bangstad’s politics, is obviously nothing more than a marketing ploy designed for a niche and very gullible audience by a desperate businessman.
And each pronouncement on Facebook is as self-serving and outlandish as anything Baghdad Bob ever cooked up.
To read Bangstad’s Facebook posts is to believe we are all traitors and bullies and misogynists and henchmen — infidels of some rank and order. It is all so whacky and Bangstad is such a caricature that the situation begs for a nickname. What about Baghdad Bangstad?
Or Mr. Minocqua Moonbeam? Former Gov. Jerry Brown of California had that nickname (Gov. Moonbeam) given to him by columnist Mike Royko when he said Brown was attracting the “moonbeam vote.”
“If it babbles and its eyeballs are glazed, it probably comes from California,” Royko wrote.
Well, that was then. Now it comes from the Minocqua Brewing Company as well as from California.
The truth is, Bangstad isn’t worthy of a nickname, caricature though he is, for while it is tempting to read the Facebook posts and marvel that he and his small pack of privileged outsiders actually believe they are having an impact, it is a temptation best resisted.
Not that they don’t deserve to be knocked for the delusional fringe they are, or to be laughed at when they proclaim they are going to somehow change the Northwoods’ love for individual freedom and liberty and the constitution of the United States. 
They do deserve it. They have every right to say and do what they are doing, more power to them, but most of it is truly funny.
But there are also serious issues running beneath the surface of Bangstad’s stand-up routines.
The first is that his whole effort is not about change and building something better. It is not about community. It is about rage and hate and destruction. Reflective of this is his effort not only to take on and defeat his despised Republican enemies but to go after their donors for exercising their right to engage politically. Worse are his attacks on those who have done so much for our communities — more so in five minutes than Bangstad ever has.
These leaders, some life-long and many who have moved here, have invested a lot of sweat and financial equity in building our communities. They deserve thanks, not hate.
To attack the character of those who dedicate themselves to community and charitable causes goes beyond the pale of acceptable political difference. It eats at the fabric of the community, tears at the heart and soul of civility. But, so be it, these are the kind of people they are.
What they are not are watchdogs in the Northwoods, as Bangstad’s Super PAC claims to be. While Bangstad has been digging around in Ron Johnson’s campaign reports, he has yet to explain the discrepancies in his own Assembly campaign report.
It’s interesting that Bangstad and his group think that investigating Johnson’s campaign finances is a worthy effort for a watchdog, but anyone asking questions about their own house is “trying to dig up dirt.”
As we point out, there’s a more than $18,000 discrepancy in Bangstad’s January 2021 continuing campaign finance report. We assume there’s a good explanation for it. We hope there is. But so far, despite a promise posted on Facebook, no public explanation of this discrepancy has been offered. It’s a significant discrepancy, too, and the people of the Northwoods deserve to have it explained.
We wonder how people who tout transparency as one of their most important goals can be so opaque? We wonder how anyone who can’t or won’t explain their campaign finances — especially when there are explanations needed — has any credibility?
The answer is, they don’t. But then they are not about credibility. They are about destruction for the sake of destruction.
All of which begs another question: Where is the Democratic Party? Where is the party of Jim Holperin or even Dave Obey? For that matter, where is Jim Holperin?
Once upon a time, Democrats offered serious candidates who were committed to community and who believed in debate. They weren’t afraid to come to the newspaper — as opposed to staying cocooned in their own echo chamber — and talk through issues. 
That Democratic Party is gone, and what’s left is a woke self-circle that talks grand schemes and revolution, without any desire to debate actual policies and their impacts. A podcast trashing us or Rob Swearingen may make this crowd feel good, but surely they know no one is listening to them but themselves.
Or do they?
Make no mistake about it. No one gets a free ride, or at least no one should get a free ride. We don’t think Rep. Rob Swearingen, to cite just one example, should get the easy passes the Democrats offer him by putting up fringe candidates like Bangstad. 
We think, for example, that there should be a substantive debate about economic subsidies flowing to big corporations in southern Wisconsin, and what that means for working people here. That’s one area Republicans should be tested, and there are many more. Likewise, Democrats should be tested on such things as a one-size-fits-all minimum wage and Second Amendment rights.
Both sides should be tested on open government.
And yet we hear none of these things in campaigns because the Democrats do not run serious candidates. And while it’s true that northern Wisconsin is heavily Republican, and in noncompetitive districts serious potential candidates in minority parties tend to shy away from running, thus leaving the field open to perennial fringe laughing stocks, this seems to be happening in most of the state.
The decline of a serious opposition party enables Republicans to increasingly escape accountability, the very thing the fringe says is bad. It is bad, increasingly so, but they are the reason for it. The way to accountability is not through progressively intoxicating beer, but through sober debate of issues of concern to average people — issues of jobs and taxes, of economic development and fairness.
In years past, we had Democrats who were willing to talk about shoreland zoning and its impact on housing for the poor, for example, or the impact of gas taxes on Northwoods households, not to mention economic diversity and small business competitiveness.
These days we just have Baghdad Bangstad, yelling about treason and traitors and sedition, stroking his ego with looped dialogue with disconnected leftists from far away, promising that the right wing infidels will soon be cutting their own throats.
Just come on in and have a progressive beer. The message goes down better the more you drink.