April 30, 2004
When we were citizens
By Bill Kraus
The book is called Downsizing Democracy. It was written by a couple of Johns Hopkins political science professors named Mathew Henson and Benjamin Ginsburg, and its message and conclusion are appalling.
Once upon a time we were citizens, then we became voters, and now we have sunk to the status of consumers, they say.
Citizens were thought to own government, while customers merely receive services from it. Citizens belong to a political community with a collective existence and public purposes. Customers are individual purchasers seeking to meet their private needs in a market. Customers are not engaged in collective mobilization to achieve collective interests.
Citizens have been demoted to customers; public administration to customer relations.
Citizenship is hard work. So it is easy to do what the president recommended after 9-11: Go shopping, get on with your lives, and hug your children.
If you can get what you want from the government without organizing as citizens, why bother to go to all the trouble that political activism entails?
Read the book. It is a graphic reminder of the aphorism that we get the government we deserve.
How do we like it?
April 23, 2004
Remember the number
By Bill Kraus
A 527 is a charitable organization that plays politics. It is also a major loophole in the reforms that were embodied in the McCain-Feingold bill.
McCain and Feingold and most organizations that would like to limit the impact of money on elections want to close the loophole. The 527s, of every persuasion, say that any such limitation is an assault on free speech.
It is a little more complicated than that.
What the 527 loophole allows is people with money and a point of view to enter the rule-ridden world of campaign activity. With a difference. There are rules that govern the candidates and the parties. The contributions they take are limited in kind and amount, and the names of the people who contribute must be disclosed.
But there are no rules for the 527s. They can say what they want, spend what they want, and raise money without disclosing where it comes from.
It is not about free speech after all. It's about fairness.
April 16, 2004
By Bill Kraus
You can say what you want to about legislative leaders, but you can't call them dumb.
When the Watergate reforms spawned Political Action Committees (PACs) and threatened to shift the power away from the legislative leaders to the PACs and their money, the legislative leaders invented legislative campaign committees and redirected the PAC money to those coffers that they controlled.
When independent campaigns and phony issue ads raised the ticket on competitive races to never-heard-of levels, the legislative leaders slowly, surely, and quietly redistricted the Legislature to reduce the number of high-cost competitive races to a manageable and affordable few.
Did they intend to produce a Legislature full of invincible incumbents where only 10 percent of the races in any election are truly competitive? Probably not. But that is what we have.
What we need now is a Supreme Court decision making the law of unintended consequences unconstitutional, because it is playing havoc with our so-called democracy.
April 9, 2004
By Bill Kraus
In a recent speech in Madison, former Governor Lee Dreyfus talked about his Republican Party being hijacked. A couple of weeks ago, when he announced his retirement from the Legislature, DuWayne Johnsrud elaborated on the phenomenon.
He said part of the reason he is retiring is the pandering to right-wing zealots that he says the Republican Party too often does in the state Legislature. "I just think we can win and keep the majority by being moderate and more of a centrist party than caterwaulin' with some of these right-wing zealots that are in the Capitol," Johnsrud said.
Johnsrud says he is a "relic" in the Republican Party because he is a progressive. And he says a prime example of the extreme right controlling the Republican agenda is on the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. "I don't think that issue rises to the level of changing our state Constitution or our national Constitution," Johnsrud added
"I get a kick out of listening to Republicans pontificating about how they believe in personal freedoms and then turn around and kick the crap out of a minority called gays."
Johnsrud says he does not suffer fools gladly and tired of the grind with all the "bovine crapola" around the Capitol. “I'm a relic as a Republican.”
The question that Lee and DuWayne are raising without asking it directly is: “Where does a moderate go to register?”
April 2, 2004
By Bill Kraus
This proposal is not an April fool's day joke, although the presidential campaign that inspired it is flirting with that characterization: Let's ban campaign commercials.
What is becoming increasingly obvious is that 30-second political television advertising is as dangerous to our democratic health as banned 30-second cigarette and hard liquor commercials are presumed to be to our physical well being.
So why not simply ban the former as well?
Well, there is the money for one thing. Political advertising, which used to be a nuisance to television broadcasters, is now an economic necessity. No political TV = no profits.
The other thing, of course, is that the destructive campaigning of the last half century (remember when it was possible to like Ike without abhorring Adlai?) has driven so many people away from what was once an honorable trade practiced by remarkable people, that the only way to find and persuade voters is with the kind of fast, slick advertising that was invented to sell colas and beers rather than ideas and leaders.
If political commercials were banned, is it possible that the politicians could get their good names back and the moderate-middle voters who used to decide elections would become political again?
It is worth a try.