July 28, 2006
By Bill Kraus
There is a plaque on the sidewalk of 41st Street in New York City that leads to the New York Public Library. The quote is attributed to Thomas Jefferson. It reads: “Where the press is free and man is able to read all is well.”
The press is free here. Man is able to read. All is a long way from being well. So what happened?
Reporters have always been the bane of people in power, mostly politicians, but that’s normal in an arena where paranoia is the occupational disease. Reporters also have suffered a kind of Rodney Dangerfield “I get no respect” relationship with the general public. This despite the fact that by not getting worse reporters have moved up on the respectability scale: CEOs are falling, accountants are in disrepute, even priests must be somewhere below them by now.
Readership of their stuff is down as newspaper circulation declines and newspapers turn increasingly to fluff to attract the audience of affluent, profligate buyers that their advertisers seek.
Actually, reporters are probably getting the widest audience ever, because television and radio outlets continue to rely on them for content. Want to be on CBS evening news? Get a story in the New York Times.
The plethora of bloggers who clog the Internet with their opinions (including, alas, this one) claim they have usurped the journalists’ function of making power accountable. What they don’t mention is that the facts they base their opinions on come from the same reporters who are supplying most of what is coming out of radio and TV newsrooms.
It isn’t good. It isn’t fair. And it isn’t right. And the worst of the undesirable side effects of the decline of newspapers and their readership and the reduction in the numbers of reporters doing what reporters do is that the information that is needed to make “all well” is increasingly being promulgated by (mostly political) marketers and image spinners and hired guns, packaged in 30-second sound bites.
You thought the Know Nothings went away sometime in the middle of the 19th century. They’re back.
July 22, 2006
A big decision
By Bill Kraus
The Wisconsin Supreme Court decision in the Rongstad case does at least three interesting things.
It avenges some McCarthy-like campaign advertising which is designed to deceive and defame more than anything.
It challenges what has come to be known as free speech absolutism in politics, the “all’s fair in love, war and political campaigns” idea that Governor Doyle, for one, seems to embrace.
And it calls the “full disclosure” bluff. This is espoused by many of the leading, articulate, reluctant Republicans. Their contention is that if the voters know where the money behind the message is coming from, they will have enough context information to credit or dismiss it.
But many of those who want absolute free speech also want to keep the sponsors’ identities a secret. So part of being really free, means it has to be covert as well.
So where do we go from here?
Certainly the so-called 527 organizations, people like The Greater Wisconsin Committee and The Coalition For America’s Families and even more transparent groups like Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce are going to be, at least, very worried about the disclosure part of the decision. They may be satisfied to let it go on the theory that they can continue to hide the identity of their benefactors by asserting that their messages are deceptive or defamatory.
On the other hand, their sources may not be satisfied that their anonymity is adequately protected as long as the Rongstad decision is on the books. This would shut down the money supply, a death sentence.
Assuming that they feel they are going to have to do something about this possibility, a direct attack on the supremes seems the most likely recourse. This means, for openers, that the issue is going to be in play overtly or covertly in the race for the open seat on the Supreme Court.
This happened on a different issue in Illinois a year ago. The result was a Supreme Court race that cost $13 million.
Are we ready for this, or is everybody getting tired of money being the decisive factor in all of our political races?
And we get to decide. All we have to do is start voting for the people not the money. Now there’s a radical idea.
July 16, 2006
Grand Old Days
By Bill Kraus
Once upon a time, the Republican Party was where the voters turned when they wanted a government that worked. Its candidates believed that the public sector had a “legitimate” if not a “starring” role to play in society.
Those candidates offered fiscal responsibility, even frugality.
Pretty boring stuff, but the Republicans gave a lot of people what they wanted: A government that worked.
The party also attracted its share of anarchists who thought, not unlike the Communist Party, that the government should simply go away. This wing thought they had their messiah when Reagan was elected, but were disillusioned when he turned out to be as much of an activist as those he ran against and replaced.
But at no time was the party’s agenda dominated by the behavioral items that are so important to the so-called base today.
It is hard to believe that Republican candidates believe that their chances of winning are diminished if they don’t buy into the inflammatory pro-gun, anti-gay, anti-choice, pro-flag, even anti-stem-cell-research agenda.
But they do.
The fact that voters who are part of these narrow, one-issue blocs have nowhere else to go is widely overlooked. They could stay home, of course, but that would merely improve the chances of people who take the other side of these issues. Not a good idea.
A more serious threat to Republican electoral success is the voters who are turned off and away by the behavioral ideas and issues that are not only on the agenda but have risen to the top of it and have elbowed the traditional Republican assets and virtues aside.
These voters can also stay home, but the more ominous prospect is that they will vote for others who are more open-minded on these once subordinate issues.
July 5, 2006
The early line
By Bill Kraus
In short, it's Doyle in a walk.
Granted the Democrats are somewhere between disappointed and disgusted with his administration ("Clinton-lite" is the kindest description), and he turns out to be a cold (as opposed to a cool) operator.
But he's doing one thing right, and he's the beneficiary of the politician's greatest gift: a flawed opponent.
The fact that there is too much power in too few hands in Madison goes unremarked. As does the fact that orange suits are the sartorial rage these days among the people who once had too much of that concentrated power.
There are probably several reasons Mark Green doesn't make the corruption issue, but none of them strike me as worthy.
But putting that aside.
The reasons Doyle will win are that he has co-opted the people who could roll out the heavy artillery against him, but won't. The business community isn't going to endorse him, may not even give him much money (which he doesn't need anyway), but they are not likely to go far beyond token opposition. Why should they?
The unhappy Democrats are going to come home, because they have nowhere else to go and they cannot abide the possibility of a God, guns, gays, death penalties and feeding tube cabal in place in three wings of the state Capitol instead of the current two. If there were a goalie of the year trophy in politics, Jim Doyle would win it. It isn't what he did so much as what he stopped others from doing that is going to count in November.
And Mark Green, a certifiably nice and able man, shows no inclination to appeal to the moderate Republicans (who can and probably will stay home) or the unhappy Democrats.
Will Doyle win?
How can he lose?