September 28, 2006
The Coulee Six
By Guy Wolf
Six Coulee region activists—June Kjome, Gail Vaughn, Matt Stewart, Jeremy Jansen, Chris Vogts and Antia Zibton—were ticketed this week for protesting U.S. involvement in Iraq at Senator Herb Kohl's Office in La Crosse. Supported by approximately 40 citizens of the La Crosse area who gathered outside the La Crosse Post Office, the six spoke to Kohl aide and former La Crosse mayor John Medinger for more than 90 minutes.
The discussion covered Iraq, a failing war on terror, the role of U.S. cover-up leading to war, the possible military threat to Iraq and a host of other issues. The activists all agreed the U.S. must withdraw troops from Iraq and implement a real plan to bring peace to the Middle East. They were fined $95 and asked to appear in La Crosse Municipal Court at on October 25 at 8:30 a.m. Their attorney, Keith Belzer, accompanied police as they entered the building. Medinger and the police attempted to convince them to leave the offices. Three of the protestors left; the remaining six refused, requesting that Sen. Kohl take a position to end the War in Iraq.
After being ticketed and released, the six and Belzer walked out of the Federal Post Office to the cheers and hugs of fellow citizens of the city.
We are particularly proud of the actions of these six individuals who were very active in the anti-war referendum vote, and have worked tirelessly for an end to conflict in the Middle East. While the six activists were "holed-up" in Kohl's office, the remaining citizens engaged in a discussion about the tactics and practices of Dr. Martin Luther King.
Thank you to everyone who attended and supported the protest. Next we must:
1) Attend the hearing on October 25.
2) Write/phone/e-mail Senator Kohl's office and tell him to support an end to U.S. involvement in Iraq.
3) Support the six folks with phone calls, e-mails, and letters of support. (And some of the students could use some cash if they fail to have their fines lifted in court).
September 23, 2006
One more question
By Bill Kraus
A couple more polls have hit the press recently confirming what all preceding polls on this subject have concluded: Voters are fed up with what they regard as a corrupt, money-driven election process.
They want reform.
They want the people they elect to be more responsive to them and less responsive to the special interests and the organized money that contributes to their campaigns.
And the numbers who are unhappy are overwhelming.
Well and good.
The problem is that most voters continue to elect representatives who do not change the system.
Most candidates do not even make election system change a part of their campaigns.
Most candidates, when asked, do not even respond to easy yes and no questions about what reforms they would support if elected.
Most voters elect them anyway and worst of all they especially favor the candidates who spend the most money.
There is a disconnect here.
These polls should, at the very least, ask one more question: “What are you going to do to get rid of the things you don’t like and to get the things you want?”
Don’t be surprised if the answer is, “Don’t know what to do.”
Isn’t that the problem the reformers should be finding an answer for?
September 15, 2006
By Bill Kraus
I am the self-appointed chairman of a new organization that is composed of former Republicans. It has no name. It has no standing. And as long as its members are mostly 80-year-old has-beens, it doesn’t have much of a future either.
Except as an idea or possibly even an inspiration for the disaffected of every persuasion.
The members (yes, there is a former Democrats division as well) have a couple of things in common.
The first is a negative. They are disgusted with the rush to the extremes and the pandering to extremists by both parties. The Republicans who have forgotten their roots and have become paranoid behavior-police who want guns at their hips and a kind of white bread world where everyone behaves the way they should (supply your own “should”). The Democrats have become demonizers on the mistaken assumption that voters will turn out in large numbers if they can only be convinced that the Republicans are not simply wrong-headed and incompetent, but agents of the devil as well. Actually their assumption is half right in a perverse way. The voters who are turning out in large numbers as a result of demonization are the Republican extremists who are rushing to defend their standard bearers against these over-the-top attacks.
But mutual revulsion gets us nowhere.
The other thing they have in common is more constructive. They believe that the public sector has a legitimate role to play in society, and they want a government that works to play that role.
They will dispute how big the public sector role should be. They will dispute how to go about playing the role. But since they agree on the basic, non-anarchistic premise, they want their representatives to work out the workings of the government, to compromise, to give them a government that works. They want their views to be respected and will respect their adversaries’ (not their enemies) views as well.
The problem, of course, is that they have no place to go, no leaders to follow, no organizing principle.
Their parties have deserted them on the assumption that they don’t amount to much; that the road to electoral success is building on the extreme partisans in their base.
Candidates and parties don’t fight it out over the middle anymore. They are focused on mobilizing the partisans at the edges instead.
The obvious way to bring citizen politicians back into play and the middle into the deciding role in campaigns is to revive the parties, give them the crucial roles of slating and funding campaigns at all levels.
This is not going to happen. The guardians of the post-party status quo--no matter how appalling the reformers, the 500-pound political weaklings, even most of the people think it is--are simply too powerful. Start with the money, accurately characterized as the mother’s milk of politics by Lyndon Johnson (a political master), from all sources, organized or not. Add the political leaders, legislative and executives, who are the system’s rainmakers. Television broadcasters whose profits depend on a continuation of politics as marketing. The campaign management industry which has grown from a few pollsters to a full blown segment of the persuasion business. All of the above and more are formidable without being aided and abetted by the Supreme Court and the over-my-dead body protectors of free speech which they are as well.
The system, for these reasons and more, is beyond reforming.
It needs reinventing.
September 8, 2006
Smarter than I thought?
By Bill Kraus
One of my laments is the absence of the 30 and 40 year olds in politics.
I keep looking for them in the usual places: county chairs; convention delegates; finance committees. The places where the power resided when the parties were slating candidates and funding campaigns and providing the foot soldiers to do the grunt work that is (was?) an essential part of campaigning.
What I keep forgetting and they may have figured out is that the usual places are not where the power is anymore. The parties are no longer the main event.
There is a post-party power vacuum that has been filled by PACs and a wide variety of special interest organizations.
Only those of us who are confusing reform with nostalgia, or vice versa, look for a shift of power to the general interests. What the realists (including the 30 and 40 year olds?) have decided is that there is a new game in town. And the special interests are in charge of it.
What they are telling us is that the old game isn’t coming back, and they’ll play the cards that are being dealt until and unless political campaigning is reinvented.
What I wish they would do is outsmart us oldies again and find a cleaner, cheaper way to pick people who know where the general interest is to run our governments.
September 2, 2006
Alas, the attorney general race
By Bill Kraus
The reporter for the Daily Cardinal called me to ask why the four-way (so far) race for attorney general was so nasty.
The easy answer is that the four candidates are being advised by political marketers who are telling them that attack campaigns work, and none of them seem to have asked whether positive campaigns might as well.
The inevitable denouement is that campaigns that are not about “who I am and what I will do” but about how despicable my opponents are will be nasty.
Judicial campaigns and campaigns for offices like those for the attorney general are admittedly more susceptible to this kind of personalization than those with more issue/policy content. Judicial candidacies are almost doomed to being beauty contests. And the attorney general’s race is as well.
Judges, who do get into the interpretation of policy, can’t talk about what they will do about anything that might come before the court, which means, pretty much, they can’t talk about anything except who they are and what they have done. Attorneys general do a lot of good stuff, but they don’t do policy.
The attorneys general don’t know what will cross that desk if they get to sit behind it. So they can only say, “Here’s what I have done up to now” in hopes that this convinces the voters that they’ll be equally skillful at handling whatever comes down the pike if elected.
Pretty bland stuff in a world that has become a take-no-prisoners place where partisan supporters want to see blood and political marketers know how to deliver it.
Politics isn’t, never has been, probably never should be bean bag. But there is a chasm between disagreeing and dismembering. And the players and their handlers in this year’s AG election race seem to be bent as much on dismantling each other as on defining themselves.
Nasty. I hate it.