July 26, 2008
By Bill Kraus
The marriage broth, not unlike other broths, has too many cooks. A very long time ago Lee Dreyfus anticipated the welling controversy and had a solution. “Marriage,” he said, “is a religious rite, and churches, sects, whatever, can and should decide who is eligible for the ritual in their several places of worship.”
This means that politicians can decide what rights and privileges they will give to whatever personal combinations and relationships they think is good public policy irrespective of these ritualistic decisions, restrictions, dogma.
Charles C. Harper’s of the 1st Amendment Center take on this matter is similar but goes further. He thinks the religious organizations and their clergy are not and should not be agents of the state. They should not be coerced into recognizing same-sex relationships in contradiction of church doctrine. Nor should the politicians’ civil decisions derive from or conform to those doctrines.
Putting an end to this church-state entanglement (which is embodied in the phrase “by the power vested in me, I now pronounce…”) won’t end the gay marriage debate, but it would refocus it on the government benefits rather than on the “sanctity” question.
Those religious orders that disapprove of gay marriage can do so by withholding their blessing without becoming quasi-governmental bodies, he concludes.
Not a bad idea, Charles, to reaffirm the separation of church and state, God and mammon.
It doesn’t address the more tantalizing question a teenager in Osseo asked a lay counselor/parishioner who was walking a church class through the gay marriage minefield, however. “Why do people care so much?” she asked.
That may be a more appropriate subject for the theologians to ponder than the politicians.
July 18, 2008
Anonymous and loving it
By Bill Kraus
The game is politics.
The entry fee is money.
The players are the candidates, the political parties, and anyone or anything (anything being an organization with members with money and a cause, bias, phobia, preference on or about any subject or candidate) else.
The candidates’ rules are well defined and rigorously enforced. They must reveal the names and occupations of their contributors, and their contributors are subject to limitations on the amounts that they can give to the candidates’ campaigns. The penalties for non-compliance are harsh.
There are similar, much more lax and flexible, rules for what the political parties can collect and spend.
Everyone else who can pay an entry fee can do or say almost anything they want, use money from anyone without limits or without identifying where they got the money, and can do so anonymously.
There are two restrictions on their participation.
They cannot collude with the candidates they support.
They cannot use the words “vote for” or “vote against” the candidates they favor or oppose.
Not a problem.
There are two kinds of organizations that are participating under these very liberal rules.
One kind is usually a membership organization whose members are identifiable in general and whose agenda is obvious from the name. WEAC is funded by teachers and supports things you would expect teachers to support, including better pay and benefits for teachers.
WMC is a business organization whose members’ interests are mostly economic, and who support and oppose things you would expect them to support. The only difference between WEAC and WMC is that the businesses that contribute to the political activity of WMC are, for the most part, not willing to broadcast this fact.
The other organizations have goody-two-shoes names (Greater Wisconsin Committee, the Coalition for America’s Families, One Wisconsin Now, The Club for Growth) and agendas that can be ferreted out by the people they choose to front for them: Bill Christofferson, Steve King, Scot Ross, for example.
Thanks to the over-the-top protection of free speech and free speakers by the U.S. Supreme Court it is none of your or my business who is paying for the messages they promulgate.
There is a proposal to bring some transparency to the participation of all of these incipient campaign hijackers which most lawyers think will get past the Supreme Court.
You will not be surprised to learn that it is vigorously and anonymously opposed by the above-named beneficiaries of these two sets of rules.
Anyone out there in favor of a fair fight on an even playing field?
July 12, 2008
By Bill Kraus
What campaign reform proposals seek is spending limits. There are bills that would increase things like donor transparency and some other reforms as well, but the main thrust of almost every campaign spending reform proposal is to put a lid on the amount of money candidates and anyone else who weighs in on campaigns can spend.
Every poll that is taken indicates that a huge majority of the people think this is a worthy goal. Whether they think so because they have had a bellyful of TV ads from candidates and third parties or whether their motivation is more lofty is irrelevant.
Almost all responsible newspapers editorialize in favor of this kind of reform as well. Whether this is because they are unhappy that the excessive spending goes toward television advertising rather than newspaper advertising is also irrelevant.
Unfortunately a large majority of those with the power to enact and approve the legislation which would limit campaign spending do not want spending limits.
There are a lot of reasons that governors, legislators, and supreme courts give for this position.
Spending limits inhibit free speech.
Spending limits can only be imposed if public money is provided to candidates, and this is welfare for politicians.
Spending limits are anti-democratic, because they limit the range and volume of a free discussion of political issues and political candidates.
Spending limits are regulation run amok, and you know how we feel about regulation.
All of these reasons are really excuses for not doing what the people in power don’t want to do.
The Supreme Court has a severe case of first amendment myopia. Once it decided that money was speech it turned a blind side to the collateral damage of things like giving candidates the right to confront their enemies.
Incumbents, who are not challenged by millionaires and who haven’t offended any third parties with deep pockets, have an almost insurmountable advantage in raising money.
Few candidates will admit to this aversion to spending limits, but it’s possible to discover their true position by asking if they favor campaign finance reform. If the answer is an unqualified yes or no, you can move on.
The more likely answer is “yes, but.” One of the "buts" has to do with the danger of unilaterally disarming when the third parties’ and millionaires’ spending is not limited. This calls for a follow-up question which asks about the candidate’s possible vote on the Ellis-Erpenbach bill that deals with that problem.
All other “buts” are really “no” in disguise.
July 5, 2008
By Bill Kraus
What you get on that part of talk radio with which I am acquainted is an interesting and unpredictable blend of what the journalist host thinks is important, what the guests want to talk about, and what is on the callers’ minds.
The journalist host always has the lead oar. He or she gives the guests a heads up about what the program is going to be about, often this is accompanied by an e-mail which transmits copies of the news stories (from newspapers, of course, without which there would be no talk radio) on the journalist’s agenda.
This agenda suffers two significant diversions.
The guests have not come to town on a turnip truck and are adept at changing the subject from the question posed by the host to something they want to talk about.
A recent example was the story about General Wesley Clark’s assertion that being shot down in Vietnam and spending six years as a prisoner of war (if, indeed, it is possible to be a prisoner of an undeclared war) does not constitute war heroism.
The guests quickly put that aside and launched into something they wanted to talk about: personal attacks in political campaigns. After letting the host and the audience know that they didn’t know or care about the candidates’ faith life or sex life for example, they turned the segment into a lamentation about the lack of ideas in the current campaign and the hired guns addiction to “gotcha” personality politics.
As I look over a preview script from a recent show, I find in retrospect that the only prospective story that survived was gas prices, and the guests’ contributions were mostly about the power of the market versus the power of the government, which ended with all agreeing that the market pretty much does what it wants to do.
The third party in talk radio is made up of the callers.
Callers are screened to get rid of the regular screamers who often find a way past the screen by lying to the screeners. Thirty years ago the curse of talk radio was the so-called Pickens people. Their question was always, “Why is the governor keeping an innocent Christian in jail?” But they got on the air to ask the question by saying they wanted to talk about something of more general interest like the state budget. They started with a phrase about this before shifting, stridently to their real question. One guest, who shall remain nameless, challenged the Pickens people's religious knowledge by saying “I think there was only one innocent Christian.”
Ultimately the screeners win this contest because they recognize the repeat callers’ voices.
Putting the nut cases aside, the callers do seem to call mostly about a subject that has been introduced by the host or the guests’ alteration of that subject. Callers rarely add to the agenda.
Most talk radio producers think their listeners want a fight not a discussion and pick their guests based on some sort of belligerence index.
My own preference is for a more reasoned, lower key discussion as practiced by, say, David Brooks and Mark Shields on "The Lehrer Report."
I even think that they are more entertaining as well as more informative, which gives you an idea of how far behind the curve I am.