June 24, 2012
From incongruity to incompatibility
By Bill Kraus
In 1914, when the La Follette movement was at full strength, the voters rejected his attempt to limit the powers of those elected as representatives by adopting initiative and referendum and no-fault recalls.
This was before California showed the world that populism enhances instead of diminishing the power of the special interests La Follette opposed, especially special interests with money.
Ten years later the La Follette movement was well established, but La Follette’s life was over. The La Follette adherents decided to revive the no-fault recall to deter the opponents of the man and his ideas from reversing what La Follette, with the considerable help of Governor Francis McGovern, had wrought. They added the previously rejected no-fault recall provision to the Constitution to do this. Whether this was unnecessary or worked as intended is hard to determine.
In the long interim leading up to the frenetic last 18 months there were periodic attempts to add things like initiative and referendum and TABOR to the Wisconsin mix which went nowhere. One recall vote only claimed George Petak in all that time.
A recall embellishment was added late in 1987, however, at the behest of then-Senator Gary George. His proposal improved the chances of recalled incumbents by taking the lid off their ability to raise money as, if, and when threatened. Its passage did Senator George no good when he was recalled for malfeasance, but led to an excess of spending when recall mania reached fever pitch recently.
In 2012 the voters got another chance to have a say on the recalls. Spin doctors of the right and left to the contrary notwithstanding, the voters said what the voters of 1914 had said: no thanks.
Rather than reforming the too facile recall provision implanted in 1924 and closing the accompanying fundraising loophole, the partisans seem to have dug trenches again and paralysis is setting in.
The incongruousness is that the Democrats are rallying around Republican La Follette’s populist idea, and the Republicans seem to be bent on retaining Democrat George’s incumbents’ spending loophole.
My own view is that the attention of both camps should be on restoring and repairing the representative government that the founding fathers envisioned when they put their remarkable Constitution together.
Representative government is clearly subject to distortions by rabid causists and big money.
Initiative and referendum and no-fault recall do not deal with those threats; they exacerbate them.
What representative government needs is more citizen participation in the process of recruiting and electing superior people to be our representatives, and helping them deal with the increasingly complex and confounding problems that confront our government, our society, our way of life.
June 17, 2012
By Bill Kraus
The candidates’ lot is not a happy one.
Put yourself in the role of someone considering running for political office or trying to recruit someone of substance to do so.
For openers, any candidate must be told that a substantial amount of time and effort will have to be devoted to raising the money needed to finance these evermore expensive campaigns. The parties that used to do this--and that, in the process, insulated candidates from the quid pro quos that often accompany the money--disappeared in the wake of the Watergate reforms.
Campaigning itself is no kiss for Christmas either; plant gates, grabbing hands of people heading to work half-asleep and attentive or heading home tired and inattentive; doing doors; if you’re important enough, drawing the bilious scorn of the talk radio “entertainers” who are in the business of selling ad time.
There’s no telling what your opponent and those who support your opponent are going to say publicly about you, your forebears, your life, but it isn’t going to be pleasant.
Does this sound like self abuse amounting to masochism?
Is it any wonder that the candidate's occupational disease is paranoia? Justified paranoia. These people really do have enemies.
And if you win, you will be faced with an agenda full of close calls and uncertainty. Politicians typically make more difficult decisions in a single legislative session than most people make in a lifetime. These decisions, what’s more, can make ingrates or enemies of even those who voted for you.
Why would anyone do this? Because it’s an honorable trade which comes with enough power to leave a footprint and maybe even a page in the history books.
This, unhappily, is not enough justification for as many people as it once was, and the leadership elite that once raised the money and shepherded the campaigns is long gone. They outsourced. They send checks and keep their distance. They don’t want to be associated with a trade where the practitioners are heavily engaged in demeaning their adversaries and themselves.
The sad thing is that as the incentives for doing that difficult work have diminished the need for quality candidates has never been greater.
There is no hope of amelioration until and unless the voters themselves close the hatchet factory that politics has spawned with its ad hominem campaigns and slashing, simplistic advertising.
Pogo continues to be right. We have found the enemy and it is us.
We elected those representatives who we are giving a 'D'. We make it beyond daunting to attract the kind of representatives who we might give an 'A' or 'B'.
When we reward intelligence, ideas, civility, open mindedness, we will get what we say we want. Not before. I’m waiting.
June 11, 2012
Lights on and nobody home
By Bill Kraus
How can it be that we live in a low-information society? We have the remnants of the once dominant newspapers, we have TV news, we have radio, and, best of all, we have the incredible internet.
What we don’t have is a unifying, widely accepted public communication medium.
To put it as colloquially and simply as possible, we don’t have page 5 of the Milwaukee Sentinel. We don’t even have the Milwaukee Sentinel. The communication mantra when we did was that everyone in government read the morning paper, and whatever was on page one or the state news page 5 determined what everyone’s day would be like.
The operative word was “everyone,” including most of the citizenry.
There was TV news with its “if it bleeds, it leads” emphasis and its time constraints.
Radio was all over the place. From the often overlong on public radio, to the breathlessly short on commercial radio, spiced by the talk radio screamers who admit under questioning that they are really in the entertainment business.
This admission characterized the soft spot of broadcast news. They were in the business of delivering listeners and viewers to advertisers.
Which gets us to the crux. Advertisers.
Advertisers paid most of the newspapers’ cost, all of the commercial broadcasters’ costs.
The internet as an advertising/social/information medium was the monster who ate the money the other media needed to pay for all those people who went to hearings which didn’t produce stories, and went to zoning committee meetings, and watched and reported on everything that everyone in the community wanted, even needed, to know.
The newspapers had already taken an advertising revenue hit. They did not benefit from the extraordinary spending on political advertising. TV became the priority campaign medium. The campaign geniuses noticed that they didn’t have to buy space in a medium that was devoting space to covering what they were doing; 30-second emotional ads worked better than long copy idea ads.
The internet’s usurpation of the want ads finished off the newspapers money machine. Who knew how dependent newspapers were on this revenue stream, how much of it would be diverted to the internet providers, and what this diversion would do to the news gathering apparatus on which all the media depended?
The newspapers’ solution seems to be to put what remains of their coverage on the internet itself. This assumes that the iPad and other electronic devices will be the new delivery system for what the democracy needs and wants and what the newspaper model is clearly the best answer to the low citizen information malady.
Don’t bet on it.
You don’t see electronic readers on the plant floor, in the bathrooms, at the kitchen table, in the buses, at the bars.
The trouble is that the internet has destroyed the common, universal medium without replacing it.
Until and unless we get it back or find a replacement, this democracy will suffer from low information and high simplification.
As with too many conundrums, we know what isn’t working and haven’t figured out what will. The sliver of good news is that we also know is it is worth working on.
June 3, 2012
Desperately seeking Dewey
By Bill Kraus
I cast my first vote for president in 1948. I voted for Thomas Dewey. He lost. Since he lost to Harry Truman who later became an almost iconic figure in American history I didn’t talk much about my first vote. A little embarrassed.
Then I read a book about the contributions that presidential losers have made to the betterment of the country across the years. Henry Clay was definitely the top of the “should have beens” but was undermined by bad timing.
Stephen Douglas, who knew, devoted most of his energy to stopping the secessionists and saving the Democratic party after losing to Lincoln in 1860.
Even the flamboyant bible thumper William Jennings Bryan gets credit for many of the developments he never got into office to enact but his successors from both parties acceded to.
My biggest surprise, however, was Thomas Dewey.
I don’t know who I credited with the kind of Republicanism I tried to practice, but it sure wasn’t Dewey. It should have been.
He set the pace and was the model for the kind of governing that Eisenhower, Nixon, and Republican governors and legislators everywhere followed, advanced and succeded on.
What Dewey told the Republicans was that they should pursue progressive ends by conservative means.
Dewey had no desire to see the parties sharply divided along ideological lines and thought a large part of the strength of American democracy was the general similarities between the two parties.
This view was and still is highly objectionable to a vociferous few. They rail at both parties, saying they represent nothing but a choice between Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Dewey pointed out that this view was usually expressed by people who had no experience in governing and that none of them contributed much to the sober, tough business of it.
Not “me too” at all, Dewey was far ahead of the Democrats in tackling racial discrimination.
He even presaged the Libertarians (those without the anarchist gene) and looked to how to provide for the people’s welfare without sacrificing personal freedom. That was where he believed the Republicans held an advantage.
He even had a self-effacing sense of humor. After his defeat in 1948 he told a audience of young people “Any boy can become president--unless he’s got a mustache.”
He told the Republican Party that Americans are conservative. What they want to conserve is the New Deal. The welfare state is here to stay.
The Tea Party movement to purge the remnants of Republican liberals and moderates and pursue the party realignment of pure conservatism is what Dewey dreaded and predicted would lead to political disaster.
Bring back Dewey? Please. And soon.
June 2, 2012
Too high a price
By Carol A. Lobes
I have lived in Wisconsin for the past 44 years, over half my life. I've lived in three different counties in this state. I have traveled Wisconsin extensively for work and for recreation. This is my state, my only state. I am invested in this place. I chose it for the enlightenment of its citizens, its good government and its beauty.
The idea that anyone could buy this state is beyond unacceptable. The idea that my vote would be swayed by huge amounts of money bombarding all means of communication with untenable messages is insulting. I understand that Scott Walker is outspending Tom Barrett by a ratio of about 25 to 1. Unprecedented millions of dollars are involved. The last statistic that I saw showed that about 70 percent of that jaw-dropping amount for the governor came from out of state interests.
It is interesting that all the money and the travel by the governor to raise funds out of state and all the other outside messages coming to his defense are not really getting Scott Walker his needed majority. It matters that the Republican attempt at voter suppression (Voter ID law) will not be in effect for the upcoming recall election.
I can only hope that critical thinking and Wisconsin self-determination prevail. Really, we cannot and should not be bought.