Sunday, August 30, 2009

Rove's World

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
August 30, 2009

By Bill Kraus

The people in charge of what remains of the Republican Party insist that they realize that as long as the party’s agenda is dominated and characterized by social issues it will not win elections. The misguided wedge era is at an end. It is time to get back to the basics of frugality, competence, and regulation-lite. Or so they say.

Their entrepreneurial candidates have not all seen the light, however.

Scott Walker, who has the most money and a head start on the GOP nomination for governor, has sent out a mailing insisting that he is the MOST pro-life candidate.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has decided that his re-election candidacy will be enhanced by not doing what he was elected to do and instead is flirting with being afflicted by the kind of homophobia that is being rejected in "radical" states like Iowa and by "left wing" Republicans like Ted Olson.

And no incumbent in Congress from our state has picked up where Tommy left off on trying to get a handle on the economy/job-killing cost of our employer-based health care system. To elaborate: At one time when he was serving as Secretary of the Health and Human Services in the Bush administration, Tommy proposed a crash program to computerize the health care records of everyone in the country in 18 months. Karl Rove, the illegitimate father of wedge politics, nixed the plan. The Republican’s willingness to fix high-cost-mediocre-results health care has gone downhill from there.

The free-market ideologues in our state Legislature do not hear the GOP state chairman when he tells them that the party is losing the campaign funding battle because too many Republicans are afraid to support the kind of modest public funding that would level the fiscal playing field. Stupid.

Until and unless the Republican Party rejects the partisanization of abortion rights, civil unions, and even gun control in urban areas, and gets back to frugal fixing of the public sector operations its main contribution to elective politics will be to enhance the candidacy of unpopular Democrats who will keep the Republican radicals at bay.

The thing that made Jim Doyle unbeatable was his veto pen not his programs or his personal charm.

So the only hope for the Republicans seems to be the Democrats’ likely hubris.

One of the truest truisms of politics is that we know how to handle defeat better than victory.

I would much prefer to see the Republicans base their campaign to regain power on a return to their traditional strengths instead of waiting for their opponents to go too far with theirs.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

The status quo and the people who love it

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
August 24, 2009

By Bill Kraus

Thirty one years ago Bill Safire of the NY Times wrote an Election Day column in which he said, “[The] wrong-headed rejection of political labels--the glorification of non-participation--is at the root of the rise of single-issue voting which bids fair to make this year’s election more of a battle between local extremist groups than a referendum on the nation’s case of hardening arteries.”

At the time, the forces of the status quo were re-directing the money, which was and still is the mother’s milk of politics, from the political parties to the proliferating and rapidly rising single-issue groups.

Without money the parties lost their power to recruit and slate candidates, and a diverse collection of entrepreneurial candidates picked up a party banner that most suited them and we entered the abominable era of wedge politics.

As we quickly learned, money that once went to the parties’ coffers began to flow disproportionately to protecting the status quo. This should have been expected inasmuch as those with money usually got it from the existing conditions and situation, which is the definition of "status quo."

Instead of representatives legislating for the benefit of the people they represent and the nation, state or districts from which they came, they became more and more beholden to the money and the issues and the interests and the causes that they believe got them there in the first place and whose money and votes they needed to stay in office.

Among the unfortunate events that beset our current president, the full flowering of the Safire prediction may be the most intractable.

It is on full display in the battle by the interests and their money to NOT change the way health care is delivered and paid for in this country.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Talking around the problem

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
August 16, 2009

By Bill Kraus

A recent e-mail message from a long time liberal Republican whose campaign for a U.S. Senate seat was derailed in the primary by someone who was passionately anti-abortion reminded me of the dangers of over-simplifying complex issues.

It wasn't that long ago that no one would have heard of my friend’s contention that this wasn’t about people who were pro-life versus those who were--what?--pro-death. This was about who would get to choose a hateful procedure, whether that procedure would be lawful, and, if not, what the punishment would be for those who provided and requested it.

The current e-mail was also about another even more complex question and, unconscionably, included a joke about an "Obama Sandwich"--the person who orders it gets to eat it and someone else pays for it--which is this political season’s victim of an attempt to over-simplify to a slogan, phrase, joke.

To some extent I fault the administration for letting the discussion about reform be about medical welfare for the over-publicized 40 million instead of about high medical costs and mediocre medical results.

The fact that my correspondent devoted most of his e-mail to railing against the young, cavalier, cheap, or maybe just stupid part of the 40 million who will unjustifiably benefit from the proposed reform indicates that Obama’s attempt to change the subject and the debate has not yet registered.

The 40 million are a small part of the problem. Bringing them into the mainstream may even be a part of the cost solution.

The main reason for reform is that the U.S. cannot compete in a flat world economy until and unless our grossly inefficient and relatively ineffective way of delivering health care is brought into line. The old saw about GM--”Their Blue Cross bill is higher than their steel bill”--afflicts everyone and everything everyone makes.

The insurance/employer-based system is, in effect, killing our ability to compete.

That’s the problem.

It’s not who will benefit from the fix.

It’s not who will decide how much to pay for what procedure for which patient.

It’s not about denying treatment or downgrading a not-that-great health care delivery system.

It’s about surviving in a world economy where our competitors are getting better health care results for half the money.

Let’s figure out how to do that.

Let’s quit with the slogans, the one liners, the jokes, and the shouting, and get to work on the problem.

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Gaming the system: a short history

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
August 8, 2009

By Bill Kraus

In 1972 Nixon was worried about having enough money to win re-election against the lovable but self-destructive George McGovern. The prospect of Nixon losing was right up there with Lyndon Johnson’s fear of losing to the less lovable but equally self-destructive Barry Goldwater in 1964.

In both cases paranoia trumped reality. Johnson seriously considered pulling out of a race that he won in a landslide. Nixon turned the Republican Party’s very efficient fund raising into something approaching extortion.

Watergate ensued.

The reforms that followed the excesses of 1972 removed the parties from the front line of fundraising, which was the most important reason for their existence and the only reason that candidates tolerated them.

Political Action Committees’ money replaced the parties’ and the era of special interest money driven campaigning was born.

It was quickly apparent to the elected executives and legislative leaders that this put way too much power in the hands of the Political Action Committees and their money.

Toll booth politics and legislative caucus fund raising were invented to contain them. The Political Action Committees had to divert their contributions to the leaders who controlled the flow of legislation, and a new kind of order was restored to the process.

Corralling was not enough, however. The need for money for campaigns had escalated to the point that the legislative leaders and executive officers couldn’t squeeze enough out of the interests to run competitive races everywhere.

This problem was ameliorated by yellow dog redistricting. The legislators conspired to redistrict the states in ways that would drastically reduce the numbers of truly competitive, high cost campaigns. This safe-seat initiative has reached a kind of zenith in Massachusetts, where it is alleged that there are no competitive races for that state’s legislature.

All of this has led to a political system where three people run the state. The governor, the Majority Leader of the State Senate, and the Speaker of the Assembly.

How do you like it?

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Cynical about nostalgia

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
August 2, 2009

By Bill Kraus

The movement to return to the 1960s has surfaced recently in the shape of a proposal to de-cabinetize the DNR.

There are several groups and organizations supporting this idea.

There are the nostalgics. They believe that the commission form of government that dominated Wisconsin state government for our first 100-plus years was better in every way. Each major unit was run by a bureau chief. The bureau chiefs were appointed by and reported to a citizen board. These boards had staggered terms so that it was unlikely that any governor would have named all or a majority of the members.

In practice this was not anything any governor-phobe had to worry about. The appointees with rare exceptions were quickly captured by the bureau chiefs and their staffs. Their loyalty to the appointing governors faded, and the state had a government by bureaucrats not the anticipated government by commissions.

These were dedicated, responsible, service-oriented, incorruptible executives. The system was anti-democratic. It worked.

Another, better-organized source of support for de-cabinetizing is the interests that are subject to the DNR’s regulatory whims and want to set the priorities for this major state department. The DNR commission was, until the mid-1960s, pretty much a creature or a captive of the hunting and fishing lobbies and their conservation allies' organizations. They pretty much ran things as long as they ran them the way their bureau chief thought best, which was usually what they thought was best as well.

This system was also anti-democratic. It, too, worked.

More recently, an unorganized but growing constituency best described as political cynics has decided that elected officials are too powerful, too beholden to their campaign contributors, and too invincible. This group will support any idea that curtails the power of the people who have been elected to run the place.

Among the power centers weighing in with the cynicals is the members of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board. Their motives are not revealed, but probably are partially biased in favor of the “experts know best” tilt of the nostalgics and the interest blocs.

The main opposition to the de-cabinetizing of the DNR is coming from anyone who has, had, or wants to have the job of governing the state. What these CEO types know is that the governor is held responsible for everything that happens on his or her watch. This is why governors want authority commensurate with their responsibility, including particularly the authority to select those subordinates who will be in charge of the major departments of the government.

This outnumbered group can and should ask a couple of questions:

Someone should ask the members of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board if they also think Journal Communications company executives should delegate their authority to hire and fire the members of the editorial board to a group of appointed citizens.

They and everyone else in favor of non-cabinet government should also be asked, “If this is such a great idea, shouldn’t it be adopted by the federal government as well?”

Unless on second thought it would not have been a good idea for leftover Clinton commissioners and leftover Bush commissioners to be running the Bush and Obama programs until and unless those commissioners were ultimately replaced.

In short. If you don’t like the governor, elect a new one. Don’t hobble the one you have elected.

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