Monday, November 30, 2009

Anarchy in the GOP

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
November 30, 2009

By Bill Kraus

Before the behavioral huns overran the party, the biggest thorn in the side of the big-tent moderates who used to run the Republican Party were the “true” conservatives.

Or to put it another way, even if the people who run what remains of the party and the more powerful and numerous hired guns who are running the entrepreneurial conservatives’ campaigns are struck by lightning and realize that abortion, gay rights, and gun rights are not partisan issues, the activists have to cope with the anti-tax/regulation/government anarchists.

They don’t call themselves that, of course, since the name brings to mind the Fabians, Karl Marx, and other anti-government European radicals. They call themselves libertarians or, if that’s too political, simply Adam Smith free marketers even though Adam Smith would probably excommunicate them.

They are to some extent the heirs of the perpetrators of the Boston Tea Party group run amok. They are consistently anti-tax. Their other basic premise is that no government body can run anything, or run anything well. The other side of this coin is that the free market private sector can run everything and run everything efficiently. An idea they hold to for dear life unaware that that it has been somewhat tarnished by missteps in several areas and places recently.

They are playing a leading role in the current health care debate as they did in the same debate in the late 1940s. They won then by stopping Harry Truman’s “socialization” proposal modeled on what Clement Attlee’s Laborites enacted in Great Britain.

My own experience with their single-mindedness dates to 1966. The Republican anarchists whose center seemed to be the Milwaukee area’s North Shore Republican Club wanted the Party Convention to condemn the party’s activist governor Warren Knowles because he raised taxes to keep the state operating after his 13,000-vote victory in 1964.

The party activists who then and now want a government that doesn’t dominate but does work rejected this idea, and the anarchists who really wanted the government to go away.

The Democrats, I am told, have their own internecine ideological battles on issues that someone from that party will have to explain to me. I think it is between their moderates and the all-government-all-the-time gang.

Political fortunes rise and fall for a lot of reasons, but one adage persisits: Partisans want issues that inflame. Most of the rest of the people want a government that works.

This is something for those who seek electoral success to keep in mind.

Follow Bill Kraus on:
twitter / wmkraus

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Get a job

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
November 24, 2009

By Bill Kraus

There is an open seat in the race for governor of Wisconsin. The Democrats have arm wrestled the mayor of Milwaukee into running for a job he really doesn’t want over the dead bodies of most of the people in Milwaukee who want him to continue in the job he has. The principal reason for wanting him to stay, incidentally, is because there is no one in the wings in Milwaukee who they consider a worthy replacement.

The Republicans are offering up a County Executive of a dysfunctional county and a former member of Congress who lost a long ago (in political terms) race for the U.S. Senate. The other candidates who have expressed an interest in running are unknowns who are being discouraged from doing so by the Republican powers who are also quietly trying to get Mark Neumann to drop his candidacy.

The Journal Sentinel has already decided it’s a two-candidate race, discounting rumblings about Tommy Thompson from D.C. and Elroy.

The stated reason that there is this remarkable paucity of candidates is that it will cost at least $12 million to win this election. This is certainly not an inconsequential barrier even if it’s only half true.

The less obvious reason for the empty pipelines is that the unintended consequences of the Watergate reforms neutered the political parties.

Before 1975 the political parties not only recruited, groomed, promoted, and slated full-fledged candidates for the top offices, they filled the slates down to county coroner to back up these selections.

When a friend of mine who was a Republican county chairman told the state chairman that he didn’t think he would be able to find a candidate to run for the Assembly, a race anyone of that persuasion would surely lose in that county, he was told, “Either find a candidate or be the candidate.” He found a candidate; so did county chairs of both parties all over the state.

This kind of activity filled the wannabe pipelines with seasoned, accomplished political leaders who would have been elbowing each other aside to run for governor in an open-seat year.

The most important problem is neither of the above, although both of the above have contributed to it.

It is careerism.

I encountered an early form of this phenomenon in the late 1970s when I discovered that many of the state legislators from Milwaukee ran for those jobs not because they were ambitious for higher office, but because they were stepping stones to what they hoped would be successful campaigns for seats on the Milwaukee City Council or the Milwaukee County Board. They were looking for lifetime careers.

At that time most legislators from other places were still hoping to rise to higher office, and indeed that Legislature produced candidates galore and several members of Congress, a U.S. Senator, a covey of governors and lieutenant governors, and even a couple of Supreme Court Justices.

No longer.

The incumbents in the state Legislature are, for the most part, in it for the job. They are settling in and careering out in what they hope will be safe seats; seats which they will not put at risk by proposing changes or ideas which endanger their chances for a long string of re-election victories.

Every once in awhile a Mike Ellis makes noises about running for governor, and a Jon Erpenbach tosses a hat towards a ring or two, but these spasms quickly pass.

The result is what used to be kind of a potentials pipeline is clogged by people who are not regarded as being upwardly mobile by either the voters or by themselves.

Is the U.S. Congress any better or any different? The lines of challengers for the redistricting-protected incumbents don’t seem to be very long. Anybody up for a run against Russ or Herb?

To paraphrase a Peter, Paul and Mary hit: Where did all the wannabes go?

Follow Bill Kraus on:
twitter / wmkraus

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The healthcare dance

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
November 15, 2009

By Bill Kraus

Two great political adages are at play in the prolonged, complicated, contentious attempt to put together a new health care system for this country.

The first is that no one should have to witness sausage or legislation being made.

The second is that when major, complicated legislation is in the making (which you shouldn’t have to witness) the important thing is to get Mathilda on the dance floor.

Turf wars are what the health care bill is about, and it is a virtual golf course.

For openers, health care spending is 17 percent of our gross national product. This means that people and companies who are in the health care business are getting paid that 17 percent. That is the status quo that is being protected by insurance companies that do the paperwork, doctors and their helpers who do the mostly fee-for-service healing, hospitals that house the ailing, drug and device manufacturers that provide the stuff of which medical miracles are composed, administrators and managers who orchestrate this melange, and a collection of bystanders and outsiders whose interests are improved or threatened by the health care system and practices.

My own views on this collection of sausage makers:

1.) Insurers don’t belong at the table.
2.) Fee-for-service incentives rarely if ever lead to less of either.
3.) Physical facilities need to be kept full.
4.) Drug companies produce and promote the things they invent and sell; the cost of the former is irreducible; the cost of the latter is arguable.

The outsiders are too numerous to list but a small sample is that the ideologues led by groups as diverse as the Catholic Bishops, the anti-immigrationists, and the free marketeers are weighing in on medical practice policy in ways and with demands that mostly make change almost impossible.

With the lobbying costs running in the neighborhood of $4 million a day (an amount that is added to the “cost” of health care) and with the job protecting legislators being threatened or seduced by money and votes, it is impossible to produce anything approaching an ideal sausage out of the box.

Which gets us to Mathilda.

If anything is to happen, it is going to have to be imperfect, even a half measure.

The judgment that will have to be made is whether what does come out of the box is better than the status quo ante.

It is hard to believe that it will not improve on a health care system that costs twice as much as what is available in every other first-world nation and that delivers results that are no better than average and in many categories very much worse.

So let’s take what we can get, and, over time, improve on and expand the inevitably flawed sausage that is being assembled.

We couldn’t do worse. We can get a small or even a significant step in the direction of lower costs and better results, and once on that path we can do better and better and better. We will probably never get the kind of perfection the purists insist on. As for me, I’ll settle for, at long last, getting Mathilda on the dance floor.

Follow Bill Kraus on:
twitter / wmkraus

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A bird in the hand

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
November 8, 2009

By Bill Kraus

The Impartial Justice legislation that was passed in the closing hours of the recent fall legislation session is the first attempt in 30+ years to clean up and contain campaign spending.

It has the virtue of being attacked from both sides. Those who like the status quo think it goes too far. The all-or-nothing reformers don’t think it goes far enough.

The latter group contend that the spending limits and public funding award are not big enough to run a statewide campaign. It is inarguable that they aren’t big enough for the kind of full-blown, TV-based campaign to which we have recently been subjected. But if both candidates conform to the limits, it is enough to run the more traditional word-of-mouth, face-to-face judicial contest and spare us all a repeat of the recent atrocities.

The more serious criticism of the bill is that it doesn't deal with the issue ads that have recently become prominent in Supreme Court elections.

The authors of the bill took a pass on putting an issue ad disincentive into it to accompany the millionaire and parallel campaign disincentives that were included is the U.S. Supreme Court. The court is pondering a decision which could make issue ad inhibition unconstitutional.

If they rule the way they seem to be leaning, the whole Impartial Justice bill would be voided. This is not a risk the reformers are willing to take after decades of no action.

They point out that if the Supreme Court surprises us there is a full disclosure bill in the wings which could be enacted quickly to expose and discourage the people who are paying for issue ads.

The other thing that makes this shortcoming less threatening is that WMC, one of the issue-ad wielders in recent years has already backed away from participation in supreme court races. And WEAC has said they would if WMC would. That does leave the semi-anonymous organizations with secret funders and apple pie and motherhood names free to perpetrate their mischief.

Any campaigner worth his or her salt would love to be attacked by these kinds of organizations. It gives the “victimized” candidate the opportunity to ask, “Who are these people and why are they saying these nasty things about me?” and to suggest that something unseemly is being bought here.

The side effect of over-the-top issue ads is the opportunity they present to make a low-profile beauty contest into an issue campaign with the campaign itself and its questionable interlopers being the issue.

And, finally, the Impartial Justice proposal, if it works as hoped, can be a good example for the partisans who are addicted to the egregious campaign system which they hate and believe they can't live without.

If public funding and spending limits work here, they can work anywhere.

Follow Bill Kraus on:
twitter / wmkraus

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Death by wedgie

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
November 1, 2009

By Bill Kraus

The Republican death spiral started with the unintended consequences of the Watergate reforms. The party went from the main slater and funder of the campaigns of Republican candidates to a sideshow. The money got loose from what Ody Fish described as “the kinder mistress” and campaigns became entrepreneurial. The new sources of money came with strings and went directly to the more beholden candidates and the professionals who ran their campaigns.

The game of keeping the party centrist and fighting off the anarchists and one-issue people who were always there but were kept on the margin by the moderate, mostly business people, who were in charge, was no longer worth the candle.

The spin accelerated when the professionals who replaced the moderate, volunteer, amateurs (in quotes) introduced a segmentation-marketing strategy: the wedges.

They started with the anarchists who had always been there, had always had an insatiable appetite for reducing the size and power of the public sector, and had been barking up a tree that had long ago grown to Sequoia size in this country.

The professionals added the one-issue zealots to this base and partisanized the goals of repealing Roe v Wade, protecting a religious rite, and putting AK47 weapons in every closet.

These objectives wholly contradicted the anarchists’ view of the world and should have been anathema to them. But they accepted these strange bedfellows as co-conspirators for reasons to which I am not privy.

What was soon evident is that this new coalition was composed of people who dominate instead of assimilating. The moderates who didn’t leave of their own volition because of their distaste for this distortion of the party’s agenda were pushed out because they didn’t conform. True believers do this.

This coalition, which is more notable for its volubility than its volume, starting losing elections.

But they persist. As recently as last week the unholy combination got rid of a moderate who was running for an open congressional seat because she would split the Republican vote in this once-safe district and cost the coalition’s troglodytic candidate a special election.

Will this radical revisionist lose this safe seat?

Will that register on the wedgers if he does?

Follow Bill Kraus on:
twitter / wmkraus