Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sticking with your own kind

By Bill Kraus

In his new book David Brooks comments on the state of politics thusly:

“Once politics became a contest pitting one identity group against another, it was no longer possible to compromise. Everything became a status war between my kind of people and your kind of people. Even a small concession came to seem like moral capitulation.

“Politics was no longer about trade, it was a contest for honor and group supremacy. Amidst this partisan ugliness, public trust in government and political institutions collapsed.”

This puts him in the group I described recently as the people who feel the same way about the loss of good feeling and the dismissal of compromise and anyone who seeks to practice it.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Talking to each other

By Bill Kraus

Everyone I know and everyone I talk to or who talks to me complains loud and long about the radicalization of the political discourse. Without exception the question, “Don’t these people talk to each other?” is always raised. The answer, of course, is “No.”

The reaction ranges from disdain to horror.

The people in a position to do something about this sad state of affairs are either deaf or are not talking to the people who are talking to me.

I do not dismiss the possibility that I am talking to the wrong people, that there are people who think politicians, to be effective, should hate each other and that discourse is dangerous because it leads to compromise and weakens the resolve to do the “right” thing.

Is this a majority view? If it is, we are doomed.

I object.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Outsourcing our democracy

By Bill Kraus

An article by Judith Stein in Dissent magazine is an uncomfortable reminder that the decline and fall (the almost fall in one case) of the Roman and British empires was due to outsourcing.

That’s the economic dark side.

The political dark side is devastating as well.

Abraham Lincoln’s vision that ours was a government of, by, and for the people was never achieved.

We have had a government of the elite, by the bureaucracy, and for the people at best. Like in baseball, the people batting .333 is pretty darn good.

Unfortunately, because of outsourcing even this seriously downgraded version is no longer realizable.

The elites have outsourced their role to the professional campaigners who now use the elite’s money to make beholders of the people we elect.

These beholders too often owe their offices and their power to the money they raise and the segmented factions the professionals are wedded to and whose votes they pursue. The winners increasingly ignore the old mantra that “you are elected by your friends, but you govern everybody.”

The symptoms of these shifts in the formula and the batting average are:

* The campaign industry as a permanent institution an endless campaigns keep it prosperous.
* Dialing for dollars by the candidates themselves instead of arm’s length fund raising by the elite staffed and managed finance committees.
* The undeserved influence of the show business participants of which talk radio personalities are only the worst examples.
* The rise to prominence, often dominance, of third-party campaigners with their money and ideas that promote their world view by hijacking campaigns.

These are the things that the increasingly disenfranchised people dislike and complain about on the mistaken assumption that they are the “trouble with politics.”

The trouble with politics is that the elite who still put up a lot of the money that propels the professionals and third-party organizations shun active participation in politics which they now disdain as being “dirty.”

Let’s be clear about politics. It is not bean bag. But it need not be beholdenism either. The political wisdom of former NYC mayor Ed Koch ("If you agree with me on 9 of 12 subjects, you should vote for me; if you agree with me on all 12 you should see a psychiatrist") and Jesse Unruh ("If you can’t eat their food, drink their whiskey, take their money and vote against them, you don’t belong in this business") no longer prevails.

If politics is dirtier than it was or should be, it is because the elites are no longer hanging around to run the laundry.

The outsourcing by the increasingly absent elites distances them from the joy of political participation. A wise political philosopher once described politics as the only game for adults. Outsourcing puts the adults in the stands and takes them out of the arena and they and the rest of us are the worse for it.

Until and unless they come back to play their role in the Lincoln trilogy it will not be an honorable trade practiced by superior people, and all those awful things people are saying about politics and politicians are going to continue to be true.

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Bill Kraus is the Co-Chair of Common Cause in Wisconsin's State Governing Board

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Stuck out of the middle

By Bill Kraus

The trouble with zealots, of course, is that they’re zealous. I’m sure they think that the trouble with moderates is that they are moderate, which they are.

There is an important distinction though.

The zealots seem to be more interested in advancing a cause than in running a country, state, or city than the moderates are.

The moderates are more interested in a government that works than the zealots seem to be.

Unfortunately the moderates have been pushed aside in recent years. UW prof and former candidate for Congress John Sharpless characterizes this development as the inmates taking over the institution with predictable results.

A kind of political trench warfare has broken out with the zealots in both trenches exchanging hand grenades and having a common goal only on those rare occasions when a moderate ventures into the no man’s land between the trenches. Then both sides direct their firepower at the moderate.