Monday, February 27, 2012

A world undone

By Bill Kraus

This title of a wonderful book on WWI has come home to roost.

I listened to a UW political scientist tell a Milwaukee audience in the early fall of 2010 that there would be a Republican tsunami in November of 2010 that would turn out even unbeatable Democrats in Washington and Wisconsin.

The reasons he gave were widespread fear, uneasiness, disappointment with the way the world was going, and an unusually strong urge for major changes, new ideas, straight talk.

After his predicted results came true and the radicalization that followed the tsunami was carried out by the winners, another UW political scientist told this same audience that the independents and uncommitted voters who gave the Republicans their stunning victories a few short months before were now appalled at what they had wrought. The next election, he predicted, would swing the pendulum fully back the other way.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

TV or not TV

By Bill Kraus

As we lurch into another multiple election season--there will be at least 4, maybe 5 in Wisconsin this year--one thing is sure. We will be bombarded by TV commercials extolling the virtues and deploring the sins of the several candidates for the several offices in play.

There will be personal contacts, there will be radio commercials, there will be direct mail, there will be phone calls, some by live human beings, there will be billboards, there may even be a few newspaper ads, but TV will be the main medium of information and persuasion.

How did it come to this?


I have been a witness to, a victim of, even a perpetrator in the whole TV era and saga.

My first campaign experience was in 1952, the year that television became a presence everywhere in Wisconsin.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


By Bill Kraus

The first time I realized there were activities that were beyond regulation was when the songwriters tried to stop the development of technology that would make it possible for listeners to tape songs off the radio for their own private purposes. It couldn’t be done.

More recently this same issue has come up vis a vis the also universal and uncontrollable internet. This isn’t settled yet, but it is pretty clear that technology has probably put the things that can be done on the internet beyond regulation as well.

Is the flow of money into political campaigns in the same category?

Could be.

Some 20 years ago Tim Cullen testified before a Legislative Council committee headed by Senator Dave Helbach and Representative Peter Bock that was trying to contain political fundraising and spending otherwise known as Campaign Finance Reform.

Tim used the analogy of a balloon. “There is a certain amount of money that is going to flow into political campaigns,” he said. “If you visualize it as being contained in a balloon, what regulation can attempt is to squeeze one end of the balloon down. What will happen is the money in the balloon will pop up elsewhere.”

Monday, February 6, 2012

Cures for toxicity

By Bill Kraus

A longtime supporter suggested to a legislator that his ambition for higher office could be advanced if the legislator joined forces with a Republican who shares his views on the legislator’s favorite issue and has offered to join the effort to help do great things for Wisconsin.

“Remember who your friends are," the legislator replied to his now-former supporter.

A politically active Democrat whose day job would be advanced if the Legislature acted on a significant and difficult bill was advised to lay low on political activity until the bill is passed.

The watering holes where legislators of all persuasions, administrators, and even reporters once spent their “off the record” off hours together are gone, strictly segregated along political lines, or too toxic for one side or the other to consider patronizing.

A major health institution which is putting together a plan to increase health care coverage and reduce health care costs was told that the enabling legislation for this worthy idea would have a better chance getting through what has become the Capitol war zone if the institution and its members reduced their political profile and activity.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The costs of redistricting

By Bill Kraus

Everybody knows what big money is doing to political campaigns, candidates, and politics itself. Most people don’t seem to like it. But five of the big nine on the Supreme Court do, and no one else counts.

Everyone also knows and dislikes the reconfirmation of the McLuhan premise that the medium is the message and that the campaign medium is TV commercials. Quick, simple/simplistic, pervasive. Most people don’t like this either, except, of course, the TV station owners and the producers and purveyors of commercials whose livelihood is dependent on or greatly enhanced by this phenomenon.

There is little or nothing that can be done about the flood of money masquerading as free speech or the popularity and power of TV as a medium.

There is another democracy destroying phenomenon, however, that is working below the radar of public notice that is doing as much or even more to diminish our democracy and the people we elect to run it.