Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The future--if there is one--of representative government

By Bill Kraus

The success of the concept of representative government depends heavily on the intelligence, integrity, and similar attributes, of the representatives themselves.

For many years the political parties recruited, slated, and helped elect most of these representatives.

After the well intended Watergate reforms foundered on the law of unintended consequences by diverting the money flow that is the mother's milk of politics, a short-lived era of entrepreneurial candidacies finished off the parties' roles of recruiting and slating those who wanted to represent us. The money went directly to these candidates instead of to the insulating parties which the legendary Ody Fish called a "kinder mistress."

The legislative leaders moved quickly to rein in this development. They set up campaign committees and used their power to contol the flow of legislation to divert the flow of money to them.

The inevitable result of the recruiting, slating and funding moving to legislative leaders was the dawn of the lemming era. This was characterized by a diminution of ambition, a rise of careerism, and an intensification of the age old and crucial battle to win majorities.

This cozy little arrangement was disrupted by the idiot billionaires who, for many reasons of their own, agreed to fill with large sums of money the campaign coffers that the paranoid candidates and their professional advisers deemed essential.

Then along came the populist multitudes. The tea parties, the occupiers and all varieties of organizations that made the indisputable assertion that representatives who were beholden to money might not be representing them anymore.

All of these more or less undesirable developments demeaned the trade and its practitioners to the point that the representative politics envisioned by the founding fathers--an honorable trade practiced by superior people--has become the subject of widespread disdain.

The road back to that ideal aspiration is not clearly marked.

What is more worrisome is that there do not seem to be many people even looking for it.

So I echo the questions the irrepressible Bob Williams posed to the annual convention of the state bar association a few years ago: If not us, who? If not now, when?

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

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