Sunday, April 29, 2012

This is what power looks like

By Bill Kraus

Power is finite. To put it simply, if I have it, you don’t, or, as is more often the case, vice versa.

Every once in a while we get sharp reminders about who has it.

A recent story in the NY Times about a gathering of police chiefs in Washington is illustrative.

"[Milwaukee] Chief Flynn recounted pleading with a state senator to include a provision on Wisconsin's concealed weapons law that would ban habitual criminal offenders from obtaining permits. The senator, he said, told him, 'Here's the phone number of the National Rifle Association lobbyist in Washington DC. If it's OK with him, it will be OK with us.' The provision was not included."

This immediately calls to mind the indisputable fact that the paranoids who run the National Rifle Association have power.

They can coerce elected officials almost everywhere into protecting everyone’s right to own firearms of any description up to and including those whose only possible purpose is to kill people. They also have convinced the pushover elected officials that public safety will be enhanced only when everyone who owns a concealable weapon can “pack it” to revert to the vernacular if they wish, except in Illinois of all places.

The double whammy of this news item is it also proves the power-is-finite assertion.

The police chief doesn’t have the power needed to trump the NRA.

The press, which in the not-so-distant past had enough power to blow this small story into a major cause celebre which would have had a chance, albeit a slim one, to add to the police chief’s power and diminish that of the people who run the private, single-issue organization that is the NRA, does not have the horses to follow up on this lead.

Certainly the senator must be from an area the chief represents where guns are not the sanguine part of the culture they are in less densely settled places, and just as certainly the army of bloggers (including me) who are not going to take this story the next obvious and essential step.

Which raises another perplexing problem. Where did the power of the press go? Did it simply disappear?

The claim that it went to the internet is specious. The internet is an undigestible, unvetted, undisciplined stream of opinions disguised as facts. It is universal and divisive. Does anyone go to the internet looking for something unpleasant or someone they disagree with?

It takes a minor event like this one to call attention to the fact that perhaps we have lost the instrument we always counted on to, in the words of a man named Wildavsky, speak truth to power.

We also counted on the press to make those in power to turn square corners.

Is it time to reinvent the press? If so, how? And in what configuration?

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

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