Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Popular ideas that go nowhere
By Bill Kraus
This list of ideas does not include anything that has to do with limiting the flow of money into political campaigns or the unpopular things (endless campaigns, 30 second messages, robo calls, etc) that are purchased with that money. The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently ruled that money is a form of speech and is protected by the 1st Amendment to the Constitution no matter how unpopular the speech may be.
Information about the sources of free speech/money is, surprisingly, almost encouraged by the same Supreme Court. Don’t ask me to explain this mild anomaly. I can’t and they don’t.
This kind of disclosure is widely applauded. It is even legislated in the case of donations to candidates themselves. Proposals to go beyond that, however, founder. The only logical explanation for this (and, be forewarned, the regulation of campaign spending is not an area where logic prevails or even exists) is that the organizations that are collecting this outside money have convinced the people who have the power to expose the contributors of this outside money that their contributors do not want anyone to know who they are, and will, what’s more, stop contributing if exposure is mandated. These incumbents have done the math and concluded that it is more important to have this money in the game even though they have no guarantee that it will be spent disproportionately on their behalf. I think their math is questionable. They don’t. They have the power to quash full disclosure legislation. I don’t.
Since few if any candidates make an issue of this while campaigning and there is no public outcry for disclosure, it will not happen until it’s popularity rises to the level, say, of carrying concealed weapons.
Another subject that, when discussed, is viewed favorably, is the possibility that any candidates voters favor should have a chance to be elected. Given our propensity to cluster, there are inevitably going to be areas where Democrats or Republicans have no real chance of winning office. But should this be so in more than 80 percent of the state legislative districts and 100 percent of the congressional ones? I would think not. Is any candidate under any pressure from any significant numbers of constituents to even talk about this subject? Not that I can see. Even those of us who, thanks to Fighting Bob La Follette‘s open primary fixation, have to vote in the other party’s primary to get a modest say so about who will represent us in the state Legislature, are finding that our congressional representatives have been selected for us as well. This cannot be fixed everywhere, but until and unless there is an outburst of support for dispassionate districting then the gerrymandering of competition out of the general elections held in November will get worse not better.
These two popular but low-on-the-totem-pole ideas have the possibility of being enacted if talk turned to action. The incumbents and legislative leaders who are protecting an unpopular status quo could not hold onto it if voter discontent moved from talk to action. So act already.
There is a rising demand for more civility, more cooperation, more compromise in our legislatures. The prospect of this happening is derailed by the concomitant rise and popularity of smash mouth political campaigns. I admit to being confused. Surely I am not the only one who thinks that campaigns that demean the participants are mostly destructive of both the demeaned and the demeaning and the honorable and essential trade of politics itself.
The hyper partisans have always favored the politics of personality and attack. The virus is spreading. Otherwise reasonable voters can be heard praising their favorites for more aggressive criticisms of their opponents at a personal ad hominem level.
Aren’t these the same people who want more civility, cooperation, and who do not consider compromise a sign of weakness?
Are we condemned to mutual self destruction or do we really still want a government that works more than we want issues that inflame and torch bearing candidates?
Is it time to depose the reigning wisdom that the voters want candidates who dismantle their opponents and their opponents' forebears, values, and ideas before we are subsumed by the politics of hate?
How about doing a hatchet job on the problems that assail us instead of on each other?
Paranoid incumbents are afraid disclosure will offend their contributors. Powerful leaders won’t give up their power to gerrymander. But we can starve the belligerent campaign beasts by denying them the money and votes they need.
Talk is cheap, my mother used to say. She was right. It still is.
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Bill Kraus is the Co-Chair of Common Cause in Wisconsin's State Governing Board
Posted by Common Cause in Wisconsin at 7:06 PM