Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Power scorecard


By Bill Kraus

The thing about power is that it’s finite. If I have it, you probably don’t. There are, of course, occasions where we both have it in equal measure. This produces ties in games, gridlock in politics.

The other thing is that in politics, power moves or shifts. Sometimes it almost disappears altogether, usually when it is abused. Overreaching, as Lord Acton pointed out long, long ago is not only corrupting as he said but tends to set off a reversal.

So any assessment of who is up, down, and tied is ephemeral. But I can’t resist assessing anyway. It is my way of tracking political probabilities and prospects.

What follows is a truncated version of my power scorecard at this moment in time and space, with emphasis on Wisconsin.


Thanks to the Supreme Court, the Dreyfus dictum about the golden rule of politics--”Those with the gold make the rules”--is still intact. Obama showed he was beholden to the rule when he dumped public financing of the presidential campaigns. Walker did the same with the timid, tentative attempt to publicly fund candidates for our Supreme Court. Everywhere else money still rules in campaigns where media is important. The few instances where money lost were heartening. They were regarded as aberrations not precedents by the professionals who are addicted to and dependent upon money as the medium.

Money is powerful.


The power of rabidity is on display at the moment where the gun gang and the religious zealots are taking no prisoners. They may or may not be right, but there is no arguing with the fact that they are powerful. They do not hesitate to take on a popular president and a powerful Supreme Court respectively, and have a good chance of prevailing by and in turning democracy on its head.

Legislative leaders:

When the unintended consequences of the Watergate reforms played out, they eviscerated the power of political bosses and political parties who had an almost exclusive franchise in picking candidates and funding campaigns. This power went through several manifestations before settling on the legislative leaders. They rule the legislative roost and are powerful enough to frustrate their adversaries and, in many cases, their supposed friends who occupy higher, but no longer more powerful, executive offices.

The downside of this equation is that power can be lost as well as gained and retained.

The most striking example is the print press. Newspapers, which were the universal communication system, set the agenda, arranged priorities and had an important say so on who won elections. They did this openly on their editorial pages and surreptitiously in the news section by choosing what and who to cover and where to place that coverage in their papers.

They no longer have enough reporters to be the generally accepted communication system, which, in turn, has led to a loss of readers and ultimately a huge power failure.

In the middle ground are emerging seekers of power like third-party organizations and annoyances like talk-radio pundits and self promoters. The third-party organizations’ power is pretty much determined by money. Unions have suffered a power loss which is almost exactly proportional to the erosion of their numbers of members. This is harmful, and worse yet the shut down of their checkoff money machines is devastating. Interest groups with members and/or money are as powerful as their pocketbooks are large and their interests are attractive.

You may have noticed that the voters do not make the power lists. The voters still have the ultimate political power, of course, and have been known to exercise it in unexpected and interesting ways, almost inadvertently.

By and large though the voters are regarded as passive and predictable. They are the market, so to speak, which the powerful seek to mesmerize and manipulate for their own ends.

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