Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

Frankenstein Meets Godwin’s Law

Today’s Capital Times features an editorial from Madison attorney Fred Wade, a long time proponent of moving Wisconsin to an “item” veto.  Currently, Wisconsin has a “partial” veto, which allows governors to take individual words from sentences and “stitch” them together to form sentences (and thus new laws) which the legislature never intended.  Hence,  the practice has been termed the “Frankenstein Veto.”

Wade would rather see an item veto, which would require governors to veto an entire “item” from an appropriation bill.  In other words, a governor would have to approve or deny an entire section or concept, rather than having the ability to eliminate words or write down appropriations.  Wade correctly points out that the current situation is an affront to the “separation of powers” concept.

What’s curious, however, is that Wade thinks the legislature should reject the current constitutional amendment because it doesn’t go far enough in correcting the problem.  Keep in mind that constitutional amendments must pass two consecutive legislatures and be approved by the voters.  Voting this amendment down would set the process back four years.  So while  this amendment solves a significant problem, Wade apparently thinks bad government should go on unabated until he gets everything that he wants.

Instead of urging failure of an amendment that moves the constitution much closer to his preference, Wade could simply begin lobbying for improvements following passage.  It is true that governors would still be able to veto certain words from within sentences to change the sentence’s meaning.  He should go on pointing that out.  But it’s crazy to say that we should start from scratch, which would leave us with the current system.  Who knows if the legislature will ever get this close to agreement on this issue again.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Wade throws in a reference to Nazis, to boot.  He says:

In contrast, Adolf Hitler was frank when he wrote in “Mein Kampf” that the executive ought to “possess the authority and right to command” and that the Legislature ought to be reduced to “an advisory, but never a determining voice.”

In the final analysis, the “Frankenstein veto” is another chapter in the struggle between freedom, democracy and representative self-government on one side, and the alternative of one-man rule that was embodied in the divine right of kings, the “democratic centralism” of the Stalin era, and the “fuhrer principle” of Adolf Hitler.

So, apparently, if you support the current incarnation of the veto amendment, you also support Hitler’s “fuhrer principle.”

In the 1990s, the term “Godwin’s Law” was coined.  It refers to the concept that the longer an argument goes on, the probability that someone will be compared to Hitler or called a Nazi increases exponentially. This is an almost unfailing occurence on internet message boards, where semi-literate interlocutors reach for the most offensive accusation to make without really having to consider what they’re actually saying. (Otherwise known as reductio ad Hitlerum.)

Many in the internet community have adopted a simple maxim: First to call someone a Nazi loses the argument.  In this case, that is perfectly appropriate.  If Wade wants to argue that the state would be better off for four more years without any constitutional change to the governor’s veto authority, he is welcome to do so.  But invoking the Fuhrer in doing so is beneath him, and only serves to undermine his argument and personal reputation.

SIDE NOTE: If Wade thinks the legislature would go along with a full “item” veto, he’s kidding himself. Democrats had to be dragged kicking and screaming to agree to this minor check on Governor Doyle’s power.  Taking away more of his authority would be inconceivable.  Even with this change, Doyle would retain the most powerful veto pen in the nation – a point not lost on legislative Democrats.

1 Comment

  1. Pulling the Hitler card….that’s beyond desperate.

    43 states have line item veto.
    They all like it.
    We like it…Get over that fact and go find another hot button issue.
    How about a ban on gay pets, or saggy pants on teenagers!

    So Doyle has more power than Schwazenegger’s identical veto?
    Boy are you in la la land.

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