Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

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Walker or Ryan? Here’s the early line on their 2016 chances

Schneider-Walker-RyanEvery now and then, two major talents emerge in close proximity. In 2011, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder of the Milwaukee Brewers finished first and third, respectively, in the National League’s Most Valuable Player voting. Twelve times, two actors (including, in one case, three) from the same movie have been nominated for Oscars for Best Actor. (The most recent was 1984, when F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce were both nominated for “Amadeus.” Abraham won.)

In politics, Wisconsin is experiencing such an embarrassment of talent. Virtually every other part of the country is honored to have one elected official with the chops to be considered presidential material. Yet in the Dairy State, the only debate is over which of its two top Republican stars would make a better commander in chief.

So who has the better chance? Gov. Scott Walker or Congressman Paul Ryan?

Walker and Ryan grew up within a car drive of one another. Ryan lived in Janesville, while Walker was raised 20 miles away in Delavan. Each considers Ronald Reagan a key figure in his political development. And both dominated national news in 2012 on their way to becoming national GOP stars.

Ryan, of course, had his taste of a presidential run, having served as Mitt Romney’s capable vice presidential sidekick. While the party faithful initially worried about how Ryan’s aggressive plans to scale back Medicare and Social Security would play with voters, it appears that Ryan may have been a net boost to the Romney campaign. While Romney lost the election by a wide margin of electoral votes, his slim margins of defeat in key states like Ohio, Virginia and Florida show those states ended up being closer than the polls indicated before the Ryan pick. He most certainly didn’t harm his status with the party faithful, who now know Ryan can stand up to the pressures of a nationwide campaign.

Yet with congressional Republicans faring so poorly nationwide, many party faithful think it is time to look for a governor like Walker. He’s taken his licks and won a recall election by a larger margin than he won his first gubernatorial contest; his toughness is appealing to a party that currently lacks it.

Of the two, Ryan is the better public speaker. His 14 years in Congress have honed his skills; he can speak knowledgeably and extemporaneously, no matter how arcane the topic. Walker has improved as a speaker, but he is cautious and more reserved than Ryan. His appeal is immense with Republicans, but he still makes progressives scream at their televisions.

Walker has history on his side. The only president elected directly from the House to the presidency was James Garfield in 1880 — a singular event that solidified Garfield’s status as either the best campaigner or worst president of all time, depending on one’s perspective. Governors, on the other hand, routinely ascend to the presidency, as voters appear to see their executive experience on the state level as a plausible dry run.

Of the two, Walker also appears to be the more ambitious. Following the November election, Walker went on an aggressive speaking tour around the country and has coyly avoided ruling out a run in 2016 (assuming he is re-elected in 2014).

Conversely, despite being a key player in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations, Ryan has disappeared from the public eye and has uniformly downplayed his desire for higher office. He genuinely seems to enjoy policy over politics.

For Wisconsin Republicans, it is an impossible choice. Eventually, it may be up to the other 49 states to decide for them.

Que Pasa Republicano? To win again, the GOP needs to appeal to Hispanics

mexicoFollowing the 2012 presidential election, pundits of all stripes began appealing to retroactive prescience to explain what cost Mitt Romney the presidency. Whatever their pet issue, it suddenly became the reason Romney blew it — the Republican “war on women,” climate change denial, etc. Members of the Star Wars fan club thought Romneygot hammered because he didn’t take up the cause of Ewok independence.

But the most cited reason for Republican failure was the fact that Hispanic voters continue to drift away from the GOP. According to exit polls, Mitt Romney received 27 percent of the Latino vote, down from the 31 percent John McCain received in 2008 and down even farther from the 44.1 percent George W. Bush garnered in 2004.

In recent years, Republicans have tried to appeal to Latinos by stressing the similarities of their core beliefs: Hispanics are industrious and family-oriented, and their religious convictions make them a natural constituency for the GOP.

Earlier this year, I sat down with Gov. Scott Walker, and he explained that if Republicans stuck to a message of freedom and lower taxes, Hispanics would become allies. “The vast majority of Latino voters I know in Milwaukee County and statewide are very much driven by the small-business, entrepreneurial, hard-work mindset, and they really don’t want the government in their way.”

“I try not to ‘silo’ voters. I try to listen to what their concerns are,” he said. “I’ve actually spent a lot of time with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and… I realized that their members care about barriers to growth in small business — excessive regulations, excessive litigation, property taxes are too high, the sorts of things that I talk to everyone about. So I don’t say, ‘Here, my Latino message is going to be different than my message anywhere else out there,’ and I think voters appreciate that.”

But as Hispanics continue to jump ship, Republican campaigns become less about persuasion and more about simple math. There just aren’t enough white voters to maintain the GOP’s slim margins of victory in swing districts.

Still, as Walker’s statements indicate, it is simply not in the Republican DNA to start slicing up voters by race. Democrats are the ones who see voters in groups and tailor their message accordingly. Republicans see voters as individuals and expect their messages of liberty and self-sufficiency to have broad appeal. For Republicans, appealing to minority voters is like speaking a second language.

But it is something they have to do.

There is a small, fairly well-reasoned contingent of conservatives who would support modifying the Republican hardline stance on immigration. Despite the left’s dismissal of George W. Bush as a right-wing ideologue, he proposed the “guest worker” plan in 2004, accurately recognizing, I think, that we’re not just going to pack up 12 million illegals and ship them home. That plan was burned to the ground by his own party.

Republicans would be wise to follow the Jack Kemp “bleeding-heart conservative” blueprint. Kemp and his Empower America cohort Bill Bennett were outspoken proponents of immigration, calling immigrants “a blessing, not a curse.” In 1994, Kemp and Bennett opposed California ballot Proposition 187, a measure to bar illegal immigrants from obtaining public services.

Some Republicans think putting a Hispanic conservative on the ballot will bring Latinos home — as if Marco Rubio alone is the answer. But the record shows that Hispanics will vote against other Hispanics if they don’t reflect the interests of the group as a whole.

For Republicans, a lot is at stake: Without Hispanics, they may become a permanent minority themselves.

A Letter from a Crab Trap Enthusiast

I was looking at restaurant reviews on Google and ran across this one, in which a frequent diner at the “Crab Trap” in Amelia Island, Florida, calmly lays out his case for for the restaurant’s superiority:


Case closed.

Political Misdirection: Candidates sometimes reveal more about themselves than they’d like

flagAn old Democratic campaign manager once revealed to me the key to successful public relations: “The more liberal your candidate, the bigger the American flag has to be on his bumper.”

It’s a simple illustration of how candidates are free to write their own narrative, no matter the facts. As George Armstrong Custer once said, his goal was “to make my narrative as truthful as possible.” Candidates are free to accentuate the things that make them look good, even if doing so provides a window into what they really think.

For instance, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Eric Hovde began his campaign this year by emphasizing his ties to Wisconsin. In one of his early TV ads, he proudly announces that he was born in the state and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Surely, any candidate wants to show voters he’s one of them, but Hovde has a special challenge: He hasn’t actually lived in Wisconsin in a quarter of a century. Hovde’s job as a hedge fund manager took him to Washington, D.C.; consequently, he’s ready to don a cheesehead, paint his chest green and gold, and change his two daughters’ names to “Harley” and “Davidson.”

Certainly this isn’t dishonest, but it’s clearly an attempt to make Hovde’s “narrative as truthful as possible.” Messaging misdirection is as endemic to politics as noodles are to lasagna. They go together like “beef” and “stroganoff” or “cole” and “slaw.” (Side note: Is there any other kind of slaw? Can we drop the “cole,” or is there a “Citizens for Cole” interest group out there keeping it alive?)

On May 17, the state Department of Workforce Development issued a press release announcing new statewide jobs numbers. The new Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers were of particular interest, as the gubernatorial recall candidates were sparring over different sets of employment numbers. Gov. Scott Walker’s numbers showed the state was gaining jobs, while Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett relied on a BLS report indicating that Wisconsin was last in the nation in job creation over the past year.

The headline of the DWD release said it all: “Wisconsin April unemployment rate declines to 6.7 percent.” I read it and immediately thought: “Oh, no, the state lost jobs.” Because if the state had gained jobs, that would have been the headline. When the BLS numbers show the state losing jobs, the unemployment rate is the last refuge for a positive headline. Sure enough, there in the last paragraph, on the second page, was the number: The BLS estimated a loss of 6,800 in the previous month.

Barrett himself wasn’t above shifting the topic. In fact, the whole recall election was a change in subject, as Barrett was loathe to mention public-sector collective bargaining even though it was the overwhelming reason why the recall petition got traction in the first place.

At one point, Barrett issued a memo showing his campaign “gaining momentum” in the polls. Translation: “I am losing this race.”

Regular people understand how ridiculous some efforts to control the narrative can be. Imagine your spouse joyously telling you that you can spend more time together… because Ryan Braun just got eaten by a leopard that ran out on the baseball field. Or picture your wife telling you the “great news” that you can finally go buy that Harley-Davidson that you always wanted… because she’s moving to Sweden with Sven, her personal trainer.

This isn’t simply reading between the lines — it’s reading outside the lines. So watch political ads very closely; generally, candidates will emphasize an area where they feel weakest. By trying to tell you nothing, they will often tell you everything.

Wisconsin Unions are No Stranger to Presidential Politics

flagLast Tuesday night, shortly before Tom Barrett strode to the stage to accept his party’s nomination to take on Scott Walker in Wisconsin’s June recall election, Barrett received a big atta-boy from the White House. In a statement, President Obama announced he was “proud to stand with Tom Barrett,” because the Milwaukee mayor would “move Wisconsin forward.”

It wasn’t the first time Obama had involved himself in the Wisconsin imbroglio over public sector collective bargaining. At the outset of the Madison protests last year, he called Walker’s proposal an “assault” on government workers. As a presidential candidate, Obama vowed to “put on a comfortable pair of shoes” and “walk on that picket line” to preserve the “right” to collectively bargain.

Obama’s interest in Wisconsin is easily explainable; a Barrett victory would aid the president’s prospects in the state immeasurably come November. Wisconsin is one of a handful of states that will determine the presidency in 2012; if Walker is seen as vindicated, it could demoralize the state’s Democrats. For this reason, many see the recall as a precursor to the presidential election; in many ways, November could be Wisconsin writ large.

Of course, the current recall effort is unprecedented. But this isn’t the first time the issue of public sector collective bargaining in Wisconsin was inextricably intertwined with a seminal presidential election.

In September of 1959, telegenic young U.S. senator John F. Kennedy made the third of what would be many trips to Wisconsin to build support for his eventual run for the presidency in 1960. Wisconsin was the first primary in the nation, so Kennedy needed to win the state to show he was a serious player on the national scene.

On September 25th, Kennedy’s plane landed at Truax field in Madison; he was greeted by newly-minted governor Gaylord Nelson, Madison mayor Ivan Nestingen and state Democratic Party chair Patrick Lucey. They immediately shuffled Kennedy off to a meeting with 40 state labor leaders at Madison’s Park hotel.

Kennedy’s relationship with labor was tenuous, at best. He had served on the famous Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor and Management, which investigated the rampant corruption of Teamster’s president Jimmy Hoffa and his predecessor, David Beck. Kennedy’s brother, Robert, served as the chief counsel for the committee, and was widely regarded as an aggressive prosecutor of union misdeeds. (Robert Kennedy later documented his experience uncovering widespread union corruption in his book The Enemy Within.)

Inspired by his work on the committee tasked with exposing union corruption, John F. Kennedy introduced legislation that reformed union financial and reporting structures. In 1959, the Kennedy-Ervin union bill was merged with a much stricter President Eisenhower-endorsed Republican House version (the “Landrum-Griffin” bill), and became law.

Yet unions believed the final bill too closely resembled the original Republican version, and held Kennedy’s support of the final bill against him. At the September meeting in Madison, organized labor leaders excoriated Kennedy for voting in favor of Landrum-Griffin.

Madison Federation of Labor president Marvin Brickson asked Kennedy why he supported legislation that was “detrimental to labor unions.” Kennedy answered that Landrum-Griffin actually helped unions, as it would have prevented the corruption that had sullied the name of organized labor. (Hoffa had been creating so-called “paper unions” with phony members, which he then used to gain more control of the Teamsters.)

Harold Rohr, president of the Madison City Council and a representative of Painters Local 802, told Kennedy that the bill made “second class citizens” of honest workers. “The rank and file of labor people didn’t want to be harassed by this type of legislation,” Rohr protested.

Michael McMahan, business agent for the construction workers’ union, complained that the legislation unfairly targeted building trades. “I’ll say it as bluntly as I can,” Kennedy responded. “The building trades came out pretty well in this bill.” Kennedy then asked McMahan what he would suggest should be done. “I suggest you leave labor alone,” McMahan shot back.

That very day, in a show of solidarity with organized labor, Governor Nelson approved the nation’s first law allowing local employees to unionize. The 1958 election of Nelson, only the second Democrat elected in Wisconsin in the 20th century, made all the difference for labor unions.

Due to the Progressives’ takeover of the state Republican Party in the early 20th century, elected Democrats in Wisconsin were scarce. By 1958, it had been 26 years since a Democrat had won the Wisconsin governorship.

Democrats had been in the minority in the state senate and assembly since 1893. For four straight legislative sessions (1923–1929), there were no Democrats in the Senate.

Yet in the 1950s, Democrats began to emerge as a serious party in Wisconsin, in large part due to the money they raised from labor unions. When Democrat William Proxmire ran for governor in 1954, 55 percent of the money he raised was from organized labor. Labor also offered Democrats vote mobilization, phone banks, Election Day transportation, and independent expenditures. In The History of Wisconsin Vol. 6, author William F. Thompson speculated that “the triumph of the Democratic party in the late 1950’s would have been difficult, perhaps impossible, without these various contributions of the unions.” Republicans still outspent Democrats two to one, but organized labor was able to close the gap considerably.

Republicans, sensing the threat, in 1955 passed the Caitlin Act, which prohibited labor unions from contributing to political parties, committees, or candidates for state or local office. After passage of the act, union donations to Democrats plummeted.

But Democrats quickly adapted, and soon the state stopped enforcing the Caitlin Act altogether. In Nelson’s successful gubernatorial race in 1958, 21.7 percent of his money was raised from labor.

Shortly after Nelson took office came the law allowing collective bargaining for state and municipal employees. Soon, government unions flourished — and so did Democratic fundraising. Thanks to contributions by organized labor, a Democratic Party debt of $10,000 after Nelson’s election was turned into a $50,000 surplus by 1963. Soon, Democrats became the dominant political party in Wisconsin.

But while Nelson was pushing ahead for the unions, organized labor remained skeptical of Kennedy. Many Democrats thought Kennedy was simply trying to buy a Wisconsin primary win, although he and his competitor, Minnesota senator Hubert Humphrey, both spent about $150,000 in the election. Humphrey, who was an expert in labor politics, and who at one point in the campaign joined a union picket line and sang “Solidarity Forever,” despised the wealthy “Kennedy machine.” At one point, Humphrey likened himself to a “corner grocer running against a chain store.”

On election night, Kennedy got the Wisconsin win he needed; albeit by a slim 56 percent majority. Kennedy won six of the state’s ten congressional districts; the overwhelming majority of his votes came from the four most Catholic of those districts. Humphrey took the results as good news and stayed in the race to fight on in West Virginia; later, Stuart Symington, Lyndon Johnson, and Adlai Stevenson would all join in the Democratic primary to unsuccessfully thwart Kennedy’s ambition.

Had Wisconsin labor not been so skeptical of Kennedy, it is possible he could have cruised to his party’s nomination, and avoided the convention fight he would eventually face. In the general election, Kennedy would go on to lose Wisconsin by four percentage points to Richard Nixon, although, of course, he would win the presidency.

So while it may seem like Wisconsin is swimming in unchartered waters, it isn’t the first time union angst in the state has altered a presidential election. Only this time, Democrats have to hope a Walker win doesn’t erase some of the pages of their blueprint.

-May 14, 2012

The Real History of the Recall

Yesterday, when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel posted my op-ed describing the history surrounding enactment of the Wisconsin recall, I expected the usual suspects to flood the comment thread.  The process usually goes something like this: I spend weeks swimming in microfilm and documents at the State Historical Society in order to produce a fact-based report.  Then, anonymous commenters explain how wrong I am because, well, they know how to turn on their computer.

One comment early in the morning struck me, mostly because it contained complete sentences.  The commenter’s name was “Fallone,” and criticized me for failing to mention the circumstances of the 1911 recall effort, in which the recall resolution was amended to exempt the judiciary from the recall process because some senators thought it would be abused by socialists.  Of course, in the report that served as the basis for my op-ed, I talk all about the 1911 recall effort and the move to exempt judges; but given the limited space allotted to me by the Journal Sentinel, I didn’t mention it yesterday.  The commenter ended his critique of me by saying “The Journal Sentinel does the public a disservice by printing polemics masquerading as objective history.”


By 4:34 P.M. , Marquette law professor Ed Fallone had read my original piece, and -oops – realized I discussed everything he wanted me to about the 1911 election in my “polemic” writings.  But obviously, he had it out for me, so he needed a new specious line of argument, which he lays out on the Marquette University Law School Faculty blog.  Not only is his critique of my research weak, it doesn’t even lay a finger on my central thesis; that the recall isn’t being used in any way envisioned by the constitutional amendment’s original authors.

Fallone begins with this questionable syllogism:

The original push to add recall provisions to the Wisconsin Constitution, conducted during the 1911 legislative term, was clearly modeled on the nationwide campaign to adopt recall provisions.  I have previously written about the history of the recall movement here.  None of the other states that recall advocates in Wisconsin looked to as models in 1911 had exempted executive branch officials from the recall power.  Moreover, far from being directed at judges, the original provisions in 1911 were amended in response to criticism so that they exempted judges from the scope of the recall (see page 139 of this history by the Legislative Research Bureau).

Given this record, it is impossible to conclude that the original legislation adopting recall provisions was primarily directed at the removal of elected judges.  However, the original legislation was rejected by the voters in 1914, and did not become part of the Wisconsin Constitution.  Mr. Schneider appears to argue that when the recall provisions were introduced once again, in 1923 by State Senator Henry Huber, they were no longer intended to apply broadly to all elected officials.  Apparently we are to believe that between 1911 and 1923 the intent of the recall provision had changed from an intent to apply the recall to all elected officials except judges to an intent to apply the recall provisions primarily to judges.

Is it really the position of a Marquette law professor that two legislatures, a dozen years apart and comprised by almost entirely different members, could come to two different conclusions about how the recall amendment should be drafted?  The move to exempt judges in 1911 was due to the concerns of a handful of senators fearful of socialist dirty tricks; it’s impossible that either those senators were either gone, or their fear of socialists had been ameliorated?  Is it far-fetched to think that in 1923, new legislators buoyed by the progressive surge in popularity, thought they could pass a more expansive recall amendment?

Take, for example, the issue of concealed firearms.  A decade ago, legislators drafted a very modest proposal to allow concealed-carry.  It never made it past the governor’s veto.  Now, ten years later, emboldened by a changing political landscape, the GOP passed a much more expansive concealed-carry law, knowing many of their political obstacles had been eliminated.  By Fallone’s reasoning, this new law never would have passed because it was rejected 10 years ago.

I have a mountain of evidence that suggests that the only real question on the ballot in 1926 was whether judges should be recalled.  Fallone’s evidence is simply his confusion that different legislatures twelve years apart draft different constitutional amendments for different reasons.

Fallone also criticizes me because, in reaching my conclusion, I use statements by opponents of the recall:

Second, it is never proper to attempt to divine the original intent of a constitutional provision by relying upon the arguments of its opponents.  Almost all of Mr. Schneider’s evidence in support of his proferred interpretation comes from editorials and statements of persons who opposed the ratification of the recall provisions.  The statements of opponents are no evidence at all of the intention of supporters.

Of course, he ignores the sections where I use statements by supporters of the recall to demonstrate that it would be used almost solely against judges.  Take this editorial from the Wisconsin State Journal, a paper that supported the recall of executive offices:

“Men and women of Wisconsin, going to vote Tuesday, will be confronted by the recall amendment.  Do we want it?

This is not a very hard or complicated thing to understand.  The proposal is that if 25 per cent of the number who voted for governor at the last election petition for it an election shall be held to say whether an elective officer stays or goes.

In Wisconsin, this would amount to little in the case of any official except a judge.  For the men who propose it have hedged it with such conditions that an official could not be recalled until he had been in office at least 13 1/2 months.  What was left on a 2-year term would not be important enough to hold a recall election on…

The best thing the proposers of the recall seem able to bring up is that they have so hedged it with restrictions that it would be hard to use.  A fine reason surely!  If a recall is needed, it ought be made easy to use – not so hard that only wealthy interests or organizations which have piled up large funds for political purposes can employ it.”

A later editorial explains that while they favor the idea of the recall, they oppose the way it would affect judges:

“In our judgment, [the recall] is an instrument of popular control of public administration which is useful as applied to executive officials.  Its use as to these, we believe, is in its potentiality more largely than its practice, because the frequency of our elections of administrative officers gives the whip-hand over them in any case, and so the recall as it affects them serves more than anything else as an admonition.

We believe the recall as applied to the judiciary, however, positively to be detrimental to public service…”

Virtually every account of the recall amendment in major Wisconsin newspapers in October and November of 1926 referred to it as the “judicial recall,” or the “recall of judges.”  If Fallone would like to do his own research to prove otherwise, he is welcome to it.  Here are just a few:

Burr Jones Asks Defeat of Recall: Ex-Justice of Supreme Court, in a Letter to Journal, Points out Evils of Measure – Wisconsin State Journal, October 29, 1926.

Lawyer Supports Judicial Recall, Says Judiciary Should Not be Exempt, Milwaukee Journal, November 1, 1926

Lawyers of State Unite to Beat Recall Measure, Milwaukee Sentinel, October 26, 1926

Lawyers Unite Against Recall, Milwaukee Sentinel, October 26, 1926

Prelate Also Opposes Recall of Judges, Milwaukee Sentinel, October 31, 1926

On Wisconsin: The Recall, Wisconsin State Journal, October 31, 1926

Vote “No” on Recall, Bar Advises, Milwaukee Sentinel, October 28, 1926

“Judicial Recall,” Wisconsin State Journal, October 29, 1926

Furthermore, if Fallone would like to point to any politician in the state with a 2-year term who has been recalled, or who has even been the subject of an attempted recall, even in the height of recall fever in which we find ourselves right now, I’d be happy to correct myself.  But all the evidence shows that it was the understanding then, has been the understanding throughout the state’s history, and is currently the understanding that it is implausible to recall politicians with 2-year terms.

We get it.  Ed Fallone likes the recall.  In his own derivative history of the recall, Fallone cites the need to lessen the influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has become a shibboleth for individuals who are either anti-Scott Walker or who don’t have proper ventilation in their offices.  The only people who say ALEC is secretly pulling Scott Walker’s strings are people who are trying to defeat Walker.  But wait – weren’t we supposed to not draw conclusions based solely on someone’s opponents?

I am willing to show my work.  The professor has none to show.


Hiding Behind the Kids: Citing family, too many pols duck electoral duty

Last August, Congressman Paul Ryan announced for the 43rd time that he would not run for president. He’s always maintained that the ages of his children — three kids between the ages of 6 and 9 — are a factor in his decision. His standard line? “My head isn’t big enough, and my kids are too small.”

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels begged off, saying he didn’t want to subject his family to the scrutiny of a presidential campaign. “In the end, I was able to resolve every competing consideration,” he said, except for the most important consideration of all — “the interests and wishes of my family.” And when irascible New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie bowed out of the race, he deemed it a “family decision.”

All of these family considerations have left Republican presidential voters with a choice of C-list emetics for candidates. Mitt Romney is a Republican when he deems it necessary to win Republican elections. Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry all flamed out before the primaries were even held. Newt Gingrich is so toxic, he should wear a Mr. Yuk sticker on his lapel. (Poor Mitch Daniels: He hesitated to run because his wife once left him and returned to remarry him. Yet GOP voters warmed up to Gingrich, who changes wives more often than he flosses.)

And while “do it for the kids” is an aphorism in politics, more and more politicians are deciding not to do it for the kids. They want to protect their children from the Palin-ization of presidential politics, where every offspring’s missteps could translate into blogging frenzy.

But exactly how many of these kids are pleading with their parents to eschew a run for president? Think any politician’s 10-year-old-son wouldn’t love to say, “Hey, Dad, I’m having trouble with my footwork — can you call Peyton Manning and have him come over and show me the three-step drop?” You think “My dad is president” might be a good icebreaker with the ladies at high school parties?

The whole “I want to spend more time with my family” excuse is worn out and meaningless. Ambitious men have always run for office to get away from their families — generally, they only rediscover their progeny when it seems like they can’t win again. But that’s the beauty of being president — you get to take your whole family with you and live in the same house.

Furthermore, blaming the family when you decide not to run is a bit unseemly. Suddenly, your kids become impediments to the realization of America’s greatness. Suppose you spend all your time talking about how America is going to implode without changes to its entitlement programs — and then decide not to change those programs because you might miss some T-ball games?

How does that sound to military families, who have to do without fathers and mothers for extended periods of time (and sometimes forever) to preserve the American idea?

Sasha and Malia. The Bush daughters. Chelsea Clinton. All of us would be proud to have children as happy and well-adjusted as these kids — and every one has lived through the apparent horrors of growing up in the coolest house in America. We know politicians love their kids — but so do hundreds of millions of other American families that are looking for visionary and inspiring presidential candidates. We’ll chip in for baby-sitting, we promise.

A Festival of Anachronisms

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, the Wisconsin State Historical Society is one of my favorite places to hang out.  If I had the time, I could spend full days just combing through microfilm, plucking oddities from hundred year old newspapers.  In fact, when I need to scroll through old papers to do work research, I have to discipline myself to only read the stuff I absolutely need – otherwise, I could be there for hours.

The glory of old newspapers is in the shocking anachronistic language they use; their pages are replete with terms that have long been shelved in the name of political correctness.  Take, for instance, this front page headline from the Milwaukee Sentinel in 1923:


Of course, in 1923, “moron” was an actual psychological term, used to describe someone who was slightly mentally retarded.  So the headline made perfect sense.

But it isn’t just words that are out of place in 2012 America; the subject matter is often fairly shocking, as well.  Take, for example, this 1923 editorial from the Milwaukee Journal, which contests a study that argues Native Americans have no “racial odor:”

1923 was also a year when divorce was a very public act; when everyday couples divorced, it often made the front page of the newspaper, with reasons given for the split.  Here’s a pair of divorce notices from 1923: in one, the husband alleges his wife “used abusive language,” and in the other, the wife alleges the husband married her before the legal one-year waiting period had passed.  (Presumably, if the marriage was going well, she wouldn’t be as quick to seek an annulment – maybe the old wife came back around and caused trouble.)


1923 was also a time when the Klu Klux Klan was still very much a part of American life.  Apparently, many Klan members thought the KKK was missing something:  a feminine touch.

In March of 1923, a new women’s chapter of the KKK began meeting.  They called themselves “Kamelia:”


This editorial was placed on the front page of the Milwaukee Journal, and is funniest how apropos of nothing it really is:


“Try to change a woman’s mind – YOU CAN’T DO IT!  Am I right, fellas?

Given all the hand-wringing about illegal aliens in 2012, I found this picture from 1926 to be entertaining:


Another example of how certain words have changed meaning over the past 100 years: Somehow, I think this characterization of George Washington would be a little more controversial these days:


Finally, I wrestled with whether to include this one – and I won\’t post the picture here.  But while the other examples serve to show how long ago those words had different meanings, this example demonstrates how recently one specific word was still a part of acceptable American lexicon.  It appeared on the front page of the Milwaukee Sentinel on October 24 of 1926, and involves a talented dog with a curious name.


Fan Mail of the Day

From today’s inbox, a comment by someone at Ohio State University:

Saw your article “It’s Working in Walker’s Wisconsin”. History does seem to repeat itself and go in cycles. I guess the public will just have to relearn why their grandparent’s generation fought the robber barons and those extremely exploitative jobs. I wish someone would do an analysis on the types of jobs Walker is bringing in. I can tell, Mr. Schneider would never want to work that type of job. Corporate sluts like Walker and yourself will never know what it’s like to work and be stuck in a labor intensive job, though karma would tell us it’s exactly what you deserve.

You, sir, are no friend of mine, you hate your common brother enough to send him to the sweatshops. All for selling out to money from Walker or the Koch bros. The suffering you contribute to will hopefully be put on your shoulders by St. Peter.

I’m only offended because I am more of a standard slut, not the corporate variety.


The 2011 Year in Review

My Year in Review column for the Isthmus is up.  It discusses, naturally, the goings-on in Wisconsin politics over the past year.  Here’s a snippet:

It was a year that granted the definition of the word “democracy” a previously unimaginable elasticity. While bullhorns around the Capitol blared “this is what democracy looks like,” 14 Democratic state senators fled to Illinois to prevent democracy from occurring. Later, a single Dane County judge would overturn Walker’s law, which irony-deficient Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca called “a huge win for democracy in Wisconsin.” The law would later be reinstated by an incredulous state Supreme Court.

It was these same “democracy enthusiasts” who decided to use Wisconsin’s 85-year-old recall law to cast a number of democratically elected Republicans from office. Since the law was passed in 1926, only two state elected officials had been recalled from office; in 2011, nine state senators faced that fate, demonstrating that this is what democracy has never looked like. Despite over $40 million being spent on the senate recalls, Republicans won four of the six contested seats and retained control of the state senate by a one-vote margin.

In some districts, Republicans won by more comfortable margins than they ever had before. Of the two GOP senators who lost, one was in a district Barack Obama carried by 18 percentage points. The other was embroiled in a personal scandal involving a 25-year-old mistress. Thus, after the rancorous recall process, the enduring lesson was: It\’s probably a bad idea to cheat on your wife.

It was a year where Madison teachers showed parents how much they valued their kids by walking out on them for a four-day sick-out. Some teachers even brought their pupils down to the Capitol to help them protest. When a group of Madison East high school students were asked why they were marching on the statehouse during a school day, one young man said he was “trying to stop whatever this dude is doing.”

Read the whole thing here.

Profiles in Civility

Today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel features a story about how “civility” has been lost in Wisconsin due to the conflict over collective bargaining rights.  The article goes out of its way to show that both sides are guilty of incivility, with UW-Madison political science professor Dennis Dresang declaring that “nobody’s got a monopoly on rhetoric and threats and incendiary language.”

Of course, this attempt to find equivalency between the actions of the Right and the Left in Wisconsin is pure nonsense.  The attempt to show “both sides do it” falls apart if the reader has any recollection at all of the events of the past eight months.  Let’s take a quick look at the Democrats’ “profiles in civility:”

  • Democratic state Rep. Gordon Hintz yelling at fellow Rep. Michelle Litjens “you’re f***ing dead.”
  • Sen. Spencer Coggs said Walker’s bill was “legalized slavery” and Rep. Joe Parisi said Walker was “calling the National Guard out on the people of Wisconsin.”
  • Fourteen state senators fled the state to block passage of Walker’s collective bargaining bill (including Tim Cullen, who decries the loss of civility in the MJS article.)
  • Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched on the Capitol, many with profane signs comparing Walker to Hitler, bin Laden, etc.  (Remember this lady?  (Language Warning.) See anything like this at Tea Party rallies?)
  • Aggressive, militant activists have been following lawmakers everywhere they go, filming them, verbally harassing them, and pouring beer on one.
  • The “solidarity singers” have been yelling every day in the capitol rotunda, forcing things such as blood drives to move to places other than the Capitol.
  • The chief justice of the Supreme Court likely leaked a story to the press accusing one of her colleagues of choking another justice – a story that was completely debunked, and the accused justice was eventually exonerated.
  • Committee hearings have been disrupted, with people being dragged out by their feet – one woman chained her head to the railing of the state senate parlor with a bike lock.
  • Illegal activity has been rampant, whether it is liberal activists providing  ribs for votes doctors providing fake sick notes notes, or otherwise.
  • Protesters disrupting every Walker public speaking event, including a Special Olympics ceremony.
  •  In the most toxic campaign ad of 2011,the Left tried to make it seem like Supreme Court Justice David Prosser was the best friend of pedophiles, digging up a case Prosser prosecuted as a district attorney 30 years ago.  (There were no similar ads run by any Republicans either in the Supreme Court race or the state senate recalls.)
  • Teachers pulling their kids out of school, shutting down Madison schools for 4 days, and bringing the kids to capitol rallies.
  • The desecration of the state capitol, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in cleanup costs.
  • Marching not only at Scott Walker’s home, but at the homes of individual legislators that don’t have any police protection.
  • And probably most uncivilly, Democrats refused to participate in this year’s staff versus legislator softball game.

I am really making an honest attempt to find anything from the Right that matches anything on this list.  At one point, a friend of former State Senator Dave Zien allegedly tried to punch a solidarity singer.  The reports of collecting signatures and shredding recall petitions is merely a rumor; there’s no evidence anyone on the Right caused the “cyberattack” that liberals are complaining about.

And honestly – let’s say some right-wing hacker caused this “cyberattack.”  What’s worse – that, or the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court likely planting a fake story in the paper in an attempt to smear a fellow justice?

So the real story here isn’t that civility on both sides has been lost; it is that Walker supporters have maintained their composure amid an avalanche of poisonous actions by union loyalists.

Mark Pocan’s Smoke Screen: His pieties about protecting middle class families are a cover for hiking taxes on the poor

On June 15, Mark Pocan was on a roll. He stood on the floor of the Wisconsin Assembly delivering a sarcastic stem-winder, criticizing the new state budget so dramatically that it sounded as if he were auditioning for a community theater production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

Pocan, who seems destined to inherit Tammy Baldwin’s safely Democratic congressional seat, ripped the Republican-authored budget for its use of fund raids, debt restructuring and fee increases (mostly UW tuition) to balance the budget.

Of course, this was pure calumny, as the last Democratic budget — authored with Pocan as co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee — could be characterized only by those exact gimmicks.

Pocan thundered that the budget was an “attack on the middle-class families of Wisconsin.” In a particularly obnoxious critique of the GOP, Pocan said Gov. Scott Walker’s budget “increased property taxes” by $475 million. Of course the state doesn’t “increase” property taxes — it merely limits how much local governments can increase property taxes.

Apparently Pocan lost the memo that demonstrated that using those same numbers, the Pocan-authored budget of 2009 “raised” property taxes by $1.49 billion — more than three times Walker’s alleged increase.

Pocan finished with the most disingenuous talking point: Republicans were going after the middle class by scaling back the homestead and earned-income tax credits by $69.8 million. Surely, Democrats would never support taxes that harm the middle class!

In fact, Democrats prefer taxes that harm the poor.

Exactly 734 days earlier, Pocan stood on the Assembly floor arguing for a budget he authored that increased the cigarette tax by 75 cents per pack. This hike occurred directly on the heels of a $1 per pack tax increase that Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle signed into law just two years earlier.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 54% of all cigarette smokers have incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. Increasing taxes on cigarettes is a direct tax increase on people who can least afford it. And the increase isn’t insignificant.

State cigarette tax receipts jumped 54% the year after the $1 per-pack hike. In the three years since the Legislature began raising cigarette taxes, receipts have increased $762.9 million over the base of $296 million in 2007. If Wisconsin smokers follow national income patterns, that amounts to a $412 million tax increase on the state’s poorest people — the same people we pretend to help by pouring millions into social programs.

As a result of this massive tax increase on the poor, Wisconsin papered over its own fiscal mismanagement in the prior decade. Cigarette tax revenues now account for 5.3% of state general fund revenues, as opposed to only 2.35% three years ago. At $2.52 per pack, Wisconsin has the seventh-highest cigarette tax in the nation, behind only notorious spendthrifts like New York, New Jersey and Hawaii.

Democrats argued that higher cigarette taxes would dissuade people from smoking, leading to a healthier populace. Yet the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Bureau estimates the number of smokers has dropped by only 3% per year since 2000.

In the meantime, one can walk into any gas station in Wisconsin and see a tattooed mother in her pajamas, holding a child in each arm, plunk down sixty bucks for a carton of heaters.

Sure, nobody puts a lighter to anyone’s head and forces them to buy cigarettes. But the numbers show that the new taxes aren’t really slowing many people down. And thanks to Democrats, being poor has gotten a lot more expensive.

“9-9-9” Hits the Heartland

Cain“Who here has heard of the ‘9-9-9’ plan?”

Virtually every one of the 150 hands in Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan’s Thursday town hall meeting shot into the air.

All day, Ryan had been peppered with questions about Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain’s economic plan, which replaces the current federal tax structure with a 9 percent personal-income tax, a 9 percent corporate-income tax, and a 9 percent federal sales tax. Milwaukee radio talk show host Charlie Sykes began the questioning in the morning. Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, answered another gauntlet of questions about 9-9-9 in a morning town hall meeting in Muskego. And now the residents of Oak Creek wanted to see if the plan had earned the imprimatur of Congress’ premier fiscal wonk.

Ironically, it was Ryan himself who took to the road last April to promote his own budget plan, which had recently passed through the House of Representatives. All across America, members of Congress were challenged on the details of Ryan’s budget at their town hall meetings. And many had trouble navigating their avalanche of charts and graphs with Ryan’s legendary alacrity. Now, he was being forced to explain someone else’s plan in the same way others had to defend his House budget in April.

Critics of 9-9-9 believe the plan’s regressivity render it dead in the water. (Cain addresses this problem in part by offering tax rebates to low income individuals.) They say the plan constitutes a large tax break for the rich, that it won’t raise the revenue it promises, and that it creates new taxes that Congress could more easily raise in the near future.

Yet Cain’s plan is an overwhelming victory in terms of marketing. Stunningly, in mere weeks, it appears Cain’s plan has saturated Ryan’s constituency. 9-9-9 has clearly piqued the interest of both conservative voters and enthusiasts of saying the same number three times in succession. (It is unclear as to whether former NBA star Moses Malone, who in 1983 boasted that the 76ers would sweep through the playoffs “fo, fo, fo,” is serving as Cain’s chief economic adviser.)

Ryan’s association with 9-9-9 began last week, when a headline in the Daily Caller breathlessly declared that “Paul Ryan ‘loves’ the idea of Herman Cain’s tax plan.” Ryan says the article didn’t get his position on Cain’s plan exactly right – while he “loves” the idea of candidates putting bold plans on the table, he wouldn’t sign on to all the details of 9-9-9. Specifically, he disagrees with layering a nine percent sales tax on top of a nine percent income tax, as many governments in Europe do.

When asked whether he thinks Cain’s numbers add up, Ryan says that while the plan hasn’t been officially “scored,” he believes it more or less raises enough money. “As someone who has been criticized for putting out a bold plan, I can understand what it’s like,” Ryan told me in between town hall meetings, adding that picking apart Cain’s plan was the job of the other presidential primary candidates, not his.

While 9-9-9 may have helped Cain surge to legitimacy in the GOP presidential primary, it also may be the only thing keeping his campaign afloat. Recently he has had trouble articulating his “phone a friend” foreign policy, in which he simply promises to be briefed often by really smart people. On CNN, he struggled to answer a fairly standard question from interviewer Piers Morgan on abortion, saying it was “not the government’s role, or anybody’s role to make that decision.” (He has since issued a statement saying his is “100% pro-life.”)

Meanwhile, members of Congress that spread throughout the country to talk about their accomplishments are likely to find that the star of their town halls is someone who isn’t even there. He is a frontrunning presidential candidate who, when a number of one poll’s respondents were asked to describe him in one word, used the word “pizza.” (Not since Herbert Hoover promised “a fourteen inch sausage-mushroom-and-onion in every pot” has the pizza rating been so high for a candidate.)

Other candidates are slated to roll out their economic plans over the next few weeks. But few will get the traction that Herman Cain has garnered through showmanship alone. It will be seen as to whether he can cash this goodwill into votes.

-October 24, 2011

Manhood in a Bottle

If you’re a sports fan, your weekends are likely wallpapered with television advertisements that purport to explain what being a “man” is all about.  One’s masculinity, according to ad writers, is currently derived from your choice of satellite television company, what kind of body wash you use, and most of all, what kind of beer you drink.  In fact, Miller Lite will actually declare you to be more of a man if you drink their beer from a “vortex” bottle, which is aerodynamically engineered to fire beer down your throat with the velocity of a Blunderbuss hand cannon.

Of course, nobody expects a beer commercial to be an Aesop-style morality tale.  Women have been insulted in beer ads for decades; men are simply catching up.  Miller just recently ended a slew of particularly obnoxious commercials that consistently featured men being jerks to pretty women – a puzzling situation to which no man can actually relate.

But the current “MAN UP!” meme is particularly grating, given the ubiquity of the ads.  They generally feature some doofus engaging in an effeminate act, while simultaneously enjoying a drink that is not Miller Lite.  They are then publicly ridiculed for both transgressions by their a-hole friends, who also happen to have a comely woman draped on each arm.  According to the Miller ad people, Winston Churchill would be considered a pansy because he chose to shower his liver with God’s gift of Johnnie Walker Black his entire life – and not a more “masculine” lite beer.

Of course, challenging one’s manhood by calling them a girl isn’t exactly a new phenomenon.  During the Civil War, Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote a poem excoriating the “sweet little men” who dodged military duty:

“Bring him the buttonless garment of a woman!

Cover his face lest it freckle and tan;

Muster the Apron-string Guards on the Common,-

That is the corps for the sweet little man!”

In other words: “MAN UP!”

But within the world of television advertising, the only deed that matters is what product you use.  Men are almost uniformly depicted as simplistic baboons, barely able to function in society.  Mom leaves town?  Dad can’t do anything in the kitchen, so he better call for a pizza!  Need to clean the house because your husband is a pig?  Get a Roomba!  Be careful letting dad play with the kids – he might injure himself!  Things have to be so simple, even cavemen can do them.

One only needs to watch 15 minutes of the TLC Network show “Say Yes to the Dress” to be disavowed of any notion that women are more evolved than men.  The show involves a full hour of nothing but women trying on wedding dresses while their bridesmaids roll their eyes and cluck at their gaudy fashion transgressions.  And if watching that show doesn’t improve your relative impression of males, take comedian Adam Corolla’s advice and “go down to the patent office… and see all the innovations women didn’t come up with.”

Yet even if “manhood” is considered a desirable thing, your masculinity is now apparently dependent on your choice of booze.  You’ll never see an ad praising a man for doing truly manly things, like reading to his kids, or taking care of his elderly parents, or working tirelessly on a cure for Alzheimer’s.  If Einstein had been in college in 2011, his theory of relativity would instead read “Beer Before Liquor = Never Sicker.”

All I really want is to be able to watch inhuman amounts of sports on the weekend without being subjected to a commercial threatening to revoke my “man card” every seven minutes.  (Apparently you need one as identification to get into any d-bag convention held around the country.)  It’s gotten so bad, I actually brought it up at my Twilight discussion group last week.

Tough Noogies: What’s the big deal that Scott Walker didn’t campaign on curbing union power?

On the day before Gov. Scott Walker introduced his plan to restrict public-sector collective bargaining, he met with Democratic legislative leaders to brief them on the details. Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca expressed disbelief, complaining to Walker that he hadn’t mentioned the plan at all during the gubernatorial campaign.

This meme has become the primary obloquy hurled at Walker during the collective-bargaining firestorm: Walker is somehow a liar for not mentioning his plan while campaigning for governor in fall 2010. Walker’s proposal “went far beyond what anybody thought he would do,” union leader Richard Abelson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in February. “He didn’t talk about it during the campaign. If he had said that, some people who supported him would have had some second thoughts,” said Abelson, head of District Council 48 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Yet the “we was duped” talking point is as old as democracy itself. Ancient Greeks were probably overheard saying things like, “None of Cleisthenes’ YouTube videos mentioned that he was going to stop me from trading my wife for three goats.”

In 1960, Republican presidential candidate Nelson Rockefeller ripped his primary opponent, Richard Nixon, for not being forthcoming with voters about his plans. “I find it unreasonable — in these times — that the leading Republican candidate for the presidential nomination has firmly insisted upon making known his program and his policies, not before, but only after nomination by his party,” Rockefeller said.

He lost.

The Walker complainers have a more finely honed selective memory than people who remember the Titanic as a fine dining experience. Do they recall Walker’s predecessor, Democrat Jim Doyle, campaigning on cutting the University of Wisconsin budget by $250 million and raising tuition 35% in two years to cover it? Was candidate Doyle in 2002 running around the state promising to raid the transportation fund and backfill it with debt? Of course not — but upon taking office, he thought he had to do these things to balance the budget.

In fact, the archetype of the lying politician is as ingrained in American politics as the sight of candidates kissing babies. Doyle promised never to raise taxes — yet he raised them by billions during his tenure. Candidate Barack Obama pledged to close the Guantanamo Bay prison facility — yet under President Obama, there it remains, providing the government with the intelligence it needed to catch Osama bin Laden.

And yet Walker isn’t being excoriated for going back on a promise; he’s being criticized simply for something he didn’t say. (Incidentally, plenty of unions were telling their members during the campaign that Walker was going to roll back their ability to bargain.) As if campaigns are measured, cautious affairs, where candidates put forth their plans and voters carefully measure each morsel of fiscal policy contained therein.

In reality, the Walker campaign was fighting off claims that he wanted to kill women by denying them mammograms.

Finally, would Walker really have not been elected had he proposed to limit union bargaining during the campaign? Face it, he would have won.

In a year where Republicans wiped Democrats off the face of the political map, winning control of the state Senate, the Assembly and the U.S. House of Representatives and defeating liberal icon Senator Russ Feingold, do people actually believe Walker would have lost? Does someone want to call Supreme Court Justice David Prosser and ask him what he thinks?”

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