It’s easy (with rarest exception) to predict where the Wisconsin State Journal‘s editorial page will stand on any issue. Today is no exception, as they pronounce “State’s move to merit pay welcome“.
Naturally they stand with Governor Walker. Now, with the statewide Recall efforts beginning, it would be impossible for loyal members of the party to disagree with the party leader. Whether you see this as GOP “message discipline,” or a pure psychosocial preference for authority and a powerful leader, or a natural, defensive “circling of the wagons” to a perceived threat (sometimes real, sometimes imagined), the outcome is the same.
It’s quite amazing to watch this work in conservative politics. Ideas that had no currency at all (and often deserve none) can become overnight established dogma. Torture, once universally abhorred by Americans, can become a perfectly obvious necessity, once the Leader owns it in public. A religion, once honored (or ignored), can become an existential threat. Gay marriage, Sharia Law, the Muslim Brotherhood materialize out of nowhere to loom as a sudden new menaces. Acorn’s community organizing must be destroyed, NPR and Planned Parenthood defunded. Imaginary voter fraud must be combated with new IDs. Public unions must be crushed. Tax cuts actually increase government revenue. The “job-creators” are being hamstrung by regulations. on and on…
None of it has to be debated. None of it needs to have existed a day earlier. But suddenly it’s spoken by a thought leader and it literally becomes a defining “idea” among party apparatchiks, media enablers, and then quickly among the always re-programmable Base.
Not every conservative needs to embrace every newly minted “idea” out loud. There are clearly differences and gradations within the conservative movement. Such differences are actually vital, because different roles need to be played. Rush Limbaugh and George Will do play for the same team, but they play different positions. One pitches; one plays center field.
The Wisconsin State Journal, we feel certain, feels itself part of the “old” Republican party, where businessmen organized into local chambers of commerce, did perform some real public service, and, of course, represented their own business and class interests. Today that “old” kind of Republicanism is often, with good reason, referred to as the “sane” wing of the party. But conservatism and Republicanism have morphed, steadily, over the last 30 years. The “old” values and ideas have been largely eclipsed by new ideas, many of them nutty (fear of Sharia Law) or damaging (crushing the unions) or shameful (torture). So the movement and the party enjoy some strange and strained alliances, but players still play for the same team. It’s a pretty darn ugly team — an alliance of taxaphobes, race-baiters, climate-change deniers, theocrats, billionaires, and, yes, old-time local chamber of commerce businessmen (and women). And, of course, others.
It is possible to remain a loyal member-in-good-standing of the team as long as you are willing to shut up about the oddballs, dittoheads, and outright sociopaths who also play for the team. This was Ronald Reagan’s famous 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.”
The Wisconsin State Journal‘s editorial page never came out against a U.S. torture regime. It’s possible the Wisconsin State Journal‘s editors felt bad about it. But they definitely shut up about it. They found other things to talk about. That’s how team players operate.
When a new governor unveils his most far-reaching new “idea” — crushing the state public unions (sparing cops and firefighters) — his teammates have precisely two options, shut up or cheer. This plays out day after day in the long season. When the new governor announces his employees will henceforth be rewarded (or not) by “merit” raises (for which he offers no funding), teammates have two choices. This is why we started by saying,
It’s easy (with rarest exception) to predict where the Wisconsin State Journal‘s editorial page will stand on any issue.