Ring the bell, school’s in session

Self-described “political guru” Scott Milfred offers us “a quick lesson” today on the  Wisconsin State Journal editorial page. It’s a lesson about political partisanship, which he flogs approximately once a month, and which he always, always, always measures as equal within the Dems and the Repubs.

Worthless punditry regularly opens up this same can of dogfood, and apparently there’s some audience for it, since it does get served regularly.

Dogs’ll eat some nasty stuff — we’ve got the pictures to prove it — but so will low-information readers and voters. If they hear it enough, they’ll start repeating it.  Politics is worthless, the gummint can’t do anything right, and politicians are all the same.

This will be their entire understanding of how the public sphere works, and then they will be well qualified to stand at the end of some geezer bar, repeating their one-paragraph of worthless cynicism to anyone who will listen.

Or, if stars mis-align, they might become a columnist at the local newspaper.

But back to Milfred’s “quick lesson”.  Please read the editorial if you have time to burn, but it boils down to this breathless discovery — both D’s and R’s, have, at various times, spoken both in favor of and against certain tax credits which are somewhat different but at least sound kind of similar. Boy howdy, that’s an insight!  What’s more — you’re not gonna believe this — the R’s and D’s favor the idea more when their own party is proposing it, but oppose it more when the other party offers it.

Now that is a lesson for us neophytes. Could anyone other than the WSJ’s own “political guru” have schooled us better?

Answer: Oh, fer cryin’ out loud…. First of all, the editorial’s examples are about political speech. In societies that enjoy any form of democracy, opposing parties will talk this way.  One says, “there’s cause for optimism,” and the other says, “we believe that’s over-optimistic.”  It’s talk. It’s normal. It’s predictable. It’s OK. Yes, it might be hypocritical claptrap. Human beings — all of us, not just the pols — are masters of hypocrisy, often crippled by our own self-interests.  Good observers try to point out the claptrap.

What matters is doing things. Passing laws, eliminating laws, changing them.  In this, our D’s and R’s want to do different things. They want to serve different constituencies — yes, often insufficiently different constituencies; yes, often hand-in-hand with lobbyists pushing wheelbarrows of money — but there are differences that affect almost everything from infant mortality to childhood poverty to education to health and well-being for oldsters. R’s and D’s do propose to do different things.

They do oppose each other’s efforts. Folks back home want that. They demand it. Describing this as “partisanship” is not helpful.

Voters oppose other voters. Industries oppose other industries. It’s a real contest with winners and losers. Even when a change is blocked, when something does not change, someone wanted that no-change outcome, and someone has won as someone else lost.

To grump, as this editorial does, that “politics trumps progress again” is a childish misunderstanding of what’s going on in our politics. What “progress” do we agree upon? There’s deep division in America.

A functioning editorial page would help readers understand what opposing political parties want to do, who would benefit, who would lose.  Indeed — for ordinary people — this is (or would be) the benefit of reading the thoughts and analyses of a good editorial page.

The world will always have geezers standing at the end of geezer bars, griping about the imaginary ‘old days’, and ‘partisan wrangling’, and ‘nothin’ gettin’ done’. It’s bar talk. It’s not exactly enlightened, or enlightening, but it’s OK.

It would be swell if our public information systems were much better at counteracting this chatter, but it’s never been job #1. They’re corporations trying to profit and survive. Selling ads is far more critical to their existence than delivering thoughtful analysis applied to complicated issues.

Do  we have huge swaths of the public, almost whole regions of the country, where people seem to know nothing in specific, trading only in no-nothing cynicism and empty memes, of which “partisanship” is a constantly recycled golden oldie? Seems like! Is the cure for that found on the Wisconsin State Journal editorial page? Sadly, no, it is not.