Darlings, we don’t think this is going to work

Criminy, two separate Wisconsin State Journal editorials in one week! Two editorials about rigged voting districts first on Sunday and then on Wednesday (paywall, believe it or not).

A sensible argument

The State Journal has rarely if ever shown such determination on an issue, so it’s especially nice that this time they’re on the right side of it. We’ve been delighted from the start. They have now made this same, sensible and popular argument in 6 or 7 recent editorials. (We’re losing count! It’s an editorial barrage!)


But the thing is, we just don’t think sensible arguments are gonna work here. Sure, the Iowa model of redistricting by independent, technocratic, non-partisan methods would surely be better for the public. It would produce more competitive elections. We’d probably get more representative, uh, “representatives“. Better governance! Better democracy! It would even save money.

But is that what our current crop of elected officials want? Not really. In fact, not at all.

Does Assembly Leader Robin Voss (R-Rochester) want greater difficulty getting himself elected, and re-elected? Does Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald want more and better opposition in Senate campaigns? No, of course not. That was the whole point of rigging the voting districts.

  • That’s also why they went straight to work implementing new, shall we say, “Southern style”, voting restrictions. The wrong citizens were getting to the polls.
  • That’s why they took a straight razor to the public sector unions.
  • That’s why they’re proposing higher limits for wealthy campaign contributors and less public information about who’s giving.

In short it is very, very clear that Wisconsin Republicans are helping themselves, at the expense of the voting public. They clearly thought about it, and then acted. Quite decisively.

Now the State Journal hasn’t opposed most of these anti-citizen, anti-voter initiatives, but it’s great to see them oppose at least one of them (the rigged voting districts). Good luck to you, State Journal, and to all of us. We love these little flashes of idealism on your editorial page.

But darlings, we really doubt that well-intentioned pleading is going to work.

The Wisconsin State Journal editorial drinkin’ game

Jameson WhiskeyOver at our place, we play a particular drinkin’ game by reading a Wisconsin State Journal editorial. Sometimes it goes nowhere. But other times, the editorial board will sort of criticize their beloved Republicans, and then the game is on. Will there be a matching swipe at Democrats? Are ya kidding? As soon as we find the matching swipe (and we will, it’s never not there) it’s time for everyone to shout, “Booyah Casserole!” and down a shot of Jameson.

Here’s an example. It’s actually a mostly good editorial — Partisan maps share blame for shutdown.  True enough. Gerrymandered voting districts really do help to explain why the GOP has gotten increasingly out of touch with the broad range of voters.

But then the editorialists can’t help themselves. In order to “balance” a criticism of their beloved GOP, they need an equal-and-also jab at Democrats, or in this case, “progressives”:

Fixing the process in Wisconsin won’t magically tame the tea party in Washington or turn progressives into pragmatists.

Bingo, there it is. Everybody take a drink.

Of course, in reality, we have no idea what makes progressives un-pragmatic. Who are they talking about? What are they talking about? They don’t explain. It’s just a quick insult, which always needs to be done. For faux balance? Is it an obsessive-compulsive symptom? Dunno, but it’s the reliable basis of the WSJ Editorial Drinking Game!

We should leave it at that, but we’ve got a couple of minutes to burn, so let’s get serious. The State Journal’s idea that progressives need to be more “pragmatic” has, let’s say, no particular basis. If they can defend the idea, we’d love to hear it. Thus far we believe it to be just an insult without basis.

Consider the debate over what everyone now calls “Obamacare.”  Obamacare is not what most progressives wanted. They would surely have preferred a single-payer insurance plan, like the well-regarded systems in other western democracies –. Universal coverage?  Lower costs? Better outcomes? — that would’ve been the progressive dream proposal.

But progressives were assured that single-payer could only be a pipe dream in the current American context. In order to get the existing private health insurers on board, the private health insurance industry would need to endure and be incentivized with more citizen/customers able to buy their private insurance. And practically speaking, that was probably true. Yes, the new plan would be pretty complicated, and it wouldn’t succeed in getting everyone covered, but it would be a good step forward, progressives were told. And progressives said OK. They supported the complicated compromise.

It was pure pragmatism. Now, compare that if you like to what’s going on in the Republican/Tea Party.


Detail from “One Day You Will No Longer Be Loved II (No. 6),” a painting purchased and altered by Jake and Dinos Chapman. JPEG image appropriated and further altered by J.

What this shows is that the drinking game requires no actual facts or actual journalism. It simply requires the WSJ editorial board to do what it obsessively does. They apparently cannot help themselves. As we said, this was an example of a basically good editorial. It didn’t need the ritual insulting of the enemies. The editorial didn’t become stronger through the ritual insulting. The 3 members of the editorial board didn’t secure absolution through the ritual. It’s just something, seemingly rooted in the 3 men’s psychologies, that they need to do.


Wisconsin newspapers again urge redistricting reform

They’re asking again, politely but firmly. Can Wisconsinites at least get a public hearing on the bills AB 185 and SB 163 to reform our rotted system for redrawing voting districts? On Sunday the Wisconsin State Journal and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel made the case again, here and here, as they had a month earlier along with 7 other state newspapers and one TV station. Rarely have we been so interested (in a positive way) in the work of our hometown State Journal.

They’re actually trying to effect a change, and a difficult one at that. Actually it’ll be close to impossible.

While we support all this, and hope for the best, we do predict this effort will go nowhere until we get a bunch of new lawmakers. And how difficult will that be? That’s kind of the problem, isn’t it.

When the Republicans achieved total dominance in Wisconsin government, they immediately set themselves to cementing their power. They not only gerrymandered voting districts, but they went to work on voting restrictions and forced through unnecessary new ID requirements. They pushed through Act 10 destroying the most important interest group supporting their opponents. And they’re continuing to fiddle with the rules governing voting and campaign finance — more money to be allowed from big donors, and more anonymity for donors. In short, they have done what they can to rig things in their favor. And redistricting may have been, in their view, the most important and wonderful piece. The Republican majority may have a range of interests, but they certainly took care of self-interest with remarkable speed and determination.

Leaders Vos and Fitzgerald have said clearly they have no interest in revisiting their old accomplishments.

Against this we have 9 Wisconsin newspapers, one TV station, the usual good government groups (Common Cause, Wis. Democracy Campaign), and a generally sleepy, distracted, and not very well-informed citizenry. Well, the good news is… the situation’s better than usual, because of the 9 newspapers and one TV station.

But we’ll see.

Can polite-but-firm editorializing have any effect on people who (probably correctly) believe their best strategy for winning elections involves rigging some rules? Are they supposed to feel suddenly awash with shame, and decide to reverse course? That’s going to take some pretty good editorial writin’….

We’ll see.