Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Sun Doesn't Shine on the Same Dog's Behind Every Day.

 Carolina Blue Tick Coon Hound

            Far too long ago in rural South Carolina, we had a saying:  “The sun doesn’t shine on the same dog’s behind every day.”  (It’s a saying that’s surely around still.)  It was one of the quaint ways people reminded one another that when life seemed less than optimal, the next day might usher in some improvement.  It was also a simple way of dismissing someone who celebrated excessively their own success at the expense of others; for example, after the Tiger fans of Conway High gloated a tad too much walking through the parking lot after their annual football win over our undersized team

The boys from Myrtle Beach were undersized because over the summer, instead of working the tobacco fields, and spending long hours hanging heavy sticks of tobacco in tobacco barns to cure, they were slinging burgers, folding tee-shirts in retail shops, bussing tables, or manning motel reception desks.  Year after year, Conway won, home or away, and it became too accepted that the result was pre-ordained.
The annual loss was a little less painful because it took place when opponents were a bit more magnanimous about winning.  Taunting in the mid-60’s was limited to a few profanities or insults hissed across the line between opposing linemen.  No one danced around in the end zone after scores.  Conway substituted liberally when the game was well in hand, in a sporting effort to avoid totally demoralizing us.  Players lined up to shake hands after the game, and as we walked off the field, we hoped the outcome might be different next year. With a little more effort to put on muscle and play smarter and faster down the road, we might eventually win.  After a loss at Conway, where the fans were intimidating, we would get to next play them at the Beach, and those friendlier confines might lead to success.  
Imagine, instead, that after losing in Conway, we were told that next year’s game would again be there, because the annual winner got to choose the following year's venue; and that due to losing this current installment, we would be allowed three weeks less organized practice than Conway before the season began, and no practice the week of the Conway game.  Now the state motto in South Carolina is Dum Spiro Spero, Cicero's “While I breathe, I hope,” but I suspect under those new rules we would have lost some contact with hope as we approached the big game each year.   Eventually, the game would have become less enjoyable for the fans of both teams and the players themselves.  The new rules would have taken balance out of the contest, and players and fans would likely have started going through the motions year-after-year.
I don’t think it is any exaggeration to see the attack on public worker collective bargaining by the Wisconsin GOP as posing the same risk of taking the energy and balance out of the game of democracy in Wisconsin.  While many on the left and union members are angry and energized right now, the money cuts to public workers will, over time, change the way many public employees see ponying up union dues and independent campaign contributions out of significantly thinner wallets.    More and more current union members will chose to become “free-riders,” leaving the cost of collective efforts to set at least pay standards to other members of their union, or even other companion unions entirely.  What will that do to the balance in interest group political contributions?
Open Secrets. Org, the non-partisan organization that tracks political donations and spending in U.S. elections (and Rachel Maddow’s source on several of her recent broadcasts), notes that of the ten largest not-for-profit trade and union associations in the United States that regularly support political campaigns, seven overwhelmingly contribute to the Republican Party.  Only three, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the National Education Association (NEA) donate primarily to the Democratic candidates or causes, and they rank five, six and ten out of the ten.  Here are Open Secrets’ 2010 numbers, based on Federal Election Commission data, as released just days ago, March 2, 2011:
2010 Political Spending
Spending Primarily on

U.S. Chamber of Commerce
American Action Network
American Crossroads
Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategy
American Future Fund
$  9,599,806
Americans for Job Security
$  8,991,209
National Association of Realtors
$  8,890,737
$  8,746,556

        The seven groups that are Republican campaign contributors totaled $125,097,453 in campaign spending in the last election cycle, while the three union groups spent a total of $37,070,090. The difference is over three to one in favor of Republican candidates nationally.  But does this disparity translate specifically into a problem in Wisconsin?
         The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel did an article in October, just before the November election, discussing the huge influx of outside money into Wisconsin campaigns.  The article had the following chart on the U.S. Senate race in which Russ Feingold, a stalwart for limiting the influence of outside and undisclosed financing of political campaign was taken down by Ron Johnson, a businessman from Oshkosh:

The Journal-Sentinel article went on to note:
In Wisconsin's 3rd District (U.S. House), the two candidates together – (Ron)Kind and GOP challenger Dan Kapanke - spent less than $80,000 on TV ads from Sept. 14 to Oct. 13. But two conservative groups (the 60 Plus Association and Americans for Prosperity) spent six times that amount, according to data obtained from CMAG, a firm that tracks TV advertising. The goal: take a race that Democrats are expected to win and make it competitive. . . . Much of the money that interest groups are spending is coming from undisclosed givers, thanks to a steady loosening in recent years of legal curbs on donors and organizations. Corporations, unions and nonprofits can now air campaign ads using contributions of unlimited size, and anonymous donors can fund a wider range of election activity than they used to. A Washington Post analysis found that in the 2006 election, about 90% of the money spent by interest groups came from disclosed donors, but this year that share was under 50%.”
          The holding in the recent U.S. Supreme Court case, Citizens United, means that corporations, unions and nonprofits can now directly fund independent campaign ads.  Laws in place even prior to McCain-Feingold restricted these groups to paying for "issue ads" that only obliquely criticized candidates by promoting positions on specific issues. Now corporations, unions and nonprofits can air explicit campaign ads calling for candidates’ elections or defeat.  Since Citizens United, a business association interest group could receive a two million dollar “anonymous” contribution to run “independent” campaign ads directly against an incumbent U.S. congressman, while the ads of the congressman's campaign committee would have to be paid for with contributions that were both capped at low amounts and wholly public as to both the identity of donors and amounts of contributions.
          So why does all this matter to the future of Wisconsin?  If you are a Republican Governor or legislator, you have a huge incentive to try to enact policies that will make it even harder for private and public unions to be active financially in the political process, while excoriating any campaign finance reform directed at corporations as an unconstitutional limit on free speech.  Any question about whether this precise strategy has just been put into play by the Wisconsin GOP in the Budget Reform Bill’s efforts to damage union power was answered by Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald’s candid admission to Megyn Kelly, in a recent Fox News Interview:
"If we win this battle, and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you’re going to find is President Obama is going to have a much difficult, much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin." 
What Senator Fitzgerald didn’t say, because it was subsumed in what he did say was: “and it will also make the life of all Democratic candidates trying to win elections in Wisconsin much more difficult.”
          The Republican argument is: why should unions be able to take members’ dues, and spend them on electing politicians who will give the union members more pay and benefits at the bargaining table, so that even more money is then freed up for the unions to continue this vicious cycle at taxpayer expense?  That is not an illogical argument in isolation.  But what the argument fails to address, particularly in the wake of Citizen’s United, is the fact that each of us is paying for the campaign contributions of the GOP’s supporters in the Chamber of Commerce, the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), the Wisconsin Road Builders Association, the Wisconsin Realtor’s Association, and the Wisconsin Tavern League, for a few examples, every time we pay by means of a price, commission or gas tax, for a product or service produced by one of their members.   Unfortunately the Tea Partiers, and too many taxpayers, only see a bite being taken out of their paycheck by politicians when it is specifically labeled “tax.” 
          As Wisconsin unions grow weaker, the relatively power of trade associations like the Chamber of Commerce and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce will expand, and future elections will become increasingly less competitive for Democrats.  As future elections become less financially competitive for Democrats, the Democratic Party will have an ever-increasing problem finding smart and attractive candidates to beat their head against the wall trying to get their message out in the face of disparate funding of campaign ads.  That sounds great if you’re a fervent Republican and dismal if you are a fervent Democrat. 
          But what if you’re an independent?  Why should an independent Wisconsin voter care strongly about this existential fight between the two parties, between the WMC and the SEIU?   Why should that independent voter consider signing a recall petition for the Governor without dismissing it as a partisan effort best left to the devices of liberals and unionists.  The Independent voter’s rationale for jumping into this recall struggle needs to be found in the notion that we will invariably make better public policy decisions when strong arguments are being made for and against the policy by energetic and honest politicians on both sides of the issue.  It’s the "good ole" Kant or Hegelian Dialectic: we progress nearest to truth through the constant advancement of rational thesis, countered by rational anti-thesis, leading to balanced synthesis.  To the extent that the Independent voter sees the current Republican administration and legislature as dedicated to not only marginalizing the ability of the Democrats in the legislature to effectively counter the GOP’s agenda, but also seeking to put into place policies serving to perpetuate that marginalization well into the future, Independents that want policy proposals to be refined in the crucible of the dialectic process need to avoid facially dismissing the recall petitions as partisanship.
          The Conway Tigers knew when to take the “pedal off the metal” in a game.  They won solidly, but with grace and dignity.  It was good for the game, and the fans. The Wisconsin Republican Party has abandoned both grace and dignity in the wake of their take-over of the Statehouse.  Their goal is to perpetuate power at the clear expense of developing good policy.  It is a time for all rational citizens of Wisconsin, Republican, Democrat and Independent to take a stand against the overt sacrifice of policy to power.  It’s time for them to say: “We may be open for business, but not political monkey business.”  And it is time for recalls.

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