Noon, Wednesday, 6 April 2011
The Wisconsin Supreme Court election votes are still being counted and will be for hours, if not days. There will then be recounts and court challenges, no doubt. News reports and blogs—including my own—will cover each maneuver, every fiery soundbite, and all of the turns of fortune for Kloppenburg and Prosser along the way. I’m just having trouble getting my partisan rant on right now.
I know this election matters, and it matters a lot. Thousands of people in Wisconsin, some of them dear friends, will likely be affected by the outcome of this election.
Under normal circumstances, this election would have gone largely unnoticed by most folks within or outside of Wisconsin, if not for the bizarre and radical acts of the GOP legislators and governor since January. I voted in a dozen or more elections in Wisconsin during my adult years there: I cannot tell you the name of even one Supreme Court justice for whom I voted. Were it not for the GOP attempt to bully public sector unions and pit the people of the Badger state against each other, I wouldn’t know their names now.
I care about the people. Even though I do favor the Democrat, I’m just not feeling the suspense about the result. And I am beginning to understand why. What is playing out in Wisconsin is a bad melodrama, not politics. Can the corporate-backed GOP tie the unions to the train tracks? Can the lonely middle class liberal stare down the evil richest-man-in-town and take him out in the final gunfight? The great advantage the old black hat/white hat films had over the current political melodrama was at least the movies were silent.
7 PM, Wednesday, 6 April 2011
It now appears that Kloppenburg has prevailed in the first full vote count. Again, while it is uncertain what will happen in the inevitable recounts and court challenges, some are trying to say what this outcome means to larger questions or forecasts other contests to come—particularly the recall challenges. Speculation on how Kloppenburg or Prosser would rule on the injunction blocking the implementation of the “Budget Repair Bill” when it reaches the WI Supreme Court is the hot topic on blog posts and news reports tonight.
Too bad that the value of these two seemingly capable and complex human beings have been reduced to how they would decide one legal issue.
Our elections have taken on a glamour, the illusion that they are referenda on a position, philosophy, or ideology. Somewhere in my dim memories is a civics class where it was suggested that elections might be a process by which the person better suited to perform the functions of governing is selected. That may be a lot less sexy, since in the short term only one direct winner identified: the prevailing candidate. Any benefit to the electorate is slow to develop and may be subtle.
But when an election is seen as a referendum on an ideology, then there are many vicarious “winners”: the candidate’s victory is a victory for the thought pattern her/his supporters have adopted. Governing is beside the point. Serving the electorate is beside the point. The office holder is only there to hold the office as a marker of the battle won.
The people of Wisconsin, and the interests that have used them as proxies in their own battles, have expended so much energy and money on a contest decided by a few hundred votes out of 1.4 million…less than one quarter of one percent of the ballots cast. That much unsettling acrimony and bitterness for an election margin so razor thin that it settles nothing about the direction of a great state with a complex and important political history.
I am afraid that this race will add little to that history, because the battle in Wisconsin is about standing for something political only on the surface. How tragic that the mainstream political discourse has been reduced to a Charlie Sheen slogan.
The first problem with “Winning!” as a political philosophy is that you them have to portray opponents as “losers”. Then, you wake up on the day after the election is decided and go to work or school or church with “losers” who used to be your colleagues and friends.
The second problem is that, once achieving “Winner” status, becoming a loser is an ever more terrifying fear. Rhetoric becomes louder and more extreme, divisions more polarizing, and battles more fierce. Resources, including the time and energy of legislators, are diverted from the needs of the people to the needs of preserving a majority.
If there is a ray of hope in the apparent election of Kloppenburg, it may be in the emotional, financial, and physical fatigue of both her backers and Prossers’. Only when the politics of melodrama gets too tiring and too painful will the electorate again get the chance to decide between candidates on skill and experience, not ideological purity and the ability to shout it loudly.