Thursday, December 16, 2010

Prosser's Pitch

Justice is supposed to be colorblind. But Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser clearly can see red. His recent announcement of the hiring of a Republican operative to run his campaign for reelection caused a bit of a stir because Prosser sure made it sound like he sees Scott Walker and the Fitzgerald brothers as teammates.

Maybe it was just clumsy wording and should be taken with a grain of salt. What's clear is that the spell checker was turned off, because Prosser obviously meant to say he would complement the governor-elect and legislative Republicans, not compliment them.

Of greater concern is what we've been hearing for several weeks now about what Prosser is saying as he makes the rounds looking for support for his reelection bid. A prominent outstate attorney provided the Democracy Campaign on condition of anonymity an account of one such pitch Prosser made earlier this month.

Here is that account:

I am writing to you anonymously to inform you of comments that were made by Justice Prosser in his stump speech to Wisconsin Association for Justice at its board meeting on December 2, 2010. In his comments, Justice Prosser indicated that he wished the trial lawyers to know that if the race led to him being attacked from the "left," that he would move to the right and the trial lawyers would suffer for it. He stated that it would be in the best interest of the trial lawyers if he stayed in the middle. In fact, he said "don't force me to run a campaign that is not down the middle and honorable." When asked to explain that, he indicated that if the left demonizes him, it will push him to the right. He said he would do whatever was necessary and would side with those who were supporting him so he would not be retired as a Justice.

It was evident to those in the room that he was issuing a threat that if he was not supported by the trial lawyers, then they could expect that the decisions he renders will be against the interests that the trial lawyers espouse on behalf of injured consumers. It appears clear by his comments that he would prejudge any issue that came against him from someone who did not support him in the campaign.

It should be noted that Justice Prosser's comments to the Wisconsin Association
for Justice had been made privately to other individuals who reported that he was contacting them for support. In his contact, he would indicate that if he was not supported by those on what he considers the "left," he would move to the right in his decision making if he were to be re-elected. He further indicated that he wished he didn't have to do that but would do so if necessary so that he would be re-elected. These comments are not in keeping with the judicial code of ethics. These are clearly questionable campaign tactics for someone who seeks to sit on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.


A Concerned Attorney

The political class will no doubt see the alleged conduct as benign and the lawyer's reaction to it overwrought. Some might even question why anyone in the legal community would be surprised or taken aback. After all, Prosser is a former Assembly speaker who agreed to serve as a character witness for Scott Jensen and was prepared to testify that he did the same things Jensen was criminally charged for. And as a Supreme Court justice he voted for new judicial ethics rules written by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Wisconsin Realtors Association allowing judges to rule on cases involving their biggest campaign supporters.

Still, for anyone who believes justice and the law should be colorblind, a fact remains. David Prosser sees red.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Our Magic Mirror

That's some mirror most Americans are looking at.

It doesn't show how soft we've become. Nowhere in its reflection can you see our collective obesity or self-indulgence. It reveals no greed, no shortsightedness.

Stand before it and you see power. You see ingenuity and industriousness. You see generosity.

You also see the image of one who is deserving. Entitled. Not to mention aggrieved. Put-upon.

We are hopelessly in hock, yet while our economy tanked the richest of the rich got grotesquely richer. They still have their hands out. What they have is not enough. It's never enough. Most of us are OK with that, regardless of our political leanings. Put it on the credit card. Send the bill to the kids and grandkids.

If we feel the least bit unsafe, a war is started on our behalf. No longer are we asked to pay for it. No scrap drives or rubber drives. No rationing. No war tax. Put it on the credit card. Bill the kids and grandkids.

America's politicians, whores that they are to the less than 1% of society who paid to put them in their stations, feign concern over the exploding national debt while driving us down an expressway to bankruptcy. Most of us are OK with that, regardless of our political leanings.

Cut our taxes. Keep your hands off our Social Security and Medicare. Spare no expense in fighting the terrorists. We're entitled. Put it on our tab.

OK, things are falling apart. Blame some foreigner. Some immigrant. Someone browner. Someone lesser.

That's some mirror.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Why There Is A Permanent Republican Majority

There's no forever in politics. So politically speaking, permanence is a relative term. But a generation or even a decade feels like forever.

By that measure, there is a permanent Republican majority in America and it extends into the future as far as the eye can see. Yes, I do realize there's a Democrat in the White House and the Democrats still will control the U.S. Senate in the new year. But can anyone look at Obama's tax-cut deal and fail to see that it's really the likes of Jon Kyl, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell who are calling the shots?

Some 30 years ago, Ronald Reagan announced to the world that government is not the solution, it's the problem. Ever since, most everything that's come out of the mouths of Republicans has been a variation on that theme. And more often than not over the course of the last three decades, voters have elected Republicans to key offices. Every once in a while, they hand over the keys to a Democrat or two, but almost always it turns out to be a triangulated if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em Democrat like Bill Clinton, who of course announced to the world that the era of big government is over. More on that theme later.

A normal person hears talk of triangulation and has visions of being strangled by a geometry teacher. A Clinton or an Obama sees a lifeboat.

Liberalism as an ideology is shrinking. Even the word "liberal" has been turned into an expletive, as in "Conservatives say the way to end federal budget deficits is to cut taxes for the richest 2% of Americans, turn the social safety net into a single high wire, and engage in preemptive warfare instead of waiting for enemies to attack. No leading (expletive deleted) could be reached for comment."

Take a moment to look at Gallup's most recent polling on the most respected professions in America. What's interesting is that four of the top eight – military officers, grade school teachers, police officers and judges – are government employees. Also in the top 10 are nurses and doctors, quite a few of whom also are employed by the government.

Yet Americans hate the government and see it as the problem. That's because of how elected officials are regarded. Look again at Gallup's poll. Members of Congress and state office holders are at the bottom of the list, right there with lobbyists and car salesmen. Many of those who toil in government jobs are highly respected for their service, but we don't get to vote for soldiers or teachers or police officers. We vote for politicians who sometimes hire lobbyists to run their offices and frequently become lobbyists and cash in on K Street as soon as they leave office.

Most Americans clearly don't have much use for either of the major political parties, but the Republican Party becomes the default option because it is seen as the anti-government party. That is why the Republicans have been in the driver's seat for 30 years and will remain at the controls into the foreseeable future.

There is a way out for the Democrats, of course. They can do what the Republicans did 30 years ago and name the problem. And name the enemy who is the root of the problem.

In the late 1800s Rockefeller, Carnegie and Vanderbilt became household names. That wasn't an accident. They called 'em robber barons. These were the faces that still came to mind when FDR railed against the economic royalists at the height of the Great Depression. As he named the problem and named the enemy, he was even able to say out loud that paying taxes is a privilege, not a sacrifice. And most Americans revered him, making him the only four-term president this country has ever had or ever will have.

Does the name Edward Liddy ring a bell? How about Herbert Allison? John Koskinen? Frederick Henderson? Vikram Pandit? Kenneth Lewis? These are all modern-day CEOs who ran their companies into the ground and ran our economy off a cliff. They should be held accountable for the harm they've done to our country. We don't even know who the hell they are.

There is a reason the villains have not been named, not been held accountable. Look at Obama's donor list. Closer to home, it's the same story.

There is a road to redemption for the Democrats. But it is a road the party's establishment cannot imagine traveling.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

How Plutocrats Think

"Common practice here in D.C. looks an awful lot like plain old corruption everywhere else in the country."

– John Feehery, lobbyist and former
aide to ex-Republican House leader Tom DeLay

For his part, DeLay said his conviction on money laundering charges amounted to the "criminalization of politics," complaining that what prosecutors and ultimately the jury saw as a conspiracy to violate election laws was really just a series of routine money swaps that are common transactions for political parties.

"In this day and age, in order to fully participate and have your First Amendment rights, you have to be able to spend money."

– David Bossie,
president of the conservative group Citizens United

If you spend enough time in a mine shaft, your eyes adjust to the darkness. So it is with political corruption.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Honey, Who Shrunk The Liberal?

From the Latin liberalis meaning "freedom," liber meaning "free." Showing or characterized by broad-mindedness; not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox or authoritarian attitudes, views or dogmas; tolerant of the ideas and behaviors of others; open to new ideas for progress, favoring proposals for reform; free from prejudice or bigotry, tolerant; generous, tending to give freely; willing to give unstintingly; favoring equal rights and civil liberties.

In a political context, there are at least four pillars of liberalism. Three are even enshrined in the motto of the French Republic: liberty, equality and brotherhood. The fourth is a predisposition to favor change and desire progress (explaining presumably why so many prefer being called "progressive" now that the word liberal has been cursed).

Any honest evaluation of the embrace of those four principles by today's politicians in this country shows how liberalism here has been whittled down to microscopic size or abandoned altogether.

Let's start with liberty. It is what most would still call a liberal administration that's running the TSA and blessing that agency's virtual strip searches at airports. And who can forget one of the most striking assaults on basic freedoms when every member of the United States Senate, save one, voted for security over civil liberties and authorized everything from warrantless wiretapping and other forms of eavesdropping to indefinite detentions of immigrants. And despite President Obama's campaign promises to the contrary, his administration made it clear soon after his election that it had every intention of staying the course.

As for equality, for 30 years now policies have been put in place making the rich in America richer, the poor poorer and the middle class an endangered species. It started under Reagan, but continued and even expanded under Clinton and hasn't been meaningfully curtailed by Obama. Large numbers of Democrats have joined Republicans in Congress over the years to support these policies. And it's not just in the area of economic equality where "liberals" are lacking. They've largely stood idly by for the past 40 years as the First Amendment has been radically reinterpreted, transforming the right to speak into a privilege that must be purchased at great expense.

The notion of brotherhood has fared no better. When is the last time a national political figure spoke regularly and passionately and sincerely about the poor? It's hard to remember. Bobby Kennedy? Hubert Humphrey? Maybe Teddy Kennedy in his early years? In any case, it's been ages. Today's liberals talk a lot about the middle class. They rarely if ever talk about poverty. But in spite of all the liberal rhetoric about working families, people who shower at the end of the day have been sold out. Their jobs have been outsourced and offshored as fair trade went out the window with NAFTA and CAFTA, and it took both Democrats and Republicans to do it. The right to organize in the workplace and collectively bargain with employers has been steadily eroded. "We're all in this together" has been replaced by "You are on your own."

So that brings us to the reformist impulse. Here too liberalism has become small. In many ways liberals have become conservative, seeking merely to preserve the status quo, trying to safeguard past reforms like the New Deal and the Great Society from attacks by reactionary forces. In other ways liberals have gone to the dark side. Politics is more corrupt today than at any time in our lifetimes. Government is less trusted. And a great many liberal officials and liberal groups have stubbornly resisted reforms to combat corruption and have actively sought to subvert or undermine what modest changes have been made to campaign finance regulations, ethics rules or lobbying laws.

Liberals in Washington and in state capitals long ago stopped fiercely defending core freedoms, ceased establishing and protecting the commons, gave up on economic equality, and surrendered the mantle of progressivism. All that is left is what could be called "lifestyle liberalism." Smokefree restaurants. Gay marriage. Hybrid cars.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying these sorts of things, not to mention reproductive freedom and public broadcasting and a hundred other things, should not be liberal causes. It's that when liberalism is confined to such concerns it is too narrow, too limited, not enough. When liberals and liberalism grow this anorexic, our democracy and our society suffer. Thought and discourse are starved. Voters are deprived of meaningful choices at the ballot box.

When liberals grow afraid of their own shadows, afraid even to call themselves liberal, that fear has a stultifying and stupefying effect on our politics. And it weakens our country.