Fighting (Bob) words

I bet this opinion from RightWisconsin will stir up the lefties:

Wisconsin may not have statues dedicated to leaders of the Confederacy (we were on the good side), but we have a suggestion of a statue in desperate need of being taken down.

It’s time for the statue of Robert La Follette at the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol to come down. While we’re at it, let’s remove the bust of La Follette from the Capitol in Madison as well. There will be protests. But let’s face it, the Progressive Era is over. Thank God.

Wisconsin is now a red state, won fairly by former Governor Tommy Thompson (three times), Governor Scott Walker (three times) and President Donald Trump. We re-elected a conservative senator in a presidential year, Ron Johnson, when every pundit said it couldn’t be done. The majority of our representation to Congress is conservative. Conservatives control the state Assembly and the state Senate with record numbers, and conservatives even control the state Supreme Court 5-2.

Ironically, the only remaining Democratic statewide office-holder is Doug La Follette, a poor relation and a pale shadow of the La Follettes past.

So why continue to honor Robert La Follette? Seriously, who would miss him?

Let’s start with the statue in Washington. Wisconsin has two statues at the U.S. Capitol, one of Fr. Jacques Marquette and the other of La Follette. La Follette is actually the only Wisconsin statue in National Statuary Hall while Marquette is somewhere else sulking about the lost Catholic mission of the university named after him.

To get rid of the La Follette statue, all it would take is for the Wisconsin legislature to pass a resolution, with the governor’s approval, suggesting an alternative. Then Congress’ Joint Committee on the Library would approve it and, voila, no more monument to Progressive politics. Given Republican control of Congress, how could they say no?

We can replace La Follette with a more deserving representative of Wisconsin: Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, a native of Shorewood, WI. Rehnquist served for 33 years on the Supreme Court, 19 as Chief Justice. His role in shaping the conservative direction of the court is a legacy worth remembering for all time, and Wisconsin should be proud to have a statue of the Chief Justice representing the state in our nation’s Capitol.

As for the bust of La Follette in the state Capitol, the state should just box it up and send it to the Wisconsin Historical Society. Future tours of school children can play guess who is the grumpy old man. If we have to replace it, who better to honor than former Governor Tommy Thompson?

La Follette was Wisconsin’s governor and a U.S. senator, a presidential candidate, father of another governor and senator (and grandfather of former attorney general Bronson La Follette) and one of those atop the Progressive Era. The high school I went to has Fighting Bob’s bust in its library. (Why the La Follette teams were called the Lancers and not the Fighting Bobs is not something I can explain.)

About La Follette’s progressivism, a comment on RightWisconsin’s Facebook page says:

Yes. La Follette was one of the first communists to advocate stealing your money and mine to buy votes.

The Progressive Era is taught as a period in which government went back to the people instead of the moneyed interests, through, for instance, the 17th Amendment allowing direct election of U.S. senators instead of having them chosen by state legislatures, and primary elections instead of party candidates chosen in smoke-filled rooms. The latter process gave us Donald Trump. (Just saying.) The former is a favorite target of conservatives, but is unlikely to follow the 18th Amendment and be removed from the Constitution.

RightWisconsin doesn’t say why Fighting Bob should be condemned to the treatment of disfavored Soviet Union leaders, other than that, well, liberals aren’t in power in state government. (Despite one of Wisconsin’s U.S. senators and three of its U.S. representatives.) Political power comes and goes. Recall that the state Legislature swung from Republican control through most of the 2000s to Democratic control after the 2008 elections and then back to GOP control after the 2010 elections. It seems unlikely, to say the least, that Democrats will repeat their 2008 feat, but in these turbulent political times it’s not impossible.

The lefties will not tell you the numerous negatives of progressives, partly because self-analysis is not a strength of theirs, as shown in their post-2016 circular firing squad. The core belief of progressives from La Follette’s day is that man can be improved, and government and experts are the people to do it, and should have the authority to mandate improvement.

Whether or not you like primary elections, that accomplishment pales in comparison to the income tax, designed to separate people from their money to feed Govzilla on the concept that, yes, government and its experts know better than you what you need and what society needs.

If they only stopped there. Let’s go to Princeton University:

After the largest recession in history, a political movement comprising mostly white, small-town, Protestant voters grabbed the reins of power from elites under the banner of making America great.

Sound like 2016? Try 1900. And these weren’t conservatives. These were progressives. “They described it as a revolution, the likes of which the world had never seen,” says Thomas Leonard, a research scholar in the Humanities Council and a lecturer in economics at Princeton and author of Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics & American Economics in the Progressive Era(Princeton University Press). While corporations were checked and progressive presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson 1879 were voted in, the Progressive Era — 1900 to 1920 — was marred by a darker history of racism and xenophobia among its politicians. …

Leonard shows, however, that their policies were undergirded by social Darwinism and eugenics and excluded groups deemed inferior — including women, Southern- and Eastern-European immigrants, Catholics, Jews, and blacks.

“They wanted to help ‘the people,’ but excluded millions of Americans from that privileged category on the grounds that they were inferior,” he says.

Progressives pushed for voter registration, literacy tests, and poll taxes to mitigate fraud and corruption, bolstering the Jim Crow South. In 1913, they proposed a minimum wage to benefit skilled Anglo-Saxon workers by requiring immigrants to prove they had a job paying that wage to enter the country.

Thomas Sowell adds:

An influential 1916 best-seller, ‘‘The Passing of the Great Race” — celebrating Nordic Europeans — was written by Madison Grant, a staunch activist for Progressive causes such as endangered species, municipal reform, conservation and the creation of national parks.

He was a member of an exclusive social club founded by Republican Progressive Theodore Roosevelt, and Grant and Franklin D. Roosevelt became friends in the 1920s, addressing one another in letters as ‘‘My dear Frank” and ‘‘My dear Madison.’‘ Grant’s book was translated into German, and Adolf Hitler called it his Bible. …

Progressive intellectuals who crusaded against the admission of immigrants from Eastern Europe and Southern Europe, branding them as genetically inferior, included many prominent academic scholars — such as heads of such scholarly organizations as the American Economic Association and the American Sociological Association.

Southern segregationists who railed against blacks were often also Progressives who railed against Wall Street. …

Wilson introduced racial segregation into the government agencies where it didn’t exist at the time, while Republican President Calvin Coolidge’s wife invited the wives of black congressmen to the White House. As late as 1957, civil-rights legislation was sponsored in Congress by Republicans and opposed by Democrats.

Later, when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was sponsored by Democrats, a higher percentage of congressional Republicans voted for it than did congressional Democrats. Revisionist histories tell a different story. But, as Casey Stengel used to say, ‘‘You could look it up” — in the Congressional Record, in this case.

Another progressive was Margaret Sanger, who said …

“The third group [of society] are those irresponsible and reckless ones having little regard for the consequences of their acts, or whose religious scruples prevent their exercising control over their numbers. Many of this group are diseased, feeble-minded, and are of the pauper element dependent upon the normal and fit members of society for their support. There is no doubt in the minds of all thinking people that the procreation of this group should be stopped.”

“Birth control is not contraception indiscriminately and thoughtlessly practiced. It means the release and cultivation of the better racial elements in our society, and the gradual suppression, elimination and eventual extirpation of defective stocks— those human weeds which threaten the blooming of the finest flowers of American civilization.”

“I think the greatest sin in the world is bringing children into the world that have disease from their parents, that have no chance to be a human being, practically. Delinquents, prisoners, all sorts of things just marked when they’re born. That to me is the greatest sin — that people can — can commit.”

“As an advocate of birth control I wish … to point out that the unbalance between the birth rate of the ‘unfit’ and the ‘fit,’ admittedly the greatest present menace to civilization, can never be rectified by the inauguration of a cradle competition between these two classes. In this matter, the example of the inferior classes, the fertility of the feeble-minded, the mentally defective, the poverty-stricken classes, should not be held up for emulation…. On the contrary, the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective.”

Two progressives with Wisconsin ties were fans of eugenics as well.  John R. Comons, an advisor to La Follette, was described thusly here:

One result of our study is that, in his analysis of institutional dynamics in the United States, Commons’ rejection of laissez-faire is derived from a racist analytical framework: the “superior races” should be protected from the “inferior races”. Another result is that Commons adopts a neo-Lamarckian framework which takes education as the basis for the assimilation of “inferior races”. This article then shows that policies often defended as progressives, as education policies, may be derived from racist foundations.

A Wisconsin State Journal story about the strange history of Alma includes this:

And even a University of Wisconsin luminary such as Charles Van Hise, as president of the university, gave lectures in which he supported eugenics as a way to conserve human resources. He said that “as a first very moderate step toward the development of the stamina of the human race, defectives should be precluded from continuing the race by some proper method.”

La Follette’s position on eugenics is unknown. There is considerable evidence that La Follette didn’t have the same racist views as other progressives. However, his economic views are not an endorsement of the progressive era. Christian Schneider in 2012 chronicled progressivism:

“I believed then, as I believe now, that the only salvation for the Republican Party lies in purging itself wholly from the influence of financial interests,” wrote La Follette in his autobiography. But after 112 years of La Follette’s Progressive vision coming to fruition, it is worth considering: What now constitutes the state’s most powerful “financial interest”?

Government unions are a good place to start. While things like “public sector unions” and “women voting” were still dreams when La Follette was governor from 1901 to 1906, government unions now spend more than any other single group to affect campaigns in Wisconsin. And this spending is rarely intended to forge a new Progressive vision in Wisconsin. It is generally used to protect what the unions already have. …

One of La Follette’s many sworn enemies, Republican Gov. Edward Scofield, dismissed his rage against the party “machine” in 1900, predicting that government would one day become the same type of machine La Follette purportedly loathed. …

And in 2012, it was that machine of 284,963 Wisconsin state and local government employees and their spouses who sought to recall Scott Walker from the governorship, thereby attempting to overturn a popular election held little more than a year earlier. (The recall election is also a product of the Progressives, having been added to the state constitution in 1926 by La Follette loyalists.)

In his time as governor, La Follette could not have imagined the breadth and scope to which government would grow in Wisconsin. In 1899, the state spent $4.7 million on everything, from public education to universities, to the court system, to “insane county asylums.” (About 32 percent of all government was funded by railroad license fees.) That amounts to $121.5 million in 2012 dollars, or $58.73 per capita. This year, Wisconsin state government is scheduled to raise and spend around $32.4 billion, or $5,696.52 per capita.

The imposition of the nation’s first income tax in 1911 — and the commensurate revenue it produced — sparked an inexorable 100-year march toward government as the state’s largest employer:

Even in the past 35 years, government has become the primary employer for more and more Wisconsin citizens. Today, 71,552 more Wisconsinites are employed by state and local governments than in 1976, an increase of 33 percent.

All those new government jobs came with a cost; especially once Democratic Gov. Gaylord Nelson signed the nation’s first law allowing public sector collective bargaining in 1959. Within a decade, unionized teachers were participating in illegal strikes to force higher salaries and better benefits. As a result, Wisconsin passed a new landmark mediation-arbitration law that virtually guaranteed that teacher compensation couldn’t be cut.

Geographical-pattern bargaining strategies were perfected by the teachers union, forcing school districts to match the gaudy compensation packages passed in comparable districts around the state. By 2011, state government employee salary and benefit packages averaged $71,000. In the Milwaukee school district, average employee compensation soared to more than $100,000 per employee — for nine months of work.

In recent decades, the growth in the cost of government has exceeded the growth in the state’s economic output. In 1980, state spending accounted for 12.9 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. By 2010, that number had grown to 16.2 percent of Wisconsin’s GDP:

The financial cost to taxpayers is just the beginning. Bob La Follette stood on hundreds of stages, wagons and soapboxes upbraiding railroads for their monopolistic practices. The railroads, he argued, preyed on the public, soaked customers for excessive fees, then turned around and bought legislators with campaign contributions.

But now that party standard-bearers are picked through primary elections (thanks to “Fighting Bob”) and not backroom dealings, the most powerful monopoly that still exists can be found in the state’s public education system. …

It isn’t incumbent on you, as a Progressive, to learn that after two unsuccessful gubernatorial runs, Robert La Follette’s third campaign was funded almost entirely by wealthy U.S. Rep. Joseph Babcock, who thought bankrolling La Follette would catapult himself into the U.S. Senate. According to author Robert S. Maxwell, in  La Follette and the Rise of Progressives in Wisconsin:

“La Follette also received valuable assistance from the leader of the congressional delegation, Joseph W. Babcock. This politically ambitious ex-lumberman had already served four terms in Congress and was seeking a larger field for his talents. He was quite aware of the disintegration of the Republican organization and sought to organize the machine to advance his own interests. Babcock was sure that his support of a La Follette ticket would be both popular and successful. It is probable that he thought he would be able to control the new governor and use the state organization to elevate himself to the senatorship.

“Events were to prove that he misjudged his candidate completely and vastly overestimated his own abilities, but during the campaign of 1900, Babcock’s financial assistance and organizing skill contributed greatly to its success.”

You aren’t expected to know that La Follette, in his 1900 campaign, completely changed course and positioned himself as a pro-corporate candidate to earn the approval of the public. When one supporter urged La Follette to talk about regulating railroad fees, La Follette bristled because of the backlash it might cause. …

You are also supposed to forget the black marks of Progressivism: the virulently racist eugenics of La Follette’s handpicked president of the University of Wisconsin, Charles Van Hise, who once said, “He who thinks not of himself primarily, but of his race and of its future, is the new patriot.” You have to forget that Progressives played a part in foisting Prohibition on the nation, an unforeseen effect of which was people either blinding or killing themselves by drinking substitute alcohol made of chemicals such as paint thinner.

What about La Follette and prohibition? La Follette and His Legacy, written by the UW–Madison La Follette Institute of Public Affairs, wrote:

Elected and reelected as Dane County District Attorney, he enhanced his reputation by doggedly prosecuting all types of offenders, especially drunkards and vagrants. Espousing the Republican belief in hard work to achieve self-sufficiency, La Follette had no sympathy for the lawbreakers.
But he also didn’t advocate any stiffer laws regarding alcohol use. Throughout his political career he avoided the divisive prohibition issue and instead concentrated on what he felt to be more weighty problems-oppression of individuals by powerful corporations, undemocratic decisionmaking and corruption in government, and foreign military actions by the national government.

What Fighting Bob hath wrought is almost all negative. Bigger government has gotten us less freedom. Replacing the supposed monopoly power of wealth with the actual monopoly power of government is not an improvement. If you don’t believe in individual freedom, then it’s easy to take the next step and oppose freedom for those who don’t look like you. (Labor unions have opposed free trade and immigration for decades because they believed foreign-born workers would drag down their members’ wages.) The primary election, which seemed like a good idea at the time, gave us Donald Trump, and yet in the Democratic Party the smoke-filled rooms still gave Democrat Hillary Clinton, not the alleged people’s choice, Bernie Sanders. Prohibition gave us organized crime, and if La Follette didn’t go out of his way to support Prohibition, there is no evidence he publicly opposed it, in a state full of breweries.

I don’t support the whitewashing of history. Maybe La Follette’s bust should remain public view, but there needs to be a better explanation of how the Progressive Era was a step backward for this state and this nation.


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