Category: Wisconsin politics

Cartoongate

Rick Esenberg dares to write in The Cap Times following this published, then depublished, cartoon:

If the American people reach a consensus on anything, it is our politics are too polarized. We falsely believe that every election is existential and while we all say that we love America, many of us seem to hate that half of the America who are on “the other side.”

How does this happen?

Neither side is free of blame, but a recent political cartoon by Mike Konopacki accompanying a column by Dave Zweifel in the Capital Times is instructive. Their target is a lawsuit filed by my organization, The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), which seeks to force the Wisconsin Elections Commission to take certain steps to deactivate outdated registrations of people who have moved from — and are no longer eligible to vote at — addresses at which they are registered. I am depicted as a hangman holding and surrounded by nooses. You can vote, I say, but only if you jump through some hoops. The unmistakable subtext is a lynching.

Our case does not seek to deny anyone the opportunity to vote. It is possible that a relatively small number of people who have not actually moved will have to return a prepaid postcard saying so or, if they fail to do that, re-register to vote online, by mail or at the polls on Election Day. But they will all get to vote. To say that what we are doing is somehow the moral or metaphorical equivalent of having a mob pull you from your home and hang you from a tree is fever swamp insanity. It turns a relatively technical disagreement about the trade-offs between the ease of voting and election integrity into an overwrought drama about voter suppression and the future of “democracy.” It trivializes real evil and portrays everyday political opponents as monsters.

It is this type of vile and disgusting hyperbole — far more than Russian bots or inscrutable “dog whistles” — that has us at each other’s throats. Before people like Zweifel and Konopacki engage in unctuous and performative throat clearing about social justice, they need — to paraphrase the left — to check their own hatred. It may just be that their enemy can be found in the mirror.

Let me explain what our case is about. Wisconsin participates in a consortium called the Elections Registration Information Center established in association with the Pew Charitable Trusts. ERIC, as it is known, uses data matching techniques to identify persons who appear to have moved from the addresses at which they are registered. Voters get on the ERIC “movers” list by providing an address other than the one they are registered at in an official government transaction. In other words, the source of the information is the voter.

The Wisconsin Elections Commissions agrees that the ERIC movers list is largely accurate. The overwhelming majority of voters who it identifies as having moved have, in fact, moved. As a result, they are no longer eligible to vote at their old addresses. Removing their outdated registrations does not “purge” voters; it is an effort to comply with federal and state requirements to maintain accurate voter rolls in the interest of election efficiency and to reduce the opportunity for fraud.

The movers list is not perfect. No method of maintaining ballot integrity and accurate voter rolls ever will be. A small percentage of persons on the list may not have moved. No one knows what that percentage is, but we think, based on past experience, that the percentage of voters listed as movers who have actually moved is on the order of 94-96%.

We do not argue that anyone listed as a mover be automatically stricken from the rolls. State law provides a number of safeguards for those who may not have moved. It requires that voters identified as movers be informed of the fact and given an opportunity to continue their registrations. If they fail to do so, they may re-register by mail or online prior to the election. If they forget to do that (or overlook the notice), they can re-register when they go to vote on Election Day.
When it comes to ballot integrity, voter rights are on both sides of the balance. Even isolated voter fraud cancels lawful votes. When it comes to convenience at the polls, having multiple people registered at the same address is a bad idea. We can disagree about how best to deal with these issues. We can argue about what the law requires.

But to treat the other side as criminals, fascists, Jim Crow-racists or deplorables generates all heat and no light. It is a perfect example of what is wrong with us today.

David Blaska adds:

The Capital Times gave up persuasion long ago in favor of reinforcing the ignorance of its readers. 

Not until after he left office did “Dane County’s progressive voice” have a good word to say about Tommy Thompson, four times elected by the people of Wisconsin. History is recording Tommy as the most consequential governor of the last half of the 20th Century — and much the beloved. 

So it came as a surprise that the publication actually yanked a political cartoon after conservatives complained.

Perhaps this was Esenberg’s first exposure to The Capital Times. Cartoonist Mike Konopacki is nasty and ignorant for breakfast and hateful the rest of the time. Blood-drenched capitalist fat cats (always men) press their wingtips onto the necks of the proletariat in Konopacki world. As subtle as a May Day parade in Red Square. …

In other words, no different from your average Capital Times editorial. In the same edition this headline brays over a name-calling editorial:

“Trump and his toadies fear Wisconsin voters”

Here is how that editorial seeks to persuade:

Donald Trump is a pathetic shell of a man who fears a fair fight … [a] sad story of a son of privilege who could never succeed on his own.

Does getting elected President of the United States count as succeeding? If so, that pathetic shell of a man can thank the deplorable toadies who swung Wisconsin his way over Hillary Clinton in 2016. (And who still leads, or is within a few percentage points, of the top Democratic challengers this time around, according to the Marquette Law School poll.) …

Blaska’s Bottom Line: Political cartoons are supposed to be offensive. But kudos to conservatives for turning the tables on the perpetually grieved. A dose of their own snake oil.

Great moments in opinion journalism … not

James Wigderson:

The Madison-based Capital Times posted on Wednesday, then pulled, a cartoon depicting the president of a conservative legal organization as a hangman lynching people wanting to vote in Wisconsin.

The cartoon by artist Mike Konopacki accompanied an op-ed by Cap Times Editor Emeritus Dave Zweifel, “Don’t let the vote suppressors win in Wisconsin,” complaining about a lawsuit brought by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) against the Wisconsin Election Commission. The lawsuit seeks to force the Election Commission to follow state law and remove the voter registrations of people who have been identified as moving from the residence where they are currently registered.

The op-ed never cites the actual law, and the one example given by Zweifel of a person’s voter registration being cancelled has nothing to do with the lawsuit by WILL.

WILL President Rick Esenberg is depicted in the accompanying cartoon as a hangman with a blue hood over his head while holding a noose. Several other nooses are shown in the cartoon. Esenberg is shown saying, “The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty WILL let you vote, but first you gotta jump through some hoops.” The word “WILL” is the organization’s logo.

The cartoon is clearly indicating that voters will be lynched by WILL. The symbolism of the cartoon is especially strong given the history of actual lynchings in America over voter rights, especially of African Americans in the South during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow eras.

After the cartoon appeared, a number of conservatives objected on social media, including Collin Roth of WILL, and the Cap Times pulled the cartoon from its website by 3:00 PM. However, the cartoon remained on the Cap Times’ Twitter posts until 10:00 PM when Opinion Editor Jessie Opoien was able to complete the cartoon’s removal.

An editor’s note now accompanies the op-ed online: “A cartoon previously published with this column was determined to be in poor taste and has been removed.”

Esenberg and Opoien will be discussing the cartoon and the decision to pull it down on the Steve Scaffidi show on 620 WTMJ AM on Thursday.

Opoien responded in an email to inquiries from RightWisconsin about the decision to pull down the cartoon. She explained that Konopacki and Zweifel work together on cartoons to accompany his op-eds for the Cap Times.

Cartoonist Mike Konopacki has a long history with the Cap Times, and a long history working with Cap Times editor emeritus Dave Zweifel to illustrate his columns. As a relative newcomer to the Cap Times opinion section, and as a person who deeply values ideological diversity, I’ve tried to balance a great number of competing interests in my role as opinion editor. I’ve taken a lot of flak from readers for publishing conservative perspectives – perspectives I believe should be shared with our traditional, deeply progressive audience – and I’ve certainly taken some flak from conservative friends who disagree with the liberal and/or progressive perspectives published in our section. What I always aim to do is stay away from undeserved personal attacks, and to keep the conversation smart and fair. In my opinion, the cartoon in question failed to meet those marks, and I take responsibility for not having raised concerns before it was published. I appreciate the conversations I’ve had with the folks at WILL and I look forward to publishing a response from them, and to talking about this more on air with Rick on WTMJ tomorrow morning.

Esenberg released a statement on Facebook, calling the cartoon “offensive” and “nasty and ignorant.” He also commended the decision by Opoien to pull the cartoon down.

Some of you may know that the Capital Times published an offensive cartoon that depicted me as a hangman (and I oppose capital punishment!) and pushed a clumsy implication that our case governing outdated voter registrations was somehow akin to lynching. It was accompanied by an op-ed by Dave Zweifel who complained about his barber’s voter registration not being on file. He admitted that this was a huge non sequitur since it had nothing to do with our case but nevertheless discerned some unfathomable truthiness in the story. We did not ask the Cap Times to take the cartoon down but it did so anyway, recognizing that it was in poor taste. I give them credit for that and commend Jessie Opoien for recognizing that we can disagree without mistreating each other. I will be on Stephen Scaffidi‘s show tomorrow morning at 10:20 to discuss this. I don’t mind if someone criticizes what we do but it’s best done with civility and an appropriate regard for the facts. The First Amendment allows people to be nasty and ignorant if they want. It doesn’t require them to be that way.

RightWisconsin will not be posting the cartoon due to its inflammatory and offensive nature.

Well, Empower Wisconsin did:

Esenberg posted on Facebook:

Some of you may know that the Capital Times published an offensive cartoon that depicted me as a hangman (and I oppose capital punishment!) and pushed a clumsy implication that our case governing outdated voter registrations was somehow akin to lynching. It was accompanied by an op-ed by Dave Zweifel who complained about his barber’s voter registration not being on file. He admitted that this was a huge non sequitur since it had nothing to do with our case but nevertheless discerned some unfathomable truthiness in the story. We did not ask the Cap Times to take the cartoon down but it did so anyway, recognizing that it was in poor taste. I give them credit for that and commend Jessie Opoien for recognizing that we can disagree without mistreating each other. … I don’t mind if someone criticizes what we do but it’s best done with civility and an appropriate regard for the facts. The First Amendment allows people to be nasty and ignorant if they want. It doesn’t require them to be that way.

Nothing says First Amendment, or for that matter sticking to your guns, quite like posting something controversial, and then pulling it off the Internet. This also makes you wonder who makes editorial decisions at The Cap Times, given that the way to avoid having to backtrack on something is to have enough judgment to not do it in the first place.

Social justice is a social disease

In a previous life, I worked at a Catholic college whose core values included social justice.

While that term was not always well defined, I’m pretty sure when it was determined to be a core value, the term didn’t mean what it has metastasized into now.

Heather Mac Donald:

Social-justice ideology is turning higher education into an engine of progressive political advocacy, according to a new report by the National Association of Scholars. Left-wing activists, masquerading as professors, are infiltrating traditional academic departments or creating new ones—departments such as “Solidarity and Social Justice”—to advance their cause. They are entering the highest rung of college administration, from which perch they require students to take social-justice courses, such as “Native Sexualities and Queer Discourse” or “Hip-hop Workshop,” and attend social-justice events—such as a Reparations, Repatriation, and Redress Symposium or a Power and Privilege Symposium—in order to graduate.

But social-justice education is merely a symptom of an even deeper perversion of academic values: the cult of race and gender victimology, otherwise known as “diversity.” The diversity cult is destroying the very foundations of our civilization. It is worth first exploring, however, why social-justice education is an oxymoron.

Why shouldn’t an academic aspire to correcting perceived social ills? The nineteenth-century American land-grant universities and the European research universities were founded, after all, on the premise that knowledge helps society progress. But social justice is a different beast entirely. When a university pursues social justice, it puts aside its traditional claim to authority: the disinterested search for knowledge. We accord universities enormous privileges. Their denizens are sheltered from the hurly-burly of the marketplace on the assumption that they will pursue truth wherever it will take them, unaffected by political or economic pressures. The definition of social justice, however, is deeply political, entailing a large number of contestable claims about the causes of socioeconomic inequality. Social-justice proponents believe that those claims are settled, and woe to anyone who challenges them on a college campus. There are, however, alternative explanations—besides oppression and illegitimate power—for ongoing inequalities, taboo though they may be in academia.

A social-justice agenda, therefore, is a political commitment, and politics is not disinterested. Indeed, it is often tribal. Such tribalism caricatures political opponents and whitewashes political leaders, ignoring facts along the way, as shown both by the frenzied hostility to Donald Trump on the left and by his elevation to status of wise statesman and paragon of truth-telling by his most enthusiastic supporters, including in the conservative intelligentsia.

In his 1918 lecture, “Science as a Vocation,” Max Weber criticized the conflation of intellectual work with political action: “Whenever the man of science introduces his personal value judgment, a full understanding of the facts ceases.” The primary task of a teacher, Weber said, is to help his students recognize what Weber called “inconvenient” facts—inconvenient, that is, to the students’ party opinions. And for every party opinion, Weber observed, some facts are extremely inconvenient. Our political understanding of the world is partial; we will emphasize certain aspects of reality that buttress our values and deemphasize other aspects that contradict those values. According to Weber, when an academic pronounces on how one should act, he becomes a prophet or demagogue, neither of whom belong on the academic platform.

Weber adduced another reason for abjuring politics in the classroom. Amusingly—an adverb that does not usually modify the great sociologist—it has been rendered completely irrelevant by twentieth-century education trends. A professor should not inflict his politics on his students, Weber said, because those students may not challenge his authority: “It is somewhat too convenient to demonstrate one’s courage in taking a stand where the audience and possible opponents are condemned to silence.” To which one can only respond: if only! Leave aside such student abuse of the adults in charge as the scourging of Nicholas Christakis at Yale, of Bret Weinstein at Evergreen State College, and of Allison Stanger at Middlebury College, among others. The goal of the ordinary classroom today is to get ignorant students babbling about whatever idle thoughts pass through their heads without showing any intellectual deference to their professor. The number of professors who deserve such deference, however, is by now depressingly low, thanks to the triumph of social-justice ideology.

Of course, many people on college campuses today are still “condemned to silence”—not out of any respect for faculty authority but because they disagree with the premises of victim politics. Conservative Harvard law students, a professor there recently told me, refrain from challenging the regnant dogmas in class, terrified that their remarks may end up on social media and thus jeopardize their careers. This unwillingness to air inconvenient facts—facts such as the connection between family breakdown and poverty—is precisely the shrinking of intellectual freedom against which Weber warned. And if a Harvard law student, occupying the closest position to riches, power, and prestige that a university can guarantee, nevertheless feels acutely vulnerable in his dissent from the orthodoxies, what is a lowly undergraduate or even post-doc to do?

How bad is academic politicization? It is overt and unapologetic. At a recent law school seminar on race and the law, the teacher proudly announced at the beginning of the class session: “We are training social-justice warriors here.” Had the professor said: “We are training justice warriors here,” there would have been no problem. Justice warriors seek to realize one of the great aspirations of Western history: to be ruled by neutral principles, rather than tribal partisanship.

In the courtroom, justice warriors pursue this rule of law through the adversarial process, in which both sides are given equal opportunity to advance facts and arguments in their defense. Social justice, however, is opposed to procedural justice. In a year of ever more strident victim rhetoric, one of the most disturbing auguries for the future was the protests at Harvard and Yale law schools against the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Hundreds of students from our most influential legal academies marched under the #MeToo rallying cry: Believe Survivors, meaning: any self-professed victim of sexual assault is entitled to automatic belief before any evidence is presented to, and sifted by, a neutral tribunal.

A disproportionate number of these elite law students will end up as federal judges, including on the Supreme Court. If they carry their “Believe Survivors” commitment to the bench, due process is doomed. Many criminal law professors have given up teaching rape law, since female students claim to be traumatized by the very thought of a criminal defense in a rape case. Moot court has been similarly constrained; many law students are no longer willing to take on the role of advocate for even an imaginary political incorrect defendant. Harvard’s dean of students, meantime, fired law professor Ronald Sullivan from his job as an undergraduate dorm master this year because of Sullivan’s legal representation of accused sexual assailant Harvey Weinstein. Students and administrators alike deemed this representation an existential threat to the safety of female students in Sullivan’s dorm. We will pass over in silence the maudlin theatrics of such a claim. Its substance is a triumph for social justice, but it is a dagger in the heart of justice. For Harvard’s dean to declare that representing a politically unpopular client renders someone unfit to supervise students betrays the university’s educational mission, which should be to teach students the preciousness of such cultural legacies as the presumption of innocence.

Social-justice pedagogy is driven by one overwhelming reality: the seemingly intractable achievement gap between whites and Asians on the one hand, and blacks and Hispanics on the other. Radical feminism, as well as gay and now trans advocacy, are also deeply intertwined with social-justice thinking on campus and off, as we have just seen. But race is the main impetus. Liberal whites are terrified that the achievement and behavior gaps will never close. So they have crafted a totalizing narrative about the racism that allegedly holds back black achievement.

The aforementioned race-and-the-law professor, after announcing the class’s social-justice commitments, added: “We engage in race talk here.” That was an understatement. “We talk about white fragility,” the professor explained. “What is the purpose of white fragility? What does it mean to live in a white culture, with white norms and a white power structure? What does it mean that we are in a culture dominated by white folks?”

A more pertinent question would be: What does any of this have to do with legal training? Living in a Western culture dominated by whites simply means that, if one is not white, one is in a minority; conversely, in Uganda, say, someone who is not black is in a minority. If being in a racial minority in a majority-white country is so inimical to one’s flourishing, plenty of places exist where a nonwhite person would be in the racial majority. Non-whites the world over are beating down the doors to get into Western countries, however, with no comparable corresponding traffic moving in the other direction. The very politicians and academics who in the morning denounce America’s lethal white supremacy in the afternoon demand that the country open its borders to every intending Third World immigrant, with no penalty for illegal entry. These two positions are contradictory: The U.S. cannot be at the same time the graveyard for nonwhite people and an essential beacon of freedom and life-preserving haven from oppression for these same people.

What are the “white norms” and “culture” that “race talk” seeks to deconstruct? Objectivity, a strong work ethic, individualism, a respect for the written word, perfectionism, and promptness, according to legions of diversity trainers and many humanities, social sciences, and even STEM faculty. Any act of self-discipline or deferred gratification that contributes to individual and generational success is now simply a manifestation of white supremacy. The New York Times recently singled out parents who had queued up hours early to visit a sought-after public school in New York City. “Why were white parents at the front of the line for the school tour?” asked the Times headline. The article answered: their white privilege, not their dedication to their children’s schooling.

The test for whether a norm is white and thus illegitimate is whether it has a disparate impact on blacks and Hispanics. Given the behavioral and academic skills gaps, every colorblind standard of achievement will have a disparate impact. The average black 12th-grader currently reads at the level of the average white eighth-grader. Math levels are similarly skewed. Truancy rates for black students are often four times as high as for white students. Inner-city teachers, if they are being honest, will describe the barely controlled anarchy in their classrooms—anarchy exacerbated by the phony conceit that school discipline is racist. In light of such disparities, it is absurd to attribute the absence of proportional representation in the STEM fields, say, to bias. And yet, STEM deans, faculty, and Silicon Valley tech firms claim that only implicit bias explains why 13 percent of engineering professors are not black. The solution to this lack of proportional representation is not greater effort on the part of students, according to social-justice and diversity proponents. Instead, it is watering down meritocratic standards. Professors are now taught about “inclusive grading” and how to assess writing without judging its quality, since such quality judgments maintain white language supremacy.

It is impossible to overstate how fierce and sweeping the attack on meritocracy is: every mainstream institution is either furiously revising its standards or finds itself in the crosshairs for failing to do so. STEM professional organizations decry traditional means of testing knowledge. Diverse students should be able to get credit for participation in a group project or for putting together a presentation for their family and friends on a scientific concept, say these STEM professionals. Faculty hiring criteria are also under pressure. A decade or so ago, the demand was to give credit toward tenure for editing an anthology. Substitutes for scholarship have only gotten more creative. At Bucknell University, a minority faculty member suggested that participating in an expletive-filled faculty list-serve discussion denouncing Amy Wax, an embattled University of Pennsylvania law professor, should count toward the “intellectual labor” of minority faculty and be included in the faculty merit review.

The most sweeping solution to the lack of racial diversity on the faculty is to get rid of departmental gatekeepers entirely, some of whom remain stubbornly wedded to traditional notions of accomplishment. The University of California at Davis has handed hiring decisions in several STEM fields over to a committee dominated by the university’s head diversity official and other bureaucrats. These bureaucrats have no idea how to assess scientific research. They are good, however, at diversity bean-counting.

The social-justice diversity bureaucracy has constructed a perpetual-motion machine that guarantees it eternal life. Minority students who have been catapulted by racial preferences into schools for which they are not academically prepared frequently struggle in their classes. The cause of those struggles, according to the social-justice diversity bureaucracy, is not academic mismatch; it is the lack of a critical mass of other minority students and faculty to provide refuge from the school’s overwhelming bigotry. And so, the school admits more minority students to create such a critical mass. Rather than raising minority performance, however, this new influx of diverse students lowers it, since the school has had to dig deeper into the applicant pool. The academic struggles and alienation of minority students will increase, along with the demand for more diversity bureaucrats, more segregated safe spaces, more victimology courses, more mental health workers, more diverse faculty, more lowered standards, and of course, more diversity student admits. And the cycle will start all over again.

Due to the diversity imperative, medical schools admit black students with MCAT scores that would be automatically disqualifying if presented by a white or Asian student. Their academic performance is just what one would expect. Time to lower standards further. An oncology professor at an Ivy League medical school was berated by a supervisor for giving an exam in pharmacology that was too “fact-based.” A cancer patient presumably wants his doctor to know the facts about drug interactions, however.

This same process of de-norming is happening in law enforcement. Across the country, district attorneys are refusing to enforce misdemeanor laws and judges are releasing convicted felons early because virtually every criminal-justice practice has a disparate impact on blacks. That disparate impact is due not to criminal-justice racism, but to blacks’ exponentially higher crime rates. This ongoing push for decriminalization and deincarceration will result in more black lives being lost to violent street crime. The liberal elites seemingly don’t give a damn, however, since black street-crime victims are killed overwhelmingly by other blacks, not by racist cops or white supremacists.

The ultimate social-justice solution to the skills and behavior gap is to remove the competition entirely. From the moment children enter school, they are berated for their white heteronormative patriarchal privilege if they fall outside a favored victim group. Any success that they enjoy is not due to their own efforts, they are told; it is due, rather, to the unfair advantages of a system deliberately designed to handicap minorities. Teachers are now advised to ignore white male students, since asking or answering questions in class is another mark of male supremacy.

The pariahs are getting the message. A mother in Connecticut recently asked her son why he was not making more of an effort in college. He answered that doing so would be a function of white privilege. Such an answer can simply be an excuse for laziness. But the relentless attack on any achievement that is not proportionally distributed among different identity groups cannot help but dampen some students’ willingness to compete. Journalist George Packer recently wrote a controversial article in The Atlantic agonizing over the racial-justice crusade that has engulfed the New York City school system. Packer family politics are such that his fourth-grade son “sobbed inconsolably” when Trump was elected president, and Packer sympathizes with the broad goals of the school system’s racial-justice crusade. But even he worries about the fanatical levelling of academic excellence in the name of racial equity. Packer’s daughter proclaimed that she wishes she weren’t white so as not to have slavery on her conscience. One way to atone for being white is to stop conforming to allegedly white norms of accomplishment. Some alpha males will continue striving anyway, and certainly when it comes to college, admissions mania on the part of white elites has not abated yet. But over time, expect a subtle deflation of effort among those who have fully internalized social-justice guilt.

The only precedent for our current resentment-driven war on the West’s magnificent achievements is the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and that didn’t turn out well. The Cultural Revolution, however, was waged mostly by the less educated against the more educated. The oddest feature of today’s social-justice crusade is that it is being prosecuted by the elites against themselves. Every college presidentlaw firm managing partner, and Fortune 500 CEO would rather theatrically blame himself and his colleagues for phantom bigotry than speak honestly about the real causes of ongoing racial inequality: family breakdown and an underclass culture that mocks learning and the conformity to bourgeois values as acting “white.” Anti-racism has become the national religion, with the search for instances of racism to back up that religion becoming ever more desperate. Over the last year alone, ladies’ flatssweaterskeychains, and Adidas and Nike sneakers have been purged from the marketplace for their imaginary connection to racist symbols. Innocent schoolboys have been tarred as bigots by the national media, and a robust traffic in hate-crime hoaxes has thrived.

In fact, America is among the least racist countries on the planet. There is not a single mainstream institution not trying to hire and promote as many underrepresented minorities as possible. Conservative philanthropists and corporations spend billions each year on social-uplift programs to close the achievement gap. Taxpayer dollars are as liberally distributed from government coffers. We so take these efforts for granted that we don’t even see them; they have no effect on the dominant narrative about white indifference and exploitation.

We are in uncharted territory. How a civilization survives with so much contempt for itself is an open question. It is not wholly fanciful to see America’s drug-addicted malaise and rising mortality rates as a consequence, in part, of the nonstop denunciation of the white-male patriarchy. White identity politics is the inevitable result of this nonstop attack, and a logical one: if every other group celebrates its racial identity, why shouldn’t whites, if only as a matter of self-defense?

The claim that every feature of our world rests on racial oppression—the thesis not just of social-justice education, but of the entire Democratic presidential primary field and of the New York Times’ high school-destined 1619 project—undermines the moral legitimacy of our country. All accumulation of wealth is suspect; every technological breakthrough and business success becomes nothing more than rank exploitation.

Even Max Weber might not have foreseen where the politicization of education would land us. He would certainly have been astounded that the hard sciences are now worrying about microaggressions and heteronormativity. We are jeopardizing the creation of new knowledge. But the most important function of schooling is to pass on an inheritance, as Michael Oakeshott explained, and that function is now all but obliterated. Serious humanistic learning has been decimated. When I speak at college campuses, I ask students what their majors are and what their favorite classes have been. Their answers are profoundly depressing: a shallow stew of communications studies, psychology, presidential debate-scoring masking as political science, and syllabi featuring comic books and the young adult literature of dysfunction. The focus of student attention is relentlessly presentist.

Our cultural past is full of wonderful mysteries, however: how, for example, did Western literature evolve from Medieval romance to the realistic novel—the romance peopled by allegorical figures who roam Classical landscapes, the novel showing acute attention to individual character and the details of everyday life? What did such a change mean for how human beings think of themselves in the world? The evolution of form, whether in literature, art, or music, is a grand adventure story, whereby we trace the ever-changing reflection of human experience in the mirror of human imagination. The greatest sin of the social-justice and diversity crusade is to teach students to hate this cultural inheritance. The social-justice crusaders are stripping the future of everything that gives human life meaning: beauty, sublimity, and wit.

TWTYTW 2019

The year having almost run out, it’s time again for That Was the Year That Was 2019, idea stolen from …

At the end of 2018 I wrote a predictions piece for Right Wisconsin. How accurate was I?

By the end of the year the incompetence of Tony Evers as an administrator will be revealed. The state Senate will reject Evers’ choice for tourism secretary and at least one other cabinet appointment.

Exit Brad Pfaff, briefly the secretary of agriculture, trade and consumer protection. Sara Meaney hasn’t been confirmed as secretary of tourism by the state Senate yet, and I predict she won’t be.

Conservative media will report numerous stories about turmoil in Evers’ administration as well as in the Department of Justice under the equally incompetent Attorney General Josh Kaul.

The Kaul stories haven’t come out, though he is as predictably left-wing as this state’s Democratic attorneys general have been. All Evers has is inability to get his appointees confirmed, violations of the Open Records Law, failure to deal with the news media as a public official should, and unconstitutional proposals. Other than that, Evers is doing a bang-up job.

Evers’ 2019–21 state budget will be declared “dead on arrival” by both Robin Vos and Scott Fitzgerald. Said dead budget will include a 50-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase, as well as merging all state law enforcement (State Patrol, Capitol Police, etc.) under the DOJ. Evers will veto the 2019–21 budget the legislature passes, and the state media will spend the last half of the year reporting about the state budget crisis (which means the state will continue spending at 2017–19 levels. By the end of the year, the legislature and Evers will “compromise” on a 25-cent-a-gallon tax increase.

I was wrong about this prediction because I failed to predict how much Evers would cave in. It makes you think there is only one party, the Incumbent Party.

Evers’ administration will not bother to report that the cash surplus under Gov. Scott Walker has disappeared by the end of 2019.

The surplus isn’t gone — yet — but it’s not where it was.

By the end of the year President Donald Trump will have an “establishment” opponent for the GOP nomination, and 17 declared Democratic opponents.

I was two off. There were 15 candidates as of Dec. 3. Is Republican governor-turned-Libertarian-vice-presidential-candidate Bill Weld (who wasn’t much of a Libertarian) an establishment Republican now?

The Packers will hire Josh McDaniels as their coach.

Neither the Packers nor anyone else hired McDaniels.

Madison and Milwaukee will continue to suck.

No more comment needed there.

Despite Democrats’ wishes and predictions, the economy will not go into recession in 2019, though economic growth will slow, for which Trump will be blamed.

Got that one right.

Most of the ruminations about 2019 you read or will read are negative, though none will be as amusing as Dave Barry:

It was an extremely eventful year.

We are using “eventful” in the sense of “bad.”

It was a year so eventful that every time another asteroid whizzed past the Earth, barely avoiding a collision that would have destroyed human civilization, we were not 100 percent certain it was good news.

We could not keep up with all the eventfulness. Every day, we’d wake up to learn that some new shocking alleged thing had allegedly happened, and before we had time to think about it, the political-media complex, always in Outrage Condition Red, would explode in righteous fury, with Side A and Side B hurling increasingly nasty accusations at each other and devoting immense energy to thinking up ways to totally DESTROY the other side on Twitter, a medium that has the magical power to transform everything it touches, no matter how stupid it is, into something even stupider.

Predictably, Donald Trump was impeached. Also predictably, Trump will not be convicted by the Senate next year. Less predictably, reports One America News Network:

According to Democrat presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard, her party’s vote on impeachment may backfire in 2020. While taking to Twitter on Monday, the Hawaii lawmaker posted a video suggesting that the House impeachment push has increased the probability Republicans will flip seats red in 2020.

Gabbard was the only Democrat to vote “present” on both articles of impeachment against President Trump after citing her concerns with the partisanship throughout the probe.

In her most recent video, she said she is concerned Democrat’s efforts to impeach President Trump will lead to a Republican controlled House, Senate and White House after next year’s elections.

Gabbard added that beating President Trump isn’t the only goal for Democrats in 2020. She said they also need to come together as a party to work toward peace and equality.

The stock market was so impressed with Impeacharama that it was at record levels on and off throughout 2019, reaching another record on the last day of the year. This is important only because everyone should be a long-term investor and not hyperventilate about occasional bad days. It also indicates, even though there are better ways than the stock market to measure the economy (economic growth and U6 unemployment, to name two), that money seems unconcerned about Trump’s political adventures.

Trump’s greatest accomplishment of 2019 was driving his opponents they’re-coming-to-take-me-away-ha-ha crazy.

Rural Wisconsin isn’t going crazy, but rural Wisconsin can’t be happy with the Trump-led trade war, which hammered farmers at the same time that continuously wet weather hammered farmers. And yet I don’t see erosion of Trump support in rural areas, in large part because Democrats are too stupid to grasp why rural areas supported Trump in 2016.

Meanwhile, Empower Wisconsin was so impressed with Evers’ first year it named him Tool of the Year:

Tony Evers finished his 2018 campaign for governor by insisting that he did not plan to raise taxes if elected. 

Well, he was elected, and it took but a few weeks before he shot that pledge to hell. Even the folks at Politifact, ever generous about Evers’ trouble with the truth, gave the governor a “Full Flop.” 

He proposed $1 billion-plus in tax hikes in his budget plan — from gas tax increases to a proposal to do away with a successful manufacturing tax credit. 

In Evers’ first year in office, the Democrat pitched a mind-boggling number of far-left initiatives. He jumped on board the climate change alarmist train, pushed a costly Medicaid expansion plan, and his agencies have attempted to ratchet up regulation on business and property owners. 

Meanwhile, even the most apolitical state agencies, like the Department of Tourism, have become centers of the liberal social justice movement. 

The administration’s meddling in Taiwan tech giant Foxconn’s business could cost Wisconsin the most transformative economic development deal in state history. 

Evers issued more executive orders this year — 61 as of last week — than any other governor in Wisconsin history, according to a review by WisPolitics.com. Many of them create some committee or another. The governor and his defenders will tell you he has done so because the Republican-controlled Legislature refuses to work with him. He has done so because he knows Republicans and the people in the scores of districts that sent them to Madison would never go along with such a liberal agenda. 

Which brings us to the biggest myth going in Wisconsin politics, that Tony Evers is a nice-guy moderate who simply wants to do the work of the people. The nice guy charade must have disappeared after the governor called his Republican opponents “amoral” and “stupid” and “bastards.” But the silly caricature continues thanks to the positive paint of a pliant mainstream media. 

More than anything, Gov. Tony Evers has proven what many suspected during the campaign, that he is an empty vessel into which his far left ministers have poured radical policy ideas. 

In other words, Tony is a tool.

The news media, meanwhile, had quite a bad year, and 2020 will probably be worse. Big newspapers are getting almost as bad as public broadcasting in begging for money — in this case, subscriptions based on their excellent-in-their-own-minds news coverage. Like Democrats who can’t fathom why people might support Trump, the national news media can’t grasp why people might look at their incessant attacks on Trump and Republicans and conservatives generally and conclude they can spend their money better elsewhere. Journalists, who increasingly are not like normal people (as in not married, no kids, non-homeowner, non-gun owner, non-churchgoer) should learn some humility.

Because some people can’t count, you have probably read reflections about the end of the 2010s, even though 2020 is actually the last year of the decade of the 2010s. (Confused? When was Year Zero?) Here is one in graphic form, from Matt Ridley:

An opposing view comes from Rick Wilson:

History‘s greatest trick is that our innate human bias toward normalcy always lures us into complacency. You wake up in the morning and the coffee still tastes largely the same, the water runs, the lights come on. It feels almost ordinary. You walk the dogs, check the news, and while on some rare days it’s a 9/11, even the biggest moments in history are hard to see up close.

The idea of change coming in sharp, traumatic, explosive moments is largely an illusion. The signs are always there before the moments that make the history books and the “where were you when?” times.

The water comes to a boil slowly and the frog, or in America’s case 330 million frogs, don’t notice until it’s too late. And no, this is not an allusion to climate change.

So we probably won’t be able to identify exactly when it happened, but sometime in this last decade, we lost the thread. Something actually broke. We fumbled away our continuity, our resilience, the uniquely American proposition that we’re bending the arc of history the right direction. We stopped believing in our almost magical national felicity for getting out of our own way and finally, stubbornly, doing the right thing.

The 2010s didn’t have a 9/11 moment. They didn’t have a Nixon resignation moment (all bets are off for the 2020s on that one, though). There was no hot global conflagration, no assassination attempt on a president, no Pearl Harbor, no Hurricane Katrina or Andrew.

Instead, we had a grinding series of more picayune, more insidious changes. Bit by bit, technology changed the culture. Bit by bit, the culture changed us.

As a result, this passing decade was marked by something darker, more divisive, more dangerous and ultimately more consequential. It was a time where all the small threads wove together into a kind of messy whole, and where a new era of bitterness and spite tore us apart in ways as surely as the 1960s cultural moment did.

Console yourself with this thought: As bad as 2019 was, 2020 will unquestionably be worse. It’s an election year.

As always, may your 2020 be better than your 2019. That’s a wish, not a prediction.

 

Remembering “Ronnie Raygun”

One of the features of our body politic is the increasingly hysterical predictions that second-term Donald Trump will cause the earth to boil over and/or lock up everyone in government concentration camps, or something like that.

The funny part for those of us who were paying attention is when your favorite leftist compares Trump unfavorably to a previous Republican president — for instance, either George Bush or Ronald Reagan.

About the latter, Ira Stoll remembers:

The New York Times ad was so effective that four days later …

… Reagan won 49 of the 50 states, and it seemed as though every left-wing college newspaper (but I repeat myself) used the same headline, “There he goes again.” Fortunately for the ad’s signers, none of them appear to have suffered negative career consequences for their non-credible hysterics.

 

Recallarama and Impeacharama

The Associated Press compares and contrasts Recallarama and Donald Trump’s impeachment:

A divisive leader drove the opposition to extreme measures. The political climate was toxic — with little civil debate or middle ground. The clash ended in a high-risk political showdown that captured the nation’s attention and shaped the next election.

This was the 2012 battle to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker, not the 2019 fight to impeach President Donald Trump. But for some who lived through the former, the episodes have clear similarities and a warning for Democrats about overreach and distraction.

“In both cases, they thought just as they were upset about something, everyone was,” Walker said, describing one of his takeaways from the campaign that failed to remove him from office. “Just because your base feels strongly about something doesn’t mean that the majority of other voters do.”

Although moderates declined to join liberals back then in voting to eject Walker, Democrats warn against presuming they’ll break the same way for Trump next year in Wisconsin, a state seen as pivotal in 2020. Voters who were likely wary of undoing Walker’s election via a rare recall face a simpler choice in whether to hand Trump a second term, they say.

“People may not like impeachment, simply because it adds to the drama of his presidency, but that doesn’t mean they are on the fence or sympathetic to Trump,” said Jon Erpenbach, a Democratic Wisconsin state senator.

The Walker recall sprang from a law he signed just months into his first term that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public employees. Walker didn’t reveal his plan until after he was elected in 2010, and the move sparked massive protests that made Wisconsin the center of a growing national fight over union rights.

Angry activists gathered nearly a million signatures to force the recall. Although Democrats had fought hard against the bill, with some state senators even fleeing the state at one point to avoid a vote, they were initially reluctant to embrace the recall for fear it would hurt then-President Barack Obama’s reelection hopes in 2012.

The recall became a proxy battle ahead of the presidential election, with Democrats arguing that Walker unfairly targeted teachers, nurses and other public employees to weaken the unions that traditionally supported Democratic candidates. Walker argued that his proposal shouldn’t have been a surprise since he campaigned on forcing public employees to pay more for their benefits while capping how much they could bargain for in raises. He also argued that it wasn’t proper to use the extraordinary option of recall over a policy dispute.

Walker ultimately won the recall election in June 2012, becoming a conservative hero on his way to a short-lived run for president in 2015. In a testament to Wisconsin’s political division, just five months after Walker won the recall vote, Obama cruised to victory in Wisconsin on his way to reelection.

Trump is accused of improperly withholding U.S. military aid that Ukraine needed to resist Russian aggression in exchange for Ukraine’s new president investigating Trump political rival Joe Biden and his son. Trump has argued that he was within his rights to ask Ukraine to look into corruption and that impeachment is just an attempt by Democrats to remove him from office.

Both impeachment and attempting to recall governors from office are exceedingly rare. Impeachment has only been leveled by the House against two presidents, Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton 130 years later. Richard Nixon was on the brink of it in 1974 before he resigned. Walker was only the third governor in U.S. history to face a recall election and the first to survive it.

The rarity of the remedy may help explain why voters are reluctant to do either one, said Charles Franklin, who has regularly surveyed voter attitudes in Wisconsin for Marquette University.

Marquette University Law School poll conducted just as public impeachment hearings were beginning earlier this month showed 53% of voters in Wisconsin were against removing Trump for office, with just 40% in support. National polls have shown a more even divide.

Even more troubling for Wisconsin Democrats was that while 78% of Democrats supported removing Trump through impeachment, 93% of Republicans were against it. That stronger rallying behind the incumbent, with the other side not as unified, parallels what was seen during the Walker recall, Franklin said.

Walker saw his support among independent voters go from about even six months before the recall election to positive 16 points just before the election. The latest Marquette poll also shows independents currently breaking against impeachment, with 47% against and 36% in favor.

Mike Tate, who was chairman of the state Democratic Party during the recall and continues to work in the state as a consultant, cautioned against making too much of where independents are on impeachment — and where they may be next November. After the impeachment process runs its course, Democrats will move on to talk about many other issues throughout the presidential campaign, Tate said.

“Impeachment will be in the rearview mirror,” he said.

But Stephan Thompson, who led the state GOP during the recalls and went on to manage Walker’s successful 2014 reelection campaign, said impeachment is “such a monumental event in history and politics” that it will hang over Democrats the rest of the cycle and make it difficult for them to bring moderate voters back to their side.

“When the left pushes this hard and overreaches, it helps you band together with people because you’re all in the foxhole together,” Thompson said. “I think that’s something they don’t realize.”

Erpenbach, the state senator, was among those who fled to Illinois for two weeks to try to kill the anti-union bill. He argues that unlike the recall, which was motivated by a policy disagreement, Congress was forced to hold impeachment hearings because Trump is alleged to have violated the Constitution.

Democrats are taking a political chance, Erpenbach said, but they’re doing what the Constitution requires, a key distinction from the recall.

“It worries me that it could backfire,” Erpenbach said, “but that’s not the point.”

Oh, yes, that is the point, Jon. The attempted coup d’état Erpenbach’s party spearheaded (against the advice of national Democrats, by the way) and the attempted coup d’état House Democrats are spearheading are indeed mostly comparable.

It is, however, interesting that Erpenbach now admits that Recallarama was all about a policy disagreement and nothing else. The B.S. about workers’ rights and whatever other crap Democrats dragged up was about nothing more than the fact they couldn’t stop Act 10 and wanted to do anything shy of assassinating Walker to stop Act 10. (Maybe I should rethink that last phrase.)

One difference is that there is a bigger group of Republicans opposed to Trump than the group opposed to Act 10. Other than former Sen. Dale Schultz, who I’m convinced only voted for Democrats after Gov. Tommy Thompson left office, there were a handful of Republicans who voted against Act 10, though they were not anti-Walker. There were no conservative radio talkers who spoke out against Walker or Act 10, in contrast to Trump.

The other, much bigger difference is that Walker did nothing to warrant the vitriol union thugs and other Democrats vomited at him. Trump, as we all know by now, has been his own worst enemy, unless that’s his intent.

Oh, by the way, where was that Walker indictment predicted by MSNBC’s John Nichols the night they lost the recall election? Probably the same place as Hillary Clinton’s election as president.

 

Hatred: A duet

After the music …

J.D. Tuccille:

What defines a Republican, these days? How about a Democrat? That’s a difficult question to answer. After years of shifting priorities and ideologies, the beliefs of Republicans of today bear little resemblance to those of somebody of that affiliation from a decade ago, and the modern Democrat is just as far removed from recent predecessors. But one thing is clear: Republicans aren’t Democrats and hate anybody who is, and Democrats feel the same about Republicans.

Identity established by mutual loathing is pretty much all there is to go on when partisans of the two factions so rapidly change positions, sometimes despising one another for holding fast to beliefs they themselves once supported. In their struggle for control of the government, it’s all about loyalty and power, without any deeper meaning.

“Six in 10 Republicans say they would rather have a president who agrees with their political views but does not set a good moral example for the country, as opposed to one who sets a good moral example but does not agree with them politically. In contrast, 75% of Democrats prefer a president who sets a good moral example over one who agrees with their issue positions,” Gallup reported last week. “In 1999, Republicans’ and Democrats’ opinions were reversed, with Republicans favoring a president who sets a good moral example and Democrats preferring one who agrees with them politically.”

Of course, Republicans downplay moral issues at a time when the president from their party shows every sign of being morally crippled, just as Democrats deemphasized morals when their own occupant of the White House had his sleaziness on display. Then as now, tribal affiliation overcame any supposed principles.

The primacy of tribal affiliation has also been obvious in the course of semi-regular media pranks when partisans have been deliberately presented with misattributed quotes about public policy issues. Interviewees inevitably become befuddled when they learn that the “bad” opinion they dutifully denounced belonged, not so long ago, to the “good” side.

More broadly, the recent changes in party positions have involved “the transformation of the GOP into the party of Patrick J. Buchanan and Donald J. Trump—defined by cultural resentments, crude populism, and ethnic nationalism,” as Peter Wehner puts it in The Atlantic. At the same time, “the Democratic Party is embracing a form of identity politics in which gender, race, and ethnicity become definitional” along with progressive/socialist economics that are “fiscally ruinous, invest massive and unwarranted trust in central planners, and weaken America’s security.”

Such rapid shifts on issues and ideology have left little time for developing a strong basis of enthusiasm for what political partisans are supposedly for, but that’s left people plenty of energy left to expend on what they’re against.

“We find that while partisan animus began to rise in the 1980s, it has grown dramatically over the past two decades,” Shanto Iyengar and Masha Krupenkin, political scientists at Stanford, reported in a paper published last year. “As animosity toward the opposing party has intensified, it has taken on a new role as the prime motivator in partisans’ political lives. … today it is outgroup animus rather than ingroup favoritism that drives political behavior.”

That means politically partisan Americans are defining themselves not by what they have in common with allies, but by how much they hate their enemies. They may not have a good handle on what they’re fighting about but, damnit, they’re gonna fight.

Fifty-five percent of Republicans said Democrats are “more immoral” than other Americans, and 47 percent of Democrats said likewise about Republicans, as Pew Research noted last month. “The level of division and animosity—including negative sentiments among partisans toward the members of the opposing party—has only deepened” since the last survey three years ago.

Fifty-five percent of Republicans and 44 percent of Democrats say the party opposing their own is “not just worse for politics—they are downright evil,” according to a YouGov survey. Thirty-four percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats say the other party “lack the traits to be considered fully human—they behave like animals.”

Factions that aren’t really firm about what they believe, shift positions, but are dead-set in their hatred for one another to the point of dehumanization? In a weird way, such partisan animus for its own sake sounds an awful lot like the ancient rivalry between the Blues and the Greens—the chariot teams turned political parties that played such a prominent role in sixth-century Byzantine political life. As with modern Republicans and Democrats it was never entirely clear what they stood for beyond opposition to one another, but rioting between the two factions ultimately burned half of Constantinople to the ground.

When the Blues and Greens set about burning down their city, they were encouraged by senators who hoped to seize the imperial throne for themselves. They sought to take advantage of the chaos.

Nothing much has changed over the centuries.

“Partisan negativity is self-reinforcing, that is, political elites are motivated to stoke negativity to boost their chances of reelection,” Iyengar and Krupenkin wrote in their 2018 paper.

Fundamentally, then, what defines Republicans and Democrats isn’t programs or beliefs or ideology—it’s achieving power and destroying the enemy in the process. What’s done once power is achieved—beyond grinding “evil” and “immoral” enemies into dust—is secondary at best.

Since platforms and ideas don’t really matter, there’s no room for finding common ground or cutting deals. Opposing political factions can compromise, for good or ill, on health care bills and defense schemes. But how do you split the difference when what separates you isn’t a matter of firm values or principles, but a mutual desire to seize total control and to smash all who don’t wear your gang colors?

Ultimately, the only way to keep the peace is to make sure there’s no prize to be won. So long as there’s a powerful government over which hateful partisans fight for dominance, we’re all in danger from the battling factions.

When the first priority of a politician is to get more power, you have this, reported by Nick Gillespie:

For a self-styled digital native who stresses “21st century solutions” to today’s problems, presidential hopeful Andrew Yang has a decidedly 20th century way of addressing what he considers to be problems: spend more, regulate more.

As Reason‘s Billy Binion noted, the tech entrepreneur’s proposals about “Regulating Technology Firms in the 21st Century” involve a lot of unwise monkeying around with “Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act; the landmark legislation protects social media companies from facing certain liabilities for third-party content posted by users online.” Like many other critics of online platforms (including progressives such as Elizabeth Warren and conservatives such as Josh Hawley), Yang buys into the nonexistent distinction between “publishers” and “platforms” as a means of regulating the speech and economic freedom of social media companies and website operators.

In the same document, Yang also proposes to

  • Create a Department of the Attention Economy that focuses specifically on how to responsibly design and use smartphones, social media, gaming, and chat apps. It will include overall guidelines, as well as age-based ones.
  • Provide guidance (and regulation, if needed) on design features that maximize screen time for young people, like removing autoplay video for children under 16, removing the queues that allow infinite scrolling, capping the number of recommendations per day, reducing notification signs and “like” counts, and using artificial intelligence and machine learning to determine when children are using devices to cap screen hours per day.
  • Establish rules and standards around kid-targeted content to protect them from inappropriate content.
  • Incentivize content production of high-quality and positive programming for kids similar to broadcast TV.
  • Require platforms to provide guidance on kid-healthy content for parents, and provide incentives for companies that work to make user data of minors available to their parents.
  • Include classes on the responsible use of technology in public school curricula and teach children how to distinguish reliable from unreliable news sources online.

It’s this sort of “new” thinking that loses libertarians. In what way does a new, presumably cabinet-level, agency do anything other than expand the size, scope, and spending of government in a way that will inevitably limit speech and expression? That it’s being done in the name of “the children” makes it seem like a punchline from a mid-1990s episode of The Simpsons. Yang asserts that “we are beginning to understand exactly how much of an adverse effect” social media is having on kids and that Facebook, Twitter, and the rest face no “real accountability” even as he rhapsodizes about his 20th century childhood: “I look back at my childhood and I remember riding a bike around the neighborhood, but now tablets, computers, and mobile devices have shifted the attention of youth.”

Spare me the nostalgia and moral panic, which is highly reminiscent of the ’90s panic over the supposed effects on kids of sex and violence on cable TV (lest we forget, Attorney General Janet Reno and other leaders threatened censorship if the menace of Beavis and Butt-head and other basic cable fare wasn’t cleaned up). The social science is far from settled on any of this stuff and the first reaction to perceived problems should never be creating a series of government controls. Social media companies face all sorts of pushback in the marketplace, too, including lack of interest from users (Facebook has posted two years of declining use in the U.S.).

What would any of Yang’s plans cost in terms of dollars and cents? It doesn’t really matter because the visionary will pay for everything with a value-added tax on digital advertising.

Lord knows Republicans, including Donald Trump, are hardly avatars of a new way of governing, but the Democratic presidential candidates have yet to meet a problem that can’t be solved by creating a whole new program or bureaucracy. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg wants to shell out $1 trillion to make housing, child care, and college more affordable. Elizabeth Warren wants to raise taxes by $26 trillion and Bernie Sanders wants national rent-control laws while washout Beto O’Rourke yammered on about the right to live close to work before bidding adieu to the 2020 race. Joe Biden wants to spend $750 billion over the next decade to deliver what Obamacare was supposed to do.

Over the last 40 years, federal spending averaged 20.4 percent of GDP while federal revenue averaged just 17.4 percent. That gap, says the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is only going to get wider, saddling future Americans with more and more debt, which dampens long-term economic growth, among other bad outcomes.

The federal government spent about $4.4 trillion in fiscal year 2019 (while posting a $1 trillion deficit). Surely there is more than enough savings to be found in that massive sum before proposing big new programs that will be layered on top of a seemingly infinite number of existing efforts to fix all the big and small problems of the world. It shouldn’t be too much to insist that all candidates for president (and every other federal office) explain how they are going to bring revenues and outlays into some sort of balance. But at the very least, we shouldn’t stand for yet more spending and regulation that simply gets layered on top of what is already there.

Regardless of whether the spending comes from a D or an R.

Evers vs. open government

Wisconsin Republicans for many years have been less enthusiastic about open government, specifically the state’s Open Meetings and Open Records laws, than they should be.

Their first lesson should have been the Open Records Law requests that revealed which (allegedly nonpartisan) politicians, future candidates for office and members of the news media signed petitions to recall Gov. Scott Walker in Recallarama 2011.

Those Democrats who (correctly) praise open government have an embarrassment in their own party, identified by M.D. Kittle:

Mainstream media outlets are learning what conservative news organizations have known for some time: The Evers Administration is brazenly breaking Wisconsin’s open record laws.

In a piece published Sunday, Fox6 in Milwaukee reported that Gov. Tony Evers denied its reporters’ requests for four weeks of emails to and from the governor and his chief of staff Maggie Gau. The request was denied by an administration lawyer, as was another refined request from Fox6.

“Finally, the Fox6 Investigators asked for Governor Evers’ emails from just one day. Denied,” the news outlet reported. 

Open government experts said the administration’s legal interpretation violates the spirit, and perhaps the letter of, Wisconsin’s open records laws.

Join the club, folks.

Conservative news outlets have been fighting the transparency battle with Evers from the day he took the Oath of Office.

The administration has denied multiple open records requests from Empower Wisconsin.

In an an Aug. 29 letter, Evers’ Assistant Legal Council Erin Deeley denied Empower Wisconsin requests for all communications between Gau and staff members of Protect Democracy to investigate how involved this far left organization was in the executive branch. The requests timeframe was between Dec. 10 2018 through May 5, 2019.  We also sought communications between Gau and the Public Service Commission chairwoman and her chief of staff following reports of improper practices.

Empower Wisconsin was denied because we did not identify a “subject matter,” the same specious legal reasoning others, including Fox6, have been given.

The Evers Administration has already been sued for its transparency problems.

In August, the MacIver Institute filed a lawsuit claiming Evers violated the First Amendment rights of staff members who were barred from attending a Capitol Press Corps briefing on the governor’s proposed budget.

Matt Kittle, Empower Wisconsin executive director, a former MacIver reporter, is named in the lawsuit.

A review of the Evers administration’s open government practices found a “disturbing departure from” the award-winning transparency practices of former Gov. Scott Walker. The analysis, conducted by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty found the administration to be “dysfunctional and disorganized” in handling requests for public information.

While there are guidelines requesters of government information must follow, the state’s open records law was crafted on the idea that public officials must error on the side of complete public access.

Between Evers’ bad appointments, bad ideas and now ignoring open government, Evers is creating quite a record in his first year in office.

 

The tourism plot thickens

M.D. Kittle:

New documents obtained by Empower Wisconsin  raise more red flags that Gov. Tony Evers’ tourism chief tried to push out a longtime committee member and rig a leadership election.

The records, sought by state Rep. Travis Tranel (R-Cuba City) through an open records request, show the Governor’s Council on Tourism held subsequent elections for officers after the first online vote ended in a 6-6 tie between council members Kathy Kopp and Joe Klimczak.

Electronic timestamps show council voting in the first round took place between Oct, 18-21.

Another online vote occurred between Oct. 23-27, in which the election tallied 17 total votes. A final round of balloting occurred between Oct. 28-30, in which Klimczak picked up 10 votes to Kopp’s two.

The three rounds of voting were marred by confusion and controversy. Sources say only some members of the 19-member council were able to vote. In some cases, there were improper votes cast or some council members were said to have voted multiple times.

Tourism officials ultimately declared the votes were “inconclusive.” The election is now expected to be held at the council’s next meeting.

Between the first and final round of voting, Tourism Secretary-Designee Sara Meaney asked Kopp to resign her position on the council as early as December, according to Kopp and other tourism sources. Kopp, a widely respected tourism leader twice reappointed to the tourism council by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker, plans to retire next year as director of the Platteville Area Chamber of Commerce, but her Tourism Council appointment doesn’t end until July 2021.

“As I indicated to you, I had not thought about resigning early, especially before my duties here at the Chamber are completed,” Kopp wrote in the email to Meaney, which she shared with some of her fellow council members.

State Sen. Andre Jacque (R- De Pere) — chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Local Government, Small Business, Tourism and Workforce Development — said the records from the online vote are troubling.

“This is just a mess,” said Jacque, an ex-officio member of the council. “After the nominations took place, we know there is this phone call from Secretary Meaney to Kathy Kopp with the intention of asking Kathy to step down.”

“In relation to when the request to Ms. Kopp occurred, the timing is conspicuous,” Jacque added.

Tranel, also a member of the council, said he has been “concerned about the situation that has developed over the past few weeks within the Department of Tourism.”

“At the next meeting, I look forward to having a thorough discussion of what transpired. Kathy Kopp is a fantastic member of the Council and she has my full support,” Tranel wrote in an email to Empower Wisconsin.

Tranel’s office asked multiple times for the documents. Finally the Department of Tourism delivered the records to the southwest Wisconsin lawmaker.

The entire process, which critics say was driven by liberal politics, was unprecedented from the beginning.

Meaney’s attempt to elect officers and members of the council’s marketing committee via an online vote appears to have been a violation of Wisconsin’s open meetings law.

In a letter to the secretary-designee, Jacque noted he is also concerned that unknown individuals voted multiple times, “and perhaps including individuals who are not supposed to be casting a ballot.”

“It appears that the council’s vote itself was not conducted at a meeting that was properly noticed and open to the public,” the senator wrote.

Sources tell Empower Wisconsin the Department of Tourism under Meaney’s predecessor, Stephanie Klett, used paper ballots, and each election was monitored by an official from the state Department of Administration.

A Department of Tourism official did not return Empower Wisconsin’s request for comment, but Meaney and Department of Administration Secretary Joel Brennan have insisted the secretary-designee is the victim of politics.

“There’s another political hit job on Sara Meaney,” Brennan told WTMJ radio on Friday. He claims the Tourism Department had done “things the wrong way” for the past 10 months because staff was following precedent set by “the previous administration.” Just what that was isn’t clear.

What is clear is that state statute doesn’t allow for online elections of committee officers, a precedent set by Meaney’s Department of Tourism.

Meaney also is under fire for “unprecedented” lobbying of individuals, business owners and tourism organizations around the state to support her confirmation in the Senate. Jacque said he has heard from some organization representatives who said they feared the repercussions of not supporting Meaney.

More broadly, Meaney has been accused of trying to politicize the Department of Tourism, pushing Evers liberal agenda inside the apolitical agency.

“The job of the Department of Tourism is to promote the State of Wisconsin, not to promote a political agenda — checking a racially-based box should not come before qualifications,” Jacque wrote in his letter to Meaney.

The secretary-designee’s confirmation, at the moment, appears to be in jeopardy.

“There’s a storm brewing on Sara Meaney,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) toldWTMJ. 

“There’s a couple of different stories floating out there … that has her in the position of trying to manipulate the tourism board,” Fitzgerald told the radio station.

At this point Meaney seems likely to follow Brad Pfaff, briefly the secretary of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, into the pile of gubernatorial appointment rejects (though Pfaff landed another job with the state Department of Administration). For politicizing something that should not be politicized, and something that no previous Democratic or Republican governor politicized, Meaney needs to go.

Evers vs. hunters

M.D. Kittle:

Talk about tone deaf.

Gov. Tony Evers demands the state Legislature convene a special session at 2 p.m. [Thursday} to take up gun-restriction bills — just 16 days before the start of Wisconsin’s nine-day gun deer season.

The annual hunting season is a Wisconsin tradition older than the Brandy Old-Fashioned, and cherished by families throughout the Badger State.

The hunt, as should be abundantly clear, involves the use of guns. Unlike many of his predecessors, the governor isn’t what you would call a gun guy. He’s definitely not a deer-hunting guy.

The Madison Democrat is more at home playing pickle ball at the Governor’s Mansion and pushing gun-control policies than he is in a tree stand or tracking whitetail tracks through a snow-covered woods. You’ll find plenty of photos of former Govs. Scott Walker, Scott McCallum, and Tommy Thompson, as well as former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch decked out in blaze orange or camo on the hunt. Evers is more of a tweed sport coat fellow with an eye for regulatory code.

Evers wants the Legislature to move legislation on universal background checks and a so-called “red flag” bill that would give judges and relatives of individuals perceived to be threats increased power to take away guns.

Last month, Evers told reporters he would consider mandatory government “buybacks” of assault weapons, a la the proposal called for by failed Democrat presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke. A government “buyback” is a strange characterization of a what it really is: government seizures.

That kind of legislation feels like an assault on the Second Amendment and gun rights to a lot of hunters, some of whom use semi-automatic weapons on the hunt. Restrictionists have attempted to apply the moniker of “assault weapon” on just about anything that fires. While liberals like Evers insist that weapons bans and background checks aren’t designed to go after the average hunter’s guns, guns-rights activists have good reason to be concerned about the slippery slope of expanded government control.

Evers may not be into tracking deer, but he and his liberal advisers are political animals. The governor wants the political show a gun-control floor debate would create. Republican leadership isn’t biting.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) have said they are not interested in taking up legislation that restricts gun rights of law-abiding citizens.

“Wisconsin’s sporting heritage should be celebrated – and has been by leaders in our state for years. Sadly this year, I’m hearing from hunters all over southeastern Wisconsin that they’re afraid of what Tony Evers is up to just two weeks ahead of deer season. We weren’t elected to take away Second Amendment rights and I don’t plan on starting now,” Fitzgerald told Empower Wisconsin in an email statement.

Fitzgerald on Tuesday said Republicans expect to gavel in and gavel out without taking up any of the Democrats’ proposals. Dems worry the GOP majority won’t give them the show they’re looking for.

First, as a non-hunter and as someone who drives throughout this state at night (I had to swerve around a dead deer last weekend), including during the deer rut and deer hunting seasons, I fully support deer hunting because every deer a hunter shoots is one I won’t hit with my car. Evers’ party, on the other hand, is infested with animal rights activists who not only avoid hunting, but believe no one should be able to hunt or fish. (Or eat meat, or wear leather or fur.) Add to that the usual anti-gun types, and that’s the toxic mixture Milwaukee and Madison voted into office in November.