Throughout this decade, the state GOP has treated politics as a zero-sum game.
They methodically divided working people by pitting private-sector employees against their public-sector brethren to deprive ordinary constituents of collective bargaining advantages and to serve Republican bosses. They called it “divide and conquer.”
They drew absurd legislative boundaries to prevent voters from achieving proportional representation, then relied on the U.S. Supreme Court — now a de facto extension of the Republican Party — to look the other way.
They played racial politics, passing legislation intended to suppress votes from unsupportive communities of color.
They punished Madison and Milwaukee at every turn, stoking the politics of resentment.
They rewarded donors with massive tax cuts skewed to the wealthy, deregulated everything that moved, starved public education, ignored pressing infrastructure needs and played politics with people’s lives on health care.
And then, when defeated, the GOP rushed to pass laws before Democrat Tony Evers was sworn in as governor to diminish his influence. The state Supreme Court, also dominated by boot-licking Republican toadies, decided that was OK.
But stop the presses — now Evers is being rebuked under huge headlines for using his state budget veto authority to increase funding for school children by a relatively modest $65 million in an $81 billion budget.
Oh my, Republicans are aghast. It’s a power grab. A misuse of veto authority. A trick. We need to amend the constitution.
Well, boo hoo hoo.
The GOP, which has refused to work with the governor on anything, feigns outrage that Evers, a former teacher and school administrator, is allocating more money for public schools after Republicans had been so diligent at depriving them of adequate funding.
Let’s pause a moment on this logic.
The president of the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty said it would be OK for a governor to prevent spending through a veto such as the one Evers employed, but “it’s quite another thing to allow the governor to appropriate money,” according to a story in the Wisconsin State Journal.
Translated, that means if the GOP were in power, it should be fine to employ budget veto maneuvers to further decimate public spending willy-nilly, but when a Democratic governor wants to spend a bit more on school children, well, that should be unconstitutional.
The logic is laughable, but remember that the GOP’s core principle is to curtail public spending on everything except tax giveaways to Foxconn.
Two GOP legislators said this in a memo to colleagues proposing a constitutional amendment: “This unilateral abuse of power taken by the executive branch cannot go unchecked by the Legislature without seriously damaging the separation of powers doctrine in Wisconsin.”
Wow, think about that.
Republicans have connived for years, purchasing control of the state Supreme Court and cheating on election maps, but heavens, it is an unconstitutional outrage when a Democrat is able to take advantage of an arcane veto technique to help kids.
At the least, these conservative whiners probably want to foster the perception of “bothsidesism.” They hope the controversy provides a both-sides-do-it illusion about Wisconsin’s political dysfunction, a contention that can lead to a pox-on-both-your-houses public reaction.
Let’s be clear: Such a framing is utter fiction, but the gambit nicely aligns with a much broader narrative about Republicans nationally.
The theme of the latest Foreign Affairs magazine is “What Happened to the American Century?” Its series of essays constitute an autopsy of America’s now-past global leadership.
One essay is titled “The Republican Devolution,” and is written by two prominent political scientists, Jacob Hacker of Yale and Paul Pierson of the University of California at Berkeley.
And they address bothsidesism head on.
“Elite discourse frequently implies that the two parties are mirror images of each other, as if both were moving at the same rate toward the political fringes, shedding norms and principles as they did so,” they write. “But this is simply not what is happening. The core problem is not equal polarization but asymmetric polarization.
“The Democratic Party has moved modestly leftward, mostly due to the decline in the party’s presence in the South. But it still aspires to solve problems and so is relatively open to compromise. … By contrast, the Republican Party has moved dramatically rightward and now represents a radically disruptive force that the U.S. political system is ill equipped to contain.”
Their essay describes Donald Trump as a symptom, not the disease.
“For a generation, the capacity of the United States to harness governmental authority for broad public purposes has been in steep decline, even as the need for effective governance in a complex, interdependent world has grown,” they write.
“What went wrong?” they ask. “Skyrocketing inequality, regional economic divergence, and demographic changes have all played their part. But there is one overriding culprit behind the failure of the U.S. political system: the Republican Party.
“Over the last two and a half decades, the GOP has mutated from a traditional conservative party into an insurgent force that threatens the norms and institutions of American democracy.”
The authors also describe America’s retreat from a “golden age” to a “broken age,” tracing the “disruptive transition from an industrial manufacturing economy to a postindustrial knowledge economy.
“Along with the decline of unions, the deregulation of finance, and the federal government’s retreat from antitrust enforcement that transition has tilted opportunity and wealth toward those at the very top of the economic pyramid. It has also concentrated growth in cities and sucked it out of rural areas and small towns.”
But here’s the point cynical Republican strategists realized long ago: “Even as yawning inequality has made structural reform more pressing, many white Americans have seen the United States’ inevitable march toward a majority-minority society as an even greater threat.”
In their closing section, which they subtitle “breaking the doom loop,” the political scientists acknowledge that partisan courts and outsized political influence by red states and rural voters will slow any progress.
The GOP, they say, knows the era of white male dominance is fading, so it turns to a “polarizing and countermajoritarian strategy because it knows that it is in a race against time.” Republicans conjure a mythical past because they cannot prevail in a (small d) democratic future, the authors write.
In the big picture, including in our state, that all rings true.
But on the front lines here in Wisconsin, you have a low-key governor playing small ball, ignoring the flak and vetoing his way to a few extra bucks for school children.
More power to him.