Thursday, April 3, 2008

Now Fear This

A few days ago the Wall Street Journal published a short op-ed piece responding to Governor Doyle's characterization of the results of Tuesday's Supreme Court election as a "a tragedy". To be fair to Doyle, he was actually characterizing the loss to the state of Louis Butler, paying Butler a compliment more than making a comment on the election process. I, on the other hand, would characterize the entire election as "a tragedy" without any reservation.

The Journal goes on to frame the election as a contest between a liberal judicial philosophy and a conservative one and, after listing Justice Butler's myriad assaults on corporate liability protections ends with this stern warning, "A seat on the bench is not a sinecure, and justices who abuse or contort the law must sometimes answer for their actions."

What a load of crap. The merit of the right's all-encompassing "activism" label notwithstanding (it's implied here and used explicitly earlier in the piece) to frame the discourse of this election as having anything but the slightest connection to corporate liability is horribly dishonest. To be sure, protection from civil liability was at the heart of the corporatist push to elect their hired man at any cost but this wasn't something the Gableman campaign or any of its surrogates were eager to share with the public. "Elect me and I'll slam the courthouse door in your face." isn't a rallying cry that really resonates with the rank and file. No, apart from using a liberal enough sprinkling of the "activist" label to make it clear that even he wasn't sure what he meant, Mike Gableman ran his campaign on pure fear.

In tough times, the right has made fear its weapon of choice. Fear of communists, fear of minorities, fear of homosexuals, fear of terrorists, they've all been used to justify and defend some of the worst decisions in this nation's history, everything from draconian civil-rights abuses to our current, disastrous foreign policy.

Gableman's choice was fear of criminals. He used it to blind the public to the true role of Supreme Court in Wisconsin's judicial system to say nothing of the role of public defenders. In Gableman's world, there was no presumption of innocence, no right to due process of law and no ethical obligation to ably represent the accused. He wanted you to think that Butler was just trying to let these people out SO THEY COULD KILL YOU!!!

So do I, as the Journal suggests of Doyle, think too little of the Wisconsin electorate? If I thought so, I wouldn't be writing this. These types of scare tactics have played far too large a role in our public discourse lately and they wouldn't work if people took the trouble to think about what's really going on. We live in a state that incarcerates twice as many people as Minnesota (at $30,000 a piece) with no real difference in crime rate to show for it. We live in a state that barred equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians without a shred of credible evidence that fears of some catastrophic societal degradation were remotely founded. We now live in a state where corporate interests from all corners of the globe can sully our airwaves and lie to our faces for months and be rewarded with a bought-and-paid-for partisan hack on the Supreme Court bench, twice!

A century ago Wisconsin cleaned up nonsense like this and I think we can do it again. All it takes is understanding where the true threats lie, not to fear them, but to face them.

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