In The News
Sad but funny how politics has become a national joke
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted October 2, 2012
The clown car has pulled into the campaign station. A shame really, given how serious the issues are facing voters November 6. But the conniptions of a crazy election season have now become dominated by ridicule. It doesn’t totally displace the repetitiously tiresome advertising claims, the false equivalencies that every side is the same or the hypocritical reversals of previous policy.
But all that pales in the presence of these endlessly laughable incidents that so spark the fire from Jon Stewart and SNL. Who woulda thunk? Scott Walker loving unions. GOP stalwarts amorally climbing into the Todd Akin bed they once shunned, Scott Brown abandoning any pretense of nice guy to encourage war-whoops that Elizabeth Warren is an academic Cherokee.
Walker pleading for union excellence leads the parade, because he was so upset that NFL owners took his ideology more seriously than the game he loves. How dare those filthy rich bosses follow his union-busting philosophy out the window and cost his beloved Green Bay Packers a game simply by trying to save the equivalent cost of three decent players and keep the legit experienced union referees off the field.
Well, sure, maybe Gov. Walker did the same thing, but that was only to government, schools and working people – not the Packers!
OK, so those inexperienced non-union replacement referees blew several obvious calls and didn’t even know the rules. So the players were upset by the loss of quality and by the obvious danger to their personal safety. So the real refs weren’t on strike over pay but over losing their pensions, not buying into the Romney-Ryan and Walker vision that their retirement years would better be served by 401(k)s.
All this brought rare nonpartisan accord – Obama, Romney, Ryan and Walker agreeing the union refs should come back, which happened. Strange how regulatory proficiency looks good for pro football but not for Wall Street and the free market. Strange how no one likes refs, but you can get both sides together to save the sport but not for better deficit control.
The episode brought examples and memories from all quarters of how unions help professionals improve in their job --- giving the Bronx cheer to the view of only selfishly protecting their own, which was the Walker excuse for his anti-union push. But remember the “Miracle on the Hudson” in the waning hours of the Bush era and how every multiple responder to the plane downing was a union trained worker, both public and private? Sully, the central heroic captain, was actually Chesley Sullenberger, a huge safety advocate through the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA).
Observers of the NFL debacle also recalled how unions have led “Helmets to Hardhats” helping hundreds of military veterans into construction jobs. And all those public first-responders at fires and medical emergencies. Or even Romney, when he ran the 2002 Olympics, compelled to applaud the IBEW training and efficiency that allowed 20 union workers in three weeks to do what hundreds of untrained workers would have needed months to accomplish.
It turns out that union training and upgrading through experience, while often demeaned by the GOP, sounds darn good, especially when NFL owners and governors are so stubbornly selfish about investing in the effort and only find balance when forced by the workers to negotiate. (Details of the union referee’s 8-year pact covering 121 refs? It keeps the current defined benefit pension plan through the 2016 season or until the ref has 20 years of service. Outside that, the 401(k) plan starts just for new hires and in 2017 for all the refs. So both sides got something through negotiation.)
Hypocritical as Walker’s ref lament came across, it served as sobering reminder that if it is your ox being gored, your passion on the hook, suddenly you’d rather have a union guy to call on.
The Akin episode was as hypocritically funny – the scramble back by
GOP bigwigs to support his race for the Missouri senate after roundly rejecting him and professing outrage at his “legitimate rape” comments. It was the classic confirmation to the voters that political parties can be amoral rather than honestly compromising and tacking to the center for the good of the people.
The parade of elected leaders embracing Akin after promising not to was surely laughable but actually predictable once the Tea Party extreme backed his refusal to get out, even though it all flew in the face of fairness and sticking by announced principles.
Not that shrewdness isn’t necessary and welcome. That has put Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill in the canny tradition of Harry Truman. She did her best from the sidelines during the GOP primary to point out that Akin was the truest – as in wackiest – right-winger so he could be the extremist she would face. Then she held back until it was no longer legal for him to withdraw and the GOP party that had disowned him was forced to lamely support their label. This despite her long reputation as a moderate working with both sides, supporting the Affordable Health Act but criticizing other Obama programs to demonstrate her independence.
McCaskill, from once behind against any Republican, is now 10 points ahead – and smartly not because she’s just beating Akin up on his crazy belief that women who are raped secrete some magic anti-pregnancy juice.
She’s picked up on something I noted in an August column that Akin wasn’t just spouting rape nonsense, he was exposing an entire right-wing encyclopedia of bad science and weird policy. He and Paul Ryan co-sponsored the original forcible rape legislation and both opposed the Lilly Ledbetter Act for equal pay for equal work among the genders. The GOP is pushing to keep climate change deniers like Akin in control of key committees.
McCaskill, knowing her Missourians and Akin’s many “out of mainstream” positions, won’t let him escape the whole package. She launched ads reminding voters not just of what Akin has said but what he believes – that private businesses have a right to discriminate by gender or race in how they pay, that ending Medicare is a “good ideas” (he didn’t even add the kneejerk “Medicare as we now know it” line, just “end it”), that he would eliminate the minimum wage, and that government help for student loans is “equivalent to supporting stage three cancer.”
Romney won’t publicly reverse his position but the leaders of his party machine now say they will support every Republican running in Missouri, which sure suggests the money once denied Akin will quietly creep back in. Just look at what the GOP has married itself to in the desire to win at all costs.
And that also explains Brown’s descent into racism in Massachusetts, where he has been gunning his pickup truck to run away from Romney and the GOP label, pretending he would not be a party hack. Forget the R after his name on the ballot, forget the Wall Street Journal description of him as “Wall Street’s favorite senator” given where his campaign cash comes from. Elizabeth Warren's the Obama stooge, he argues, though she convinced the president to support her consumer protection ideas -- and besides, he says, she’s a white lady lying that she believed her mama about Cherokee blood.
But trying to buck the facts in a strongly Democratic state, where he had previously won on his retail politics nice guy image, he has turned nastier for only one reason – he’s sinking in the polls. Knowing the state has seldom elected women to high office, knowing that his most yahoo white supporters resent Harvard and the mere concept of racial preference even when it doesn’t exist, he has taken to attacking Warren because she “doesn’t look Indian” to him. Obviously she is smart enough to become a professor without ever resorting to heritage – but without any evidence, Brown keeps pushing his myth, calling her “professor” to demean her. His staff even put on war chants at rallies as if he had any sort of point.
It’s not only ugly and insulting to Massachusetts voters. It became an appalling exercise in buffoonery, but it sure lit up the comedy networks.
Yet while the world was laughing at Brown’s descent into Akin territory, the nation had to be sobered by the sad vision of what all this has done to the once noble profession of public service. It now features participants representing the worst in crassness and desperation – and political insiders embracing their journey into the inferno.