Tuesday, January 17, 2006

System not working? Blame officials, not radio

Republican legislative leadership lacking

Having trashed one "community columnist" already today, let's move on to another, one Joseph Geck, who comes off better.

He asks: "Is local democracy threatened by the politics of the ridiculous?"

His premise, after a trip through Michigan listening to talk radio, is that the medium focuses on political sideshows rather than the important issues this country faces, and that democracy is poorer as a result. He writes:

Now, southeastern Michigan is bracing itself for the layoffs of tens of thousands of autoworkers in 2006. The U.S. segment of the auto industry is in serious trouble, with some predicting the demise of Ford and General Motors. Some suggested a plan whereby Toyota would buy out GM.

As I drove across Michigan, I expected to hear a discussion on talk radio with questions like: Why aren't we able to compete with the Japanese and Germans? Is there something about our tax structure and our way of funding health care that makes our companies less competitive to overseas competition? What will happen as people lose their pensions and health care? What are the long-term implications for U.S. defense with the slow erosion of its manufacturing base?

Unfortunately, I didn't realize I was on the AM dial. What were the two biggest concerns of all the local and national shock jocks?

The first issue was the "treasonous" conduct of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for successfully getting a measure passed that would prohibit torture of prisoners under American control. I could not fathom how these commentators (I listened to five) could link McCain, a POW in Vietnam and one of the foremost statesmen in the Senate, with the word "treason."

The second issue that they fumed about was the war on Christmas. They were complaining about the lack of Christ in Christmas in nearly the same breath that they advocated torture as an interrogation technique. After listening to them, I wondered how we would ever get Christ back into Christianity. The ministers who were on their shows didn't blink at the absurdity of discussing torture and Christmas on the same program.

At the end of the day, one of the commentators appealed to citizens who felt the war on Christmas and the banning of torture were tragedies to work to remove liberals from public office in 2006.
It's easy to make talk radio -- I prefer to call it what it is, Republican radio -- the villain.

But in Wisconsin the problem is bigger than that. It's our legislative leadership -- the people we elect to tackle the state's problems -- who are staging the sideshows.

The Republicans who control both houses of the Legislature have allowed the extreme elements of their party -- the "base" -- to set the agenda, with Assembly Speaker John Gard as their willing accomplice.

The result is that the legislature spends its time on what the popular shorthand calls "Gods, guns and gays," while allowing real problems to languish. It's all about political gamesmanship and "gotcha." The public interest? Forget it; this is politics.

Bills that would actually improve people's daily lives languish in committee and can't even get a hearing, while lawmakers debate which pattern should be designated as the state tartan. I wish I were making this up, but I'm not.

Republican radio contributes to the problem, to be sure, by mobilizing the zealots to pressure their legislators and drive the public agenda to the right. It has considerable influence with suburban Republican lawmakers, who can pressure their caucuses.

But Republican radio's statewide influence is greatly overstated. How hard, and how long, did Sykes, Belling, Wagner et al. try to help George W. Bush carry Wisconsin? They pounded away incessantly for months. John Kerry won the state. How hard did they try to bring down Jim Doyle in the last governor's race? And how'd that turn out?

But the radio hosts weren't elected by anyone to look out for the people's interests. They were hired to help their employers make money. It's a business.

Legislators, on the other hand, were elected by the people to represent their interests and guard the public trust. They are failing that responsibility.

Alexis de Tocqueville, who's cited by columnist Geck, would not be happy with the current state of affairs, it's true. But he would blame the citizenry and the legislators they've elected, not talk radio.

When the backlash comes from citizens who are tired of the gamesmanship on display in the Capitol -- and that day will eventually come -- the new Republican minority will have only themselves to blame.


At 9:51 AM, Blogger Julie said...

Even though I agree that the legislation should be blamed for concentrating on bills regarding God, gays and guns, talk radio should carry some of the brunt of the blame. By never discussing real issues, it only encourages listeners to not make changes in our government.

Today, our State Senate will vote on SB-403, which is the bill to end the 130 year old ban on concealed weapons. Yet, over in the Assembly, AB363 --a bill that will benefit dog owners – languishes in committee AND while our Senators vote to allow ordinary citizens – with one training course – to carry deadly weapons, they have not written a bill to go with the Assembly Bill 657 – which will protect private property ownership and not allow communities to condemn property to sell to private developers.

But, since you won’t hear anything about either of these bills on talk radio, their listeners go through life unaware that our legislation is not defending the many, but courting the few.

At 10:09 AM, Blogger Spotlight said...

The right wing radio demagogues constantly play the race and fear cards, too. Three rich white guys stirring up what data show is a lower-income, white non-Milwaukee audience. It's deliberately cynical anti-city strategy and very damaging to life in this area.

At 8:52 AM, Blogger Terrence Berres said...

He thinks some media spend a lot of effort on the relatively unimportant? His opinion was in an edition of the newspaper with a ten page sports section.


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