Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Professor and the Propagandist

About a week ago, Christian Schneider posted a lengthy post at Wisconsin Policy Research Institute regarding the history of recall in Wisconsin. His conclusion, supported by an especially cruel torturing and mutilation of facts and logic, is jaw-dropping in its obfuscation:
Unions and their supporters immediately turned to the state Constitution to exact their revenge. In 1926, voters approved a change to the Wisconsin Constitution that provided for the recall of state officials if a petitioner could gather 25 percent of the signatures cast in the previous gubernatorial election for the relevant district. In Wisconsin’s history, only two state elected officials had been successfully recalled. Nationally, only two governors have ever been recalled from office.

But in 2011, nine state senators faced recall elections (six Republicans, three Democrats). In 2012, four more Republican Walker-supporting state senators are scheduled to face recalls, as are Gov. Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. 
Recall supporters defended the sudden use of recalls as simply part of the democratic process. “The exercise of the constitutionally guaranteed right to force a recall election is a just and proper tool to force accountability upon those elected officials who act as if there is none,” the Democratic Party of Wisconsin explained on its website.

Recall supporters maintained that Gov. Walker’s action threw out 50 years of settled state law in essentially repealing collective bargaining. This might be true, but a review of history shows that the current effort to recall Gov. Walker is not at all in line with what the progressives intended when they championed the recall amendment 85 years ago. Documents and press accounts from the time indicate that the current use of the recall is far from what the original drafters envisioned.

The recall amendment began in the early 1900s as part of a slate of progressive “good government” reforms meant to decrease the role of special interests on the political process. Progressives believed the recall put more power in the hands of the people, allowing voters to remove corrupt elected officials. Further, they believed the recall mechanism was a way to purge the political process of the influence of money.

But as recent recall elections have demonstrated, the effect of the recall amendment has been the exact opposite. Additionally, the recall provision’s original supporters never intended it to be used as it has been in the past two years.
My first thought to Schneider's assertion was "It's a lie! That's not what LaFollette intended!"

At the end of February, I had the honor of representing #wiunion as the pro-recall side of a forum. One of my co-panelists was the erudite Professor Edward Fallone of Marquette University. In his introduction, Professor Fallone gave a brief, but accurate, historical lesson of how and why the recall became part of the state constitution:
As it turned out, Professor Fallone was a life saver without meaning to be.

In his introduction to recalls, he gave a brief history on how the recall process was introduced into the state constitution. He said that at the time this law was being written and made part of our heritage, the people were outraged. He told the group that the people felt that the businesses were having too much influence on the government. The people felt that the politicians were being controlled by these businesses and that they were no longer paying heed to the citizenry.

Gee, now who does that sound like?
Contrary to what Schneider would have us believe, Scott Walker, Becky Kleefisch and the ALEC-controlled Republican senators are the textbook examples of why the recall was initially installed into our constitution.

But if you don't believe me, take it from Professor Fallone himself, who politely and systematically deconstructs Schneider's fallacious statements:
However, in order to arrive at this rather novel conclusion, Mr. Schneider contravenes two basic tenets of constitutional interpretation.

First of all, it is a mistake to construe the intent of a constitutional provision to be narrower than the plain text of the document. The text of Article XIII of the Wisconsin Constitution provides for the recall of “any incumbent elective officer.” Mr. Schneider would asks us to believe that the 1923 advocates of the recall did not understand the word “any” to include the governor. In so doing, he asks us to substitute his preferred result for the plain meaning of the text. This would be a mistake. In the Slaughter-House Cases, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 36 (1873), the United States Supreme Court made the mistake of assuming that the drafters of the Fourteenth Amendment could never have intended the Privileges or Immunities Clause to have the broad application suggested by its language. As a result, the historian Edwin Corwin observed, this provision of the federal constitution was “rendered a ‘practical nullity’ by a single decision of the Supreme Court within five years after its ratification.”

Second, it is never proper to attempt to divine the original intent of a constitutional provision by relying upon the arguments of its opponents. Almost all of Mr. Schneider’s evidence in support of his proferred interpretation comes from editorials and statements of persons who opposed the ratification of the recall provisions. The statements of opponents are no evidence at all of the intention of supporters. When we seek guidance for the intention of the Framers of the United States Constitution, we look to the authors of the Federalist Papers (Hamilton, Madison and Jay) who argued in favor of ratification. We do not seek to understand the Framers’ intent from the characterizations of the text put forward by those who opposed the Constitution’s adoption. Opponents have every motive to misconstrue the language in order to alarm the public.
There is one aspect of this debate so rich in irony that it should not be lost in the debate itself.

As I've already noted, the recall process was incorporated into the constitution to prevent businesses and other well-moneyed special interests from having an undue influence on government officials. Schneider, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, first wrote this for WPRI, which gets a lot of its funding from the Bradley Foundation. The Bradley Foundation, as we are already aware, is one of those very same well-moneyed special interest groups which is having an undue influence on Walker and who knows how many others. The Bradley Foundation's chief officer, Michael Grebe, is Walker's campaign chair, for crying out loud.

Thus it would be a reasonable conclusion to say that Schneider's essay wasn't written to share the story of the recall, but to provide propaganda he was paid to produce, in order to protect his benefactor's investments in Walker and other government officials.

I also feel obliged to point out that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel also ran a version of Schneider's propaganda in the Sunday paper. While they did identify Schneider of being part of WPRI, they do not disclose the truth of what WPRI is, thus giving the propaganda piece the illusion of credibility and thereby putting another nail in the coffin of journalism in Fitzwalkerstan.

ADDENDUM:  Schneider is now sniveling and actually saying that Fallone doesn't know what he's talking about.  Gee, who are you going to believe, a constitutional lawyer and a college professor or a paid political hack?  Schneider would have been smart to just take his losses.  Instead, he proves the adage regarding letting people thinking he's a fool instead of proving them correct.


  1. Thank you, great work. Schneider is like all the other conservatives now, uncompromising in every way. It fools their voters, and that's all that matters.

  2. My gosh, Schneider is certainly full of himself. btw: Full sentence there.

  3. The newspaper shouldn't have published such nonsense. It is misleading and wrong. The paper should try to publish the truth. This is really disturbing. It is one thing to take sides and for them to pick Walker. It is another thing to publish an article that distorts history. How embarrassing for our state.

  4. Mr. Atomic Trousers (blog motto: "Mockery is the Sincerest Form of Ridicule"), once the pseudonymous “Dennis York", shall henceforth be known as Mr. Atomic Pantsload.

  5. What's really horrible is that when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Sunday editorial section features a particular issue on its cover page, it typically provides several points of view from dissenting and opposing authors. The J-S editorial board is on record as against recall elections and has even nodded toward Rep. Vos' outrageous effort to undo the recall language in the constitution. Worse, in printing Schneider's flight of fancy, the newspaper did not publish parallel guest columns from any other point of view, such as Prof. Fallone's. And there's your problem with democracy, right there: a huge imbalance in the electoral process courtesy of big business, and, as you noted, the reason La Follette engineered the recall option in the first place. WPRI is frequently represented in the J-S editorial pages, both by Schneider and former J-S reporter Mike Nichols, who is now on WPRI staff. But you never see regular opinion columns in J-S from, say, a staffer at Wisconsin Citizen Action or One Wisconsin Now. So much for "da librul media."