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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The New, Improved Republican Party

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For some bizarre reason, one of the most seismic shifts in Republican political strategy in Wisconsin history—no, the history of the world—has been totally overlooked in the media.

I am referring to the startling public declaration by Jim Klauser—Republican Party heavyweight and former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s hatchet man—that henceforth establishment Republicans like himself will embrace only positive campaigns.

Klauser’s announcement came in a letter to former Congressman Mark Neumann, a Republican Klauser has supported in previous election campaigns.

In fact, Klauser was one of Neumann’s first big-name supporters in Neumann’s current campaign for the Republican nomination for governor. Klauser contributed $10,000 and lent his name to fund-raising efforts.

Then, last week, Klauser suddenly declared himself “aghast” to learn that Neumann was a negative campaigner.

“Now I see you are holding press conferences to attack your primary opponent,” Klauser wrote in an open letter to Neumann. “As a math teacher you know that your criticism is contrived. All this for media attention; to mislead the voters.

“My dad always told me to sell myself; not to knock down the other fellow. I expect yours did as well,” he continued. “You’re not following that sage guidance.”

Klauser concluded by advising Neumann to get out of the governor’s race “before your integrity is permanently besmirched.” And he asked for his $10,000 back.

Klauser’s surprise at learning Neumann would run a negative campaign ranks right up there with Casablanca Police Captain Renault’s famous quote about being “shocked, shocked” to learn gambling was going on in Rick’s Cafe.

After five campaigns—two successful and three unsuccessful, Klauser notes—Neumann has honed negative campaigning into high art.

In 1998, when he was running against Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, during a publicly televised debate Neumann actually made a young female college student cry when he attacked her for asking a challenging question.



A GOP Tradition

Besides, as Hank Williams Jr. might say, negative campaigning by Republicans—like alcoholism in country music—is a family tradition.

This is the same party that routinely attacks President Barack Obama, who regularly disappoints his most liberal supporters by moving to the political center, as some kind of radical, socialist, fascist Muslim—combining as many scary epithets of hatred as possible.

PolitiFact, the St. PetersburgTimes’ Pulitzer-Prize-winning fact-checking website, named Republican Sarah Palin’s claim that Obama’s health care reform would set up death panels to decide which senior citizens should live or die as its “Lie of the Year.”

Republicans are absolutely shameless in continuing to repeat absurd fabrications after they’ve been clearly refuted, such as the conspiracy by Hawaiian state officials back in 1961 to falsify infant Barack Obama’s birth certificate in order to infiltrate a foreign-born, radical, socialist, fascist Muslim into the U.S. presidency.

In Wisconsin, the most brazen lie perpetuated by Republicans—often with unquestioned acceptance by the media—is that the state is a “tax hell,” a business-crippling disaster that’s gotten worse as a result of tax-and-spend policies of Democrats such as Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

In fact, a couple of months ago the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel examined the actual numbers and determined that Wisconsin’s total state and local tax burden is now lower than it has been since 1962, nearly half a century ago.

The total tax burden under Doyle is lower than it has been under any governor—Republican or Democrat—since the late Democratic Sen. Gaylord Nelson was governor from 1958 to 1962.

Compared to other states, when fees in addition to taxes are included, total government spending in Wisconsin is now squarely in the middle, ranking 26th out of the 50 states. Do we really want to race to the very bottom in education and government services?

Don’t expect Republicans to mention those favorable tax statistics in the upcoming governor’s race despite Klauser’s newly discovered attraction to positive campaigns.

What really offends Klauser about negative campaigns is when they are used against Republicans.

Like many other party insiders, Klauser has now decided to support Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

But just like so many of those problematic tea party candidates around the country who run—and sometimes win—Republican primaries with wacky views that make them difficult to elect in November, Neumann has declined to step aside for the anointed party candidate.

Even worse, Neumann negatively points out that although Walker makes a show of submitting a no-tax-increase budget every year, taxes have continued to go up every year but one since he’s been county executive.

That’s pretty mild when it comes to negative Republican campaigning. It doesn’t even include any lying or name-calling or signs with Walker made up to resemble Adolf Hitler.

But this fall we’re all looking forward to the brand-new, positive Republican Party that doesn’t try to mislead voters or knock down the other fellow.

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