Sunday, April 02, 2006

John Nichols' Streak of Shame

While I realize making fun of the Cap Times is like picking on a kid in a wheelchair, sometimes the kid actually deserves it.

Way back in the day, I actually enjoyed reading John Nichols' columns. In fact, I thought Madison was lucky to still have him as a local columnist, as he was gaining nationwide popularity within the Progressive movement. However, after he continues to crank out shameful column after shameful column, I'm not exactly sure how he holds on to his job at the Cap Times.

To wit: Read this embarrassing column from last week regarding Scott Walker's withdrawal from the gubernatorial campaign. The first half is almost a word for word reprint of Democratic Chair Joe Wineke's press release on the same topic. The puzzling second half goes on to say what a great guy and a thoughtful moderate Walker was, in an obvious attempt to contrast him with Green. Some excerpts:

But while Democratic partisans may have something to celebrate in Walker's decision to leave the race, Wisconsinites who want clean government have less to be enthused about. Walker was not exactly Mr. Clean. But during the course of his campaign, he had sought to distinguish himself from both Green and Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle on ethics issues. Walker said his Republican foe needed to distance himself from DeLay, just as he said that Doyle needed to explain what looks to many like a pattern of trading state contracts and other considerations for campaign contributions.

It's common for a candidate who is running behind to position himself as a reformer, but Walker had some credibility on this issue both from his days as a legislator who strayed from the GOP line and from his "throw the bums out" election as the top official in one of Wisconsin's most heavily Democratic counties.

If you remember anything from this column, remember that last sentence. It continues:

And Walker was forging a message that might have made his conservative stance on state spending palatable even to moderate voters who recognize that the state needs more revenue to fund education, health and social service programs. By cleaning up
how state government does business, with tighter controls on the bidding of contracts, tougher ethics standards and some campaign finance reforms, Walker argued, money that was being wasted either through corruption or inefficiency could be freed up. Thus, even in Walker's no-new-taxes scenario, more money might be available for needed programs.

Right... that's why all the hard core right wingers are upset about Walker leaving the race. Because he was more "moderate."

Walker was only beginning to pull that appealing argument together when the Republicans from Washington elbowed him out of the race. It made sense for the party establishment to get rid of him, as Walker could only have gained credibility as a reformer if he targeted both Doyle and Green. But the cause of clean government has not been well served by Walker's exit.

I'm sure Nichols was just about ready to go pull the lever for Walker in November, and those mean national Republicans broke his heart and pulled the rug out from under him.

But wait... could that be the same Walker that Nichols absolutely shredded in this column in January of 2005? Let's take a trip into the way back machine, where Nichols said of Walker:

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker has launched his campaign for governor with promises to make it harder for Wisconsinites to vote, and for Wisconsin communities to deliver basic services.

Additionally, he says he wants to insert discriminatory language into the Wisconsin Constitution for the first time in state history. And he is enthusiastic about the prospect of allowing angry ex-spouses and fired employees to tote around concealed weapons.

Put another way: Walker is running for governor as a pretty typical Wisconsin Republican, circa 2005. He's for placing strict new controls on voter participation in a state that historically has led the nation in opening access to the political process, he's for taking away the power of local government to determine and then meet budgetary requirements, he's for discrimination against gays and lesbians, and he's for stalker-friendly gun laws...

So Walker is in trouble, and so is the Republican Party. While they can hold onto control of the state Assembly and the Senate, thanks to gerrymandered legislative district lines that prevent serious competition, Republicans cannot hope to contend statewide on an agenda of God, guns, gays and bad economics...
Districts that were created by the Legislature when Chuck Chvala (he may have heard of him) was the Senate Majority Leader, and that were eventually enacted by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Generally, inaccuracies like this show up in about every other sentence of a Nichols column.
But if Republicans such as Scott Walker challenge him on a program of anti democratic voting "reforms," discrimination against law-abiding citizens and denial of economic realities, Doyle will be the only practical choice for thinking Wisconsinites. That will stymie prospects for the gubernatorial campaign that Wisconsin needs, deny the debate that is necessary, and close off exploration of creative solutions and real reform. That's good news for the special interests and the defenders of an increasingly unacceptable status quo. But it is very bad news for Wisconsin.
So apparently when Walker was a viable candidate, he was a "bigot" who wanted to make it harder for people to vote, and his candidacy was "very bad news for Wisconsin." For the record, Walker never backed off his support of the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, his support of carrying concealed weapons, or the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights (TABOR), all of which Nichols rips him for.

But now that the Dems' strategy is to contrast Walker with Green, suddenly Walker is an ACLU card carrying member, Grateful Dead fan progressive. When he was in the race, he was a "pretty typical Wisconsin Republican," but now that he's out of the race, he's "palatable even to moderate voters."

So much for the idea of the columnist who actually says what he thinks, not whatever's best for the party at any given time. That's kind of why columnists are columnists - because they aren't elected and can express an independence that we don't get from politicians. But it's pretty clear Nichols is now just a petty hack whose politics trump any personal integrity he may have had.

Truly pathetic. And the Cap Times wonders why their circulation is less than a Wednesday night Brewer game against the Florida Marlins.