Thursday, October 25, 2007

Dave Blaska: pot, meet kettle.

Lately I've been reading, and cringing at, a lot of Dave Blaska's "blogs" over at the Isthmus Daily Page. It's fine and dandy that the left-leaning publication, for whom I sometimes write on a freelance basis, has a few more right-leaning contributors (I'm making this assumption based upon Blaska's pro-gun, anti-tax, throw-em-all-in-jail stances espoused in previous columns). In fact, I wholeheartedly encourage the practice. But it does both sides and the moderates a disservice when the most visible opinions are so filled with empty rhetoric and name calling.

Today's Blaska Blog takes aim at the counter protesters, most notably state employees, who showed up to "shout down" the anti-tax activists who came to the capitol a little while ago to show support for the Republicans in the legislature who were stalling the budget process.

Let me be clear: I don't think drowning out the voices of people with whom you disagree is a constructive way to solve problems or get your point across. But I also don't think that opposing any and all taxation is a good way to run a society. I've rambled on about this before, so I don't think I need to entirely restate my opinion that some degree of reasonable taxation is necessary for the maintenance of a just and equitable society. The trick isn't in raising or lowering taxes to absurd levels, but in making sure that the taxes are collected and distributed fairly, instead of falling into already well-lined pockets through pork barrel spending and mismanagement.

Putting aside the real issues for a moment, though, my beef with Blaska and others of his ilk are their incessant stereotyping of the fictional notion of a unified "Left."

Let's take a look at a few examples:

The [sic] afternoon Progressive Dane newspaper tried to spin the anti-tax protest as a bunch of Hollywood extras bused in for the event.

Americans for Prosperity, the group that organized the rally opposing the enactment of the compromise state budget proposed by Gov. Jim Doyle, is not from Wisconsin. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C.
Typical Progressive Dane disinformation: impugn motives, dispute the provenance rather than debate the issues.

I'm not a member of PD, and while I agree with many of their positions, I don't always agree with their methods. But this isn't to say that I believe all PD members are the same, nor do I believe that "Progressive Dane" is a dirty turn of phrase. Blaska, however, along with a whole slew of more right-leaning folks around these parts sure do seem to think of it as a slur. I'm sure they don't appreciate it when similar people on the left make blanket statements about Republicans or the "Right."

Then we have this:

But the bottom line is that the state employees union could not have hurt themselves more if Karl Rove was in charge of mixing the Kool Aid. Arrogant, thuggish and thickheaded. They could not counter the anti-tax citizens with facts, so they substitute brute noise in an attempt to intimidate. That is totalitarian in nature, the polar opposite of sifting and winnowing.

It's the Soviet Union jamming Radio Free America. It's Boss Jim Taylor shoving the Boy Rangers' newspaper wagons off the sidewalks in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

It's one of my favorite underhanded tactics of debate: conjure up the specter of Communism and the Big Boss' of yore (or similar bogeymen) so that any argument made by the other side comes off sounding like a defense of those things. Plus, it should be noted, Blaska has not, as far as I'm aware, made any sound arguments, supported by facts and statistics, to support his anti-tax position. What was that he was just saying about substituting "brute noise in an attempt to intimidate"?

Blaska says he's a state employee himself, so there's some ground to stand on when he attempts to make his points. Of course, the invocation of Vicki McKenna as some kind of voice of reason hurts him more than anything, but still he, and others like him, have a great platform to put forth real ideas and try to improve the public discourse. Instead, he seems content to call names, make broad generalizations and skirt around the real issues (like, y'know, that whole "no man is an island" and "we need a friggen state budget" and "health care should be a right not a privilege" stuff).

So here's an idea, My Fellow Bloggers: try to inject some real content into your online musings. Better yet, try to then transfer that real content, those original ideas, into actual, real-life action. I'm fully applying this to myself--I need to do more than write and I know it. The first step that many of us are missing, though, is in learning how to have civil discourse with people who don't agree with us and not to lump them all into one identical group.

With role models like the empty talking heads we currently have on most cable news networks and syndicated talk shows, it's easy to see why the more local voices might be tempted to fall into fiery, no-substance rhetoric. But we owe it to ourselves and our fellow citizens to rise above that type of easy pandering. And we need to start holding public voices to higher standards: if all you can do with your payed platform is snipe, then you don't deserve the space. It should be back to the proving grounds with you!


Forward Our Motto said...

Out of curiousity, what methods of PD don't you like?

(Good to see that Blaska's nonsense isn't well-received).

TheBookPolice said...

I'm tryin', but is it just me, or am I the only person with a registered Daily account?

-Deb- said...

I moved to Madison from northern Virginia a couple of years ago, and having specifically chosen to live here I am still in love with this city. But I am here to tell you, that in the entire DC metro area, save DC itself, government is cheaper, and provides better services than I have experienced here thusfar. Eating away at taxes will not fix these issues, but no one seems interested in taking up the hard work, like getting IT and water utility managers that are reasonably competent.

Emily said...

FoM: To be perfectly honest, I can't enumerate the instances where something felt odd about the PD's methods. In general, I like the organization, but like any group (pretty much ever), there are those within it who sometimes get carried away and begin to employ some of the same tactics as those who they sit on the opposite side of the fence from. I'll be more careful to have examples to back myself up with next time, though.

TBP: I tried to comment on the article at TDP, but I mistakenly thought my Forums account would work. They should think about linking the two and they'd likely get a few more reader comments.

deb: I'm not trying to denigrate what you're saying, I'm just honestly curious--what services did you feel were better in DC than in Madison? I've always been under the impression that, for a large chunk of DC residents, things weren't so grand. Plus there's that whole "no representation" thing, but I guess that's a whole different issue.

TheBookPolice said...

Well, they are linked, but only after you provide your real, full name.

Took me a while to feel like it was an appropriate thing to do, but other than one irritating Foron who would have been able to irritate me regardless of my full name's availability, I have no regrets so far. Since your name is already out there, you wouldn't be exposing yourself any farther (except if you're using an anonymous foroniker).

-Deb- said...

I had referred to the DC metro area (northern Va., Md.) -- and made a point to exempt the city itself, since that government is famously inept.

Public transportation is an obvious example of an area where Madison has fallen short in spite of professed concern. I've seen lots of talk, but I'm not sure why it's still such an issue when I am paying twice the taxes I was when I rode Metrorail daily. I don't expect a subway in Madison, but a more versatile bus system doesn't seem unreasonable for a city of this size.

There have also been numerous occasions on which I have contacted public officials and county/state government resources and gotten no response. This is unacceptable.

I have been very fortunate in my life and am willing to pay my share of taxes and more -- but I'd like to see that money put to good use, and I wish our legislators would spend more time addressing the quality of the expenditures than the quantity.

Oh, and to address another of your points: I miss the dialog of DC... no one there assumes that they know what you think about an issue, and few shy away from constructive debate.

Emily said...

deb - Thanks for the clarifications. I agree that public transportation needs some serious love in this city. I used to work for a non-prof that provided free rides for working women but that has since gone under. It was a serious lesson in how important affordable and readily available public transit is to a working population.

I think I may have slightly mis-read your original comment, because I think we're generally in agreement about taxation. Like I said in my post, I don't necessarily want higher taxes, I want better use of the taxes we already pay. Something tells me we could get a lot of the services we need and want just by readjusting how we spend our money.

Forward Our Motto said...

I'll be more careful to have examples to back myself up with next time, though.

Well I'm a firm believer that constructive criticism is both good and necessary. So I was mainly asking for that reason.

The Lost Albatross