Sunday, September 16, 2012

"Liberal activist" moniker produces worthless dialogue

Walker's language of vitriol hurts the process overall

As I said yesterday, I'm in no position to comment extensively on the judicial ruling this past week that found Wisconsin Act 10 -- the law that restricted collective bargaining rights for state workers -- unconstitutional. Judge Juan Colás found that the law violated state and federal constitutional standards related to free speech and association rights that were violated under the law. You can read the full ruling here (PDF).

With that said, I do want to take a moment to criticize a comment made by Gov. Scott Walker regarding Colás's decision.

Walker responded to the decision with bravado that has become his typical response to rulings that undermine his policies. This time, however, Walker took it a bit further, calling Judge Colás a "liberal activist judge"

John Nichols has pointed out that this type of name-calling is ridiculous for Walker to make:
Instead of responding with a constitutionally grounded defense of a law that legislators and lawyers warned last year would not stand judicial scrutiny, the governor engaged in cheap-shot invective that is as ignorant as it is shameful.
Indeed, Colás isn't a "liberal activist." Though he was appointed by Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, Colás spent 15 years working for the Department of Justice in the state, working under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

In fact, part of Colás's decision actually sided with the Walker administration -- for example, the plaintiffs alleged that Walker had unconstitutionally passed the law during a special session. Colás disagreed, siding with Walker on that one.

The governor definitely took the low road in his comments following the ruling. What irks me most about his comments, however, isn't that Walker disagrees with it, or even that his ally in the DOJ, JB Van Hollen, already plans to appeal the ruling. That's the process that these things go through, and it isn't exactly a surprise.

Rather, what bugs me is the fact that Walker, instead of defending his law, goes on the attack on the person instead of the decision the person made -- that is, the criticism wasn't based on the ruling itself, but on the character of the duly elected official who issued it.

We're used to this sort of diatribe, of course, especially during a presidential election year. We hear "liberal this" and "conservative that," idioms that are meant to deride the person or persons involved in the debate but add nothing to the discussion itself.

If Walker wants to have a reasoned debate over the constitutionality of the law, he should do so. His administration is set to do just that in the impending appeal. Yet, calling a person an "activist," a purposeful shot meant to incite anger and vitriol, isn't the way to start things off.

The right thing to have done in Walker's shoes would have been to have explained calmly and collectively why he disagreed with the ruling made by Judge Colás, or even to have offered no comment other than he planned to appeal. Instead, he took the easy (but dirty) way out, resorting to kindergarten-type dialogue that produces no worth whatsoever towards the debate.

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