Sore losers in need of history lesson: an open letter to the Wisconsin legislature

Remember when you were a little kid and your parents told you not to be a sore loser? 

What? 

Your parents never told you that? 

Or they did, and you blew them off?

Well, hello there, Robin Vos, Joel Kleefisch, Alberta Darling, Scott Fitzgerald and all but three of your Republican colleagues in the Wisconsin legislature.  (That would be Robert Cowles, David Craig and Chris Kapenga.) 

I guess you were sleeping at your desks when your teachers taught the lesson about democracy and the peaceful transfer of power. In every grade. 

I was not. Multiple social studies teachers and multiple social studies textbooks proclaimed it among the main reasons the United States – and, by extension, the 50 states it comprises – was exceptional.

In Wisconsin, the Department of Public Instruction (headed by incoming governor Tony Evers) is the state agency overseeing public education and libraries. It’s responsible for setting academic standards that lay out what students should “know and be able to do.”

The Political Science strand of its standard for Social Studies states that:

“Knowledge about the structures of power, authority, and governance and their evolving functions in contemporary society is essential if young citizens are to develop civic responsibility. Young people become more effective citizens and problem solvers when they know how local, state, and national governments and international organizations function and interact.” 

Political science standards created by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

I’m not a teacher, but there are a lot of lessons to be learned by what you did in the dark, in the wee hours of December 5, 2018,  and what that petty, small-minded excuse for a Christian, Governor Scott Walker, did when he signed your legislation into law nine days later.  (Walker could benefit from a review of DPI’s math standards, based on the “Vennish” diagram he proudly displayed as evidence that he – I don’t even know what he was trying to say, actually, so I’ll just post the recent actual Venn Diagram I put together for a presentation and move on.)

The actual Venn Diagram I created for a recent presentation.
And I wasn’t even that good at math. 

I’d start with the election of 1800. John Adams, a Federalist, defeated Thomas Jefferson, a Republican. The election preceding it was bitterly fought between two parties with very different visions of the young country. 

As Secretary of State in the Washington administration, Jefferson had experienced “wonder and mortification” at high-level political discussions of Federalists’ “preference of kingly over republican government.” 

He feared for the future of the young republic, especially after Washington stood down and John Adams, a Federalist, was elected the nation’s second president.

The Adams presidency only reinforced his concerns and those of his fellow Republicans. 

The 1800 election became a political catfight. It concluded inconclusively. Adams and Jefferson received 73 electoral votes apiece. It became the job of the Federalist-dominated Congress to break the tie.

Historian James Horn described what happened next: 

“Early in the new year rumors began circulating that Burr would be elected, or that the Federalists intended to throw ‘things into confusion by defeating an election altogether, and making a President … by act of Congress.’

Amid renewed fears of civil war, the House assembled on February 9, 1801. But after several days of balloting, the outcome was still unresolved. 

Outside, in the streets of Washington, an eyewitness estimated that more than 100,000 people had gathered and were growing increasingly impatient with Federalist obstinacy. Finally, on February 17, on the thirty-sixth ballot, the opposition cracked and Jefferson was elected, ending ‘the fruitless contest’ that had ‘agitated the public mind’ and nearly plunged the nation into conflict. 

Jefferson’s election was one of his greatest political victories, vindicating his belief that ‘the sovereign people’ would repel attacks on their liberties and the enduring republican principles of 1776. 

‘As the storm is now subsiding, and the horizon becoming serene,’ he wrote to a political ally, ‘[w]e can no longer say there is nothing new under the sun. For this whole chapter in the history of man is new. The great extent of our Republic is new…. The mighty wave of public opinion which has rolled over it is new…. The order and good sense displayed in this recovery from delusion, and in the momentous crisis which lately arose, really bespeak a strength of character in our nation which augurs well for the duration of our Republic.’ ” 

President Jefferson would probably have something way different to say about the “order and good sense” of Vos, Fitzgerald & Co. 

The “mighty wave of public opinion,” though, was evident. Bless the Wisconsin voters who showed up in Madison to express their outrage. Here’s mine:

You claim to care about the people of Wisconsin, when over and over, your actions have screamed, and continue to scream: “WE CARE ABOUT RICH WHITE PEOPLE AND WILL DO EVERYTHING IN OUR POWER TO DISENFRANCHISE AND RUIN THE REST OF YOU.” (See gerrymandering, Act 10 and so much more.)

Your wanton disregard for the political process diminishes all of us. You’ve shown us who you are and what you believe in – power, status, greed and all that you think come with it.

My mother (z”l) used to say “What goes around comes around.”

This is what I say: 

This is your legacy.

It will not stand. 

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