Duelling in Madison Leaves Something to be Desired

     We live in a time of great political passion and emotional people regarding the critical issues of our time. But I mean, really people, is THIS the best we can do? Christian Schneider in National Review Online documents the “duel” between recently re-elected Justice David Proesser and his foil on the Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley as tempers arose regarding the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision last week to reject a district judge’s sloppy opinion to hold up the Wisconsin legislature’s pending law on collective bargaining for government employees.

     Putting aside the merits of asking government employees to share some burden in funding their pensions or health insurance and the constitutional issue as to whether the judiciary somehow has veto power over legislative process, the fundamental issue in the duel appears to have been the two justices inconsolable disdain for each other. Now that’s the kind of thing that in the old days would have led to a good ol’ fashioned duel. In this case, however, as is inferred by reports, Justice Bradley is accusing Justice Proesser of putting her in “a choke hold” as she apparently rushed him to physically force him out of her office. Justice Proesser is suggested by other witnesses to have put his hands on her shoulders to repel her as she charged him. The extent of the behavior appears to have been at the level of, “Oh yeah? …So’s yur old man!” The infantile denouement has perfectly captured the character of debate of this spring in the state of Wisconsin over the ‘outrage’ of a state legislature performing their elected and constitutional responsibility of balancing the state budget. The reaction of a segment of the state populous to duly elected officials performing their duty? – that would be sit-downs, threats of violence, massed demonstrations, death threats, legislator out of state flight, and recall elections. God forbid that the legislature or governor seek to improve the state in any other way. All hell is likely to break loose.

     Thankfully we can count on the dignity of judicial tradition to evaluate issues based on their merits in law and in constitutional precedent, and not be swayed by the unstable passions of emotion and political avarice.  Actually that would be..No.  The disease of political tactics, smear campaigns, and power grabs has invaded the judicial class as intensely as it has the political class, and the result is a generation of ill-considered politically stained judicial decisions and a lowest common denominator judges.  We’ve come to a time where Justice is not only blind, but deaf and dumb as well.

     Well., it could be worse. The paddycake shoving match between the Justices pales in comparison to the charged political emotions of the 19th century, when a threat or an insult, or worse yet a pattern of verbal abuse, could get a politician challenged to a duel.  On July 11th, 1804 the third Vice President of the United States Aaron Burr shot and killed the first Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton in a duel on the New Jersey banks of the Hudson within view of New York City.  The two men hated each other but the real gasoline for the duel was Hamilton’s persistent efforts to suppress Mr. Burr’s overarching political ambitions.  Locked in a verbal death match long before the actual firing of the dueling pistols, the two opponents simply could not envision a world where both their political views could be justified. They sought to enforce their will rather than develop their alternative arguments for this nation’s future. 

     I’m not saying that the push and shove silliness that just occurred between a cranky old conservative and witchy liberal intransigent is at that the level of an event that cost us one of our most brilliant founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton.  But the reality is that the dangerous fanning of emotions that rise above civil discourse and legal prudence  can overwhelm and distort any rational debate, and put the opponents on a course of accepting no less than complete triumph, or experiencing inconsolable defeat.

     Alexander Hamilton on the morning of July 11th, 1804, shot first, and into the air, to preserve his dignity, and prove his point of view.  Aaron Burr shot into Alexander Hamilton’s abdomen to preserve his dignity, and to prove the demise of  Alexander Hamilton’s point of view – forever.

     The state of Wisconsin is but a laboratory for the process that will soon envelop of national debate as we try to arrest our exploding fiscal crisis. The emotions of the paddycake duel in Madison are trivial to what this debate nationally will involve.  We best get our emotional acts together or, 19th century may again seem all too real.

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