David Michael Miller
Over the last several days, One Wisconsin Now has been releasing letters to the editor and columns Justice Rebecca Bradley wrote in college at Marquette University. Bradley, who is running for a full Wisconsin Supreme Court term next month, following her brief appointment to the court by Gov. Scott Walker, does not come across great in these writings. Victims of rape, homosexuals, HIV patients, anyone who voted for Bill Clinton in the ’92 election — she has unkind, borderline hate speech for all of them.
While reading Bradley’s letters and, more importantly, her modern-day attempts to apologize for these letters, I can’t help but think about Dr. Seuss.
During World War II, Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss, made some horrifically racist statements against the Japanese. In propaganda cartoons, he advocated for internment camps for Japanese Americans, inferring that all Americans of Japanese descent could not be trusted. His artwork of the time features dehumanizing stereotypical features for the Japanese, creating an odd dissonance with other works that decried racism against African Americans and anti-Semitism.
Yet, after the war, Geisel’s views changed. He wrote the book Horton Hears a Who! as an allegory on Japan, and he dedicated the book to a Japanese friend. Later books like The Sneeches and The Butter Battle Book focus on racial equality and the irrationality of nuclear conflict.
Do these later actions wipe away his promotion of the internment camps? Do they make up for all the atrocities those camps inflicted upon American citizens, guilty only of the crime of sharing heritage with the enemy? Of course not. Geisel’s role as a propagandist should forever remain as a black mark on his otherwise incredible life.
But his journey away from hate shouldn’t be forgotten either. Letting go of hate is perhaps the most powerful, personal part of the human experience. That’s the reason why “Amazing Grace” is an incredibly moving song, even for a nonbeliever like me. That the song plays during Spock’s funeral scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is just icing on the cake.
We should celebrate the journey from hate to love, even if that doesn’t mean we forget the hateful actions of the past. I feel comfortable reading Hop on Pop to my 1-year-old son but that doesn’t mean I won’t discuss the rest of Geisel’s life with him once he is older.
Rebecca Bradley’s columns from the early 1990s are full of hate. They represent the thoughts and feelings of a college student, whose passion outweighed her empathy. She said terrible things about regular people, painting groups ranging from rape victims to homosexuals with caricatures as broad as Geisel’s depictions of Japanese Americans.
It is these attacks on regular people that are the most off-putting. As someone who writes diatribes about politics, I feel there’s a duty to focus attacks on elected officials and people in power, not the regular people who support them. It is okay to point out trends, but mass declarations make it too easy to villainize and dehumanize those we disagree with. For example, it is important to point out that a lot of white supremacists are supporting Donald Trump for president, but it is wrong to say that all Trump supporters are white supremacists.
Trust me, I’ve failed my own test many times. I have written things I regret about the rank-and- file Republican voter in this state. But I’ve never gone quite so far as Bradley once did. I’ve never advocated for letting people die of a horrible disease that robs them of their immune system.
Still, these columns were written decades ago. Unlike some, I don’t think her hate speech from 1992 is an automatic disqualifier. I believe people deserve second chances, former felons and former letter-to-the-editor zealots alike. What bugs me today is the hollowness of Bradley’s apologies.
"I wrote opinion pieces 24 years ago on a variety of issues, and they are opinions that some people may agree with, some people might disagree with," said Bradley in an interview with The Capital Times.
“To those offended by comments I made as a young college student, I apologize, and assure you that those comments are not reflective of my worldview,” said Bradley in a press statement.
I cannot judge what is in Rebecca Bradley’s heart, but these read to me like the apologies of someone who feels bad their past caught up with them, not the apologies of someone truly regretful. ‘To those offended’ makes it sound like she feels bad for offending potential voters, not for having written the column in the first place.
Even her best defense thus far has some problems.
"As a judge on the Milwaukee children's court, I presided over adoptions for gay couples who were adopting children and providing loving, safe homes for them," said Bradley.
While this is a good statement on its surface, it just means she no longer thinks that all homosexuals are bad people. That’s not exactly an apology for her statements on HIV and AIDS. She is okay with monogamous couples adopting children. That’s not even saying she accepts LGBT people; she’s saying she accepts LGBT couples who have adopted a lifestyle she approves of.
She further dilutes her own apology by saying her own views are not relevant.
"At the end of the day, I am called upon to apply the law regardless of how I feel about the law. It is our job to apply the law and follow the law regardless of how we feel about the outcome," Bradley said.
Those sound like the words of someone who wants to minimize her transgressions, not atone for them. 1992’s Rebecca Bradley isn’t up for election, but 2016’s Rebecca Bradley is — and her wishy-washy apologies don’t reflect the traits I want to see on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.