The Republican Party of Dane County last week put out a press release condemning the recount, now taking place, of the April 5 state Supreme Court election. It demonstrates, though further evidence is hardly needed, how wildly unhinged from reality political claims have become.
In this statement, the group claims Justice David Prosser's 7,316-vote pre-recount lead over challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg is too vast to overcome, despite being within the .5% threshold established by state law.
"Everybody knows there is no way Kloppenburg can win the recount," the release states, presumably based on an exhaustive survey of "everybody." "Yet Democrats are still demanding a recount just in the hope that they can tie up the election long enough that Justice Prosser will have to temporarily give up his seat on the court until the issue is finally resolved."
The release goes on to claim that the cost of this unnecessary recount will come from financially strapped communities, leading to "teachers, police and firefighters" losing their jobs.
"Wisconsin Democrats just don't care," the release declares. "They simply don't care about the damage that they are doing to the state of Wisconsin and Wisconsin families." Indeed, the release is titled "Recount Continues Democratic Party's War on Wisconsin Families."
I don't mean to make too much of this eruption of the Dane County GOP, which is considered a joke even by some local Republicans. One of its other recent releases (see column, 4/7/11) was so ridiculous it drew national attention no mean feat these days, given the intense competition. But there are features of this communication that bear examination.
Consider its casual dishonesty. Prosser's term runs through Aug. 1, and no one expects the process to be tied up past then by a recount that's supposed to be completed May 9. And really, just how many teachers, police and firefighters will be rendered jobless by, say, the Dane County recount, which is expected to cost $3,000?
Even more troubling is the bottomless contempt this statement conveys toward Kloppenburg and her supporters, who are doing exactly what Prosser and his backers would do if the roles were reversed. It paints them as not just wrong, but evil. They don't care at all about the people of Wisconsin; they just want to hurt families, for chuckles.
Such raging, pathological hatred is sad to see; sadder still is that it's not unusual.
After Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus announced, two days after the election, her discovery of 14,000 votes that gave Prosser the winning edge, the airwaves and blogosphere were buzzing with allegations of fraud.
"There was not an 'error,'" exclaimed one commenter to The Huffington Post. "This election was STOLEN right out from under our noses."
There has never been a shred of credible evidence to support such claims, which don't even make sense: If you wanted to steal an election by coming up with phony votes, would you do it in a way that called conspicuous attention to this very batch of votes?
Yet Kloppenburg's supporters have not hesitated to frame the issue in ways that milk suspicion. Even before the brouhaha over the Waukesha County votes, when Kloppenburg led the unofficial tally by 200 votes, state Democratic Party chair Mike Tate was warning of the need to ensure "that Republicans don't try to steal the election for Scott Walker's ally."
It's true, as John Nichols has noted, that the harsh reaction to the recount sounded by Prosser and his allies suggests they fear the result. But that isn't because they know or suspect that fraud has occurred Justice Prosser is far too honorable a man to have any truck with that - but because they know human error of the sort on display in Waukesha County could have produced other inaccuracies.
We are living in a time when deliberate efforts are being made to turn the citizens of Wisconsin against each other. The arithmetic of Gov. Scott Walker's administration is clearly long division pitting union workers against nonunion workers, the UW-Madison against the UW System, Madison against "the rest of the state." At every turn he has sought to create warring factions.
In this respect, the recount that JoAnne Kloppenburg has asked for could actually be a healing thing. It seeks to reclaim the integrity of an election result that has been sullied by partisans on both sides those claiming a stolen election based on no evidence as well as those claiming the recount itself is an affront to decency.
If the recount reveals errors and omissions in the original tally, suggesting ways to improve the tabulation of future votes, and if it puts to rest suspicions and accusations of electoral fraud, it will have been worth every penny, and then some. Let's hope it also serves as a rebuke to the shrill partisans who seek to stir up hate to advance their own agenda.
Bill Lueders (firstname.lastname@example.org) is news editor of Isthmus.