Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Personal politics

Assembly Republicans got their feelings hurt last weekend.

After the Board of Regents voted to freeze admissions, the Assembly responded by slashing another $13.5 million from UW’s budget. (These cuts were in addition to the $51 million cut in McCallum’s budget and the approximately $20 million cut by the Joint Finance Committee.) The Assembly also added a 10 percent surcharge to out-of-state students.

The disastrous short-term consequences of this action should be obvious — higher tuition, less national appeal, severely damaged diversity efforts — the list goes on. But the long-term effects of this action are far more dangerous.

Since most of the cuts will be borne by individual campuses, the quality of education will suffer, resulting in a graduating workforce less capable of powering future economic growth. This lower quality, combined with the increased out-of-state tuition and advertising cuts, will reduce the UW’s qualities as a magnet capable of reversing the brain drain, a serious problem for Wisconsin’s economy. Gutting the travel budget will dramatically limit fundraising, a substantial source of funding for UW-Madison in particular. All of the above will hurt the university’s ability to attract research dollars, an area in which UW-Madison is second in the country.

In short, Assembly Republicans completely ignored the long-term effects of their action. What makes this even more galling is that Republicans are usually the ones most concerned with the long-term effect of actions, especially when it comes to fiscal issues. Good thing the short-term gain was really, really important, right?

Well, it was really important if you think poker is all that matters.

“[The regents are] playing high-stakes poker, and they’re not going to win,” was the reaction of Rep. John Gard, R-Peshtigo.

Of course Gard is using a metaphor, but the fact of the matter is he and the Assembly Republicans got mad so they decided to get even — they made politics personal. Rep. Rob Kreibich, R-Eau Claire, admitted as much: “[The regents’ actions] totally agitated our members.”

And so we all get a harsh reminder about one of the first lessons in politics — never make it personal. If you do, the most likely result will be the opposite of your original intentions.

In this case the lesson is clear — state legislators’ number-one concern supposedly is the state’s future, but this weekend, that was thrown by the wayside in the haste for revenge.

You could argue the Board of Regents made the same mistake. In a knee-jerk attempt to make legislators squirm, they arbitrarily suspended admissions. Such an action may have been ultimately necessary, but the marginal cost of additional students is not worth what happened this weekend.

The detrimental effect of making politics personal is even more obvious on the campus level.

Consider last year’s Horowitz protesters. Ostensibly, those shouting and calling names outside the Herald offices were against reparations, but when they personalized their objections, their argument was forgotten. The only thing anyone outside of Madison cared about was the actual protest, not the cause that was ultimately at issue.

Horowitz made the same mistake. When he came to speak last December, Horowitz alienated much of the crowd (including me) when he named Tshaka Barrows, then-chair of the Multicultural Student Coalition, by name and personally attacked him. By making things personal, the merits of his opinions were instantly marginalized.

ASM frequently falls in the same trap. Too many members reflexively assume criticism is a personal attack and immediately discount the advice involved. Even worse are student groups all-too-willing to personally denigrate members who do not go along with their pet cause. In this case, the students ASM is supposed to serve are the losers, as they pay for decisions made without outside input and in fear.

Making things personal costs you on the personal level as well. I recently lost a friend who works in the State Assembly because he was offended I told him the Republicans looked pathetic.

Were I to do the same, I would be without some of my best friends. One of them once told me the only way she would get involved in politics was if I ran for president. She promised to work on the campaign . . . of my opponent. Yet we are both willing to put aside our political differences and have developed a fantastic friendship, something that would have been impossible and to my loss if we made our differences personal.

Ultimately, there are things so much more important than politics. And not just sappy stuff like friendships. The very causes you are fighting for are at risk if you make it personal.

Causes like the future of Wisconsin in general and UW in particular.

Benjamin Thompson ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in political science. He has no intention of running for president.

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