I was tempted, given what else is on this page this week, to change this page’s name from The First Amendment to Dissension! or a similar term.
It’s not that Disagreement! or Dissension! or Opinions That Don’t Agree with Mine! bothers me very much. The majority of my career has been spent writing opinions, which requires a certain amount of certitude about your point of view. When you write opinions, you will find people who disagree with yours, even before these fractious days. (I was once accused of whatever the opposite of conflict-averse is.) When bodies of government make decisions that affect the lives and property of others — particularly when compromise seems unlikely to satisfy all parties — well, read to your right on this page.
For that matter, you can read The Journal last week to notice the (1) three Grant County Board races, two more than two years ago; (2) six candidates for three Platteville School Board seats, two fewer than last year but three more than the previous year; and (3) for the fifth consecutive year, multiple candidates for the Platteville Common Council at-large seat (though once again only one candidate for a district seat). For obvious reasons, people are unlikely to run for office against incumbents if they believe everything in the elective body for which they’re running is ideal and not in need of improvement. And as we are unfortunate to witness through obnoxious advertising, there are three Democratic presidential candidates and, at the moment, 12 Republican presidential candidates.
Wisconsinites who follow the news also witnessed earlier this month a kerfuffle over the one-finger salute (or, as late ABC-TV Monday Night Football commentator Don Meredith once remarked, saying we’re number one) of state Rep. Bob Gannon (R–Slinger) toward Rep. Peter Barca (D–Kenosha). Journal publisher Dick Brockman once witnessed one Platteville alderman swinging at and missing another during a meeting. Neither reaches the level of the infamous Wisconsin Territorial Council dispute Feb. 11, 1842, between Democrat James Vineyard of Platteville and Whig Charles C.P. Arndt of Green Bay over the appointment of a sheriff for Grant County, an argument that ended with Vineyard’s fatally shooting Arndt. (Reports of the day claimed that Arndt and Vineyard were friends, but Arndt charged Vineyard, leading to the shooting, for which Vineyard was acquitted of manslaughter. Vineyard moved to California, and Charles Dickens included the incident in his book American Notes to criticize what he saw as Americans’ excess violence and distrust of each other.)
The difference between today’s world of argument and past days is the mixed blessing that is social media. The December threats aimed at Platteville High School after an altercation between students were made on social media, by people who weren’t even PHS students. Social media’s wide audience comes with the downsides of instant expression of reaction thought out or not, along with anonymity, or distance — you can Tweet or post something about someone that would risk injury to yourself in person. (At least Gannon and Barca didn’t get into fisticuffs on the Assembly floor, unlike U.S. Rep. Cadwallader Washburn of La Crosse, who once threw a punch at U.S. Rep. William Barksdale of Mississippi, connecting with Barkdale’s hairpiece.)
Both the Letters this week deal with issues of property rights — the rights of Steve’s Pizza Palace owner John Patakos to develop his Pizza Block, and the rights of St. Augustine University Parish to develop its property, which they have a right to do until their rights infringe on the rights of their neighbors. Well, that, and Platteville’s perennial favorite debate subject, parking downtown or within sight of UW–Platteville, legally (in terms of parking space size) or not. One letter asserts his property rights, while another, it must be said, criticizes St. Augustine’s property rights in something that revisits the Catholic divide in Platteville. It is unusual to see so much opposition to a brewpub that would bring a lot of people downtown on nights and weekends (which the city and other groups have been striving to do), as well as (with the existing restaurant) expand downtown Platteville lunch dining choices.
The guest opinion responds to what I wrote in this space last week about the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association and a school district’s application of its sportsmanship guidelines. WIAA executive director Doug Anderson sent an email last week apologizing for the previous email, and that The Capital Times in Madison reported this weekend that the WIAA was going to reexamine its sportsmanship guidelines, which (1) have existed on the WIAA’s website since 2005, but (2) apparently didn’t come to public attention until newspaper reporting that went viral through social media, leading (3) Anderson to apologize for something that (4) reiterated, not changed, WIAA policy. The WIAA at least committed a technical foul in public relations fundamentals.