Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Democratic Wedge Issues

Republicans are out of step on issues like same sex marriage and medical marijuana.

By - Jan 16th, 2014 10:18 am
Scott Walker

Scott Walker

“God, guns and gays” were the holy trinity of wedge issues in Karl Rove’s approach to electing George W. Bush. But the third issue on that list has been radically transformed as Americans rethink their views. Increasingly the edge of certain social issues may cut against Republicans, which could be a problem for Gov. Scott Walker in his reelection campaign.

Across America, state after state is embracing same-sex marriage. It’s now legal in 17 states, including three of Wisconsin’s four neighbors: Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota.

A recent Gallup Poll found a 52 percent to 43 percent majority favored legalizing same sex marriages, which echoed earlier findings by other polls.

Wisconsin residents seem to have similar views. The recent Marquette Law School poll found that 53 percent of state residents surveyed supported same-sex marriage, 24 percent favored civil unions and 19 percent said should be no legal recognition for same-sex unions. Just a year earlier a Marquette poll found that 44 percent favored same-sex marriage.

What’s happening, as state after state embraces same sex marriages, and as gay marriages get more public discussion and recognition, is they begin to seem normal. In 2003, a year before Bush’s reelection victory, just 33 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriages, while 58 percent opposed them. In ten years those numbers have nearly flip-flopped.

The other factor changing these surveys is the advent of the Millennials, among whom 70 percent support same-sex marriage. They made up just 9 percent of the adult population back in 2003. Today 27 percent of adults are Millennials.

The tide is turning — and quickly — on this issue. A Huffington Post poll found that 75 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of independents said they expected same sex marriages to be approved in more states by the end of the year.

Few governors are as out of step on this issue as Walker. He has declared that the state’s 2006 consitutional amendment banning same sex marriages is part of a “healthy balance” of LGBT rights because the state also has laws against employment discrimination. Needless to say, that leaves out tons of other rights that married couples have.

Wisconsin does have a domestic partner registry law, passed in 2009, which gives gay couples about “one-quarter” of the rights married people enjoy, says Katie Belanger, President and CEO of Fair Wisconsin, which advocates for gay rights. The three big rights it gave gay partners is the right of hospital visitation, the right to sick leave to help a loved one, and the right to make end-of-life decisions. But it left them without the right to adoption, to joint property, joint tax filings and many other rights.

Mary Burke

Mary Burke

Yet, in 2009, Wisconsin Family Action sued the state arguing that this law violates the ban on same sex marriages. Gov. Jim Doyle hired a lawyer to defend the law, but Walker has declined to do so, declaring he thinks it’s unconstitutional. Mary Burke, by contrast, has said she supports same sex marriage and opposes the 2006 ban on same sex marriages. There could hardly be a clearer contrast.

The marijuana issue is playing out in a similar fashion to gay rights. A recent Gallup Poll found that 58 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, up from 12 percent in 1969. But support has jumped 10 percentage points since a year ago, the poll found, with a very high percentage of independents supporting legalization.  “Whatever the reasons for Americans’ greater acceptance of marijuana, it is likely that this momentum will spur further legalization efforts across the United States,” the pollster predicted.

This softening of opposition to pot has been even more dramatic when it comes to medical marijuana. By 2011 fully 77 percent of Americans supported medical marijuana and only 17 percent opposed it, a CBS poll found.  A 2013 Fox News Poll found 85 percent of voters favored medical marijuana.

By now, 20 states and DC have legalized medical marijuana, including the neighboring states of Illinois and Michigan, and two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized recreational marijuana. Once again, as state after state passes such laws, the use of marijuana seems more normal. The Huffington Post poll found that 64 percent of Americans expect more states to legalize marijuana by the end of the year

And once again the support for such a change is highest among Millennials, at 65 percent.

In Wisconsin, a bill to legalize medical marijuana failed in 2009 after a dramatic public showdown between state senators Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) and Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton). But there is no evidence Wisconsin is immune to the nation’s transformation of views on pot.

The Marquette poll found that legalization of marijuana is supported by 50 percent and opposed by 45 percent. It did not ask about medical marijuana, but a Chamberlain Research Consultants Poll in 2002 found that 80 percent of state residents favored a law “to allow seriously ill or terminally ill patents to use medical marijuana if supported by their physician.”

In 2012, the Wisconsin Medical Society changed its position of actively opposing medical marijuana to match the view of the American Medical Society.

In his 2010 campaign for governor, Walker said he opposed the legalization of medical marijuana. Burke, when interviewed by a Madison radio station in November, said she was open to legalizing its medical use. “We have many people suffering from really debilitating diseases and they’re not able to get the type of pharmaceuticals that help them deal with that,” she said. “And I think that if medical marijuana does that… we have to look at making that accessible.”

Short Take 

For conservative talk radio hosts like Charlie Sykes, there is no more dreaded policy change than a return to the Fairness Doctrine, which required stations to balance their coverage of the news. Perhaps no one has benefited more from its abandonment than Roger Ailes, the man who created Fox News. A new biography of Ailes by Gabriel Sherman has created plenty of controversy with Ailes working hard to discredit it. Lloyd Grove of The Daily Beast offers a speed reading version of the book’s 25 juiciest revelations.

But two other writers offers smart essays that also consider Ailes’ impact on politics with the aggressively right-wing Fox station. David Carr of the New York Times concludes ironically that Ailes and Fox may have helped relect Barack Obama. And Jill Lepore of the New Yorker offers a fascinating comparison between Ailes and 20th century media tycoon William Randolph Hearst, questioning how much policy impact either man had.

“Sherman sees Ailes as a kingmaker, which isn’t entirely convincing,” Lepore writes. “Between 1952 and 1988, an era marked by the Fairness Doctrine (and, according to conservatives, a liberal media), Republicans won seven out of ten Presidential elections. Between 1988 and 2012, during the ascendancy of conservative media, Republicans won only three out of seven Presidential elections.” And one of those, in 2000, was actually a victory in the popular vote for the Democrat.

Talk radio and Fox News relentlessly reinforce a right-wing message that’s intended to help Republicans but may actually become a trap for them. Party members were thus convinced that Mitt Romney would win in 2012, though all the polls pointed in the opposite direction. (Sykes predicted Romney would win.) It’s hard to fashion a winning strategy to succeed in the real world when you’re immersed in a conservative echo chamber that constantly repeats and reinforces only certain, pre-cleared views of reality.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

21 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Democratic Wedge Issues”

  1. Chris Byhre says:

    Bruce, Fox News and Conservative talk radio have offered shelter from the storm of liberalism that can be found across the mainstream media. What it actually offers is a place where people who like to form their own opinions can hear about topics that the liberal media refuses to cover (not unlike this web site). The echo chamber you speak of is much more prevalent among progressives such as yourself who like to pat themselves and each other on the back for supposedly looking out for everyone. Also, Burke’s stance on legalized pot is similar to her “stances” on most every issue so far. Saying “IF” it helps people who are sick we might have to look into legalizing it for medical purposes is hardly a pro pot stance. Her lie about Walker’s tax reduction discussions did earn her a ‘pants on fire” from Politifact this morning however.

  2. Jeff says:

    It’s a shame that once-progessive Wisconsin is so out of step on same-sex marriage. Equally embarrassing, however, is the apparent absence of a legal challenge to the state ban. Katie Belanger, why are we behind Utah and Oklahoma on this issue?

    BTW, is Mary Burke the best Democrats can do? Walker will surely win re-election.

  3. Patrick says:

    I always thought it was funny that so many people are OK with legalizing pot while at the same time wanting to ban cigarette smoking from every public place.

  4. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    There is no such thing as a legal challenge to a constitutional amendment. As a pharmacist I have studied the problem of drugs and abuse for over 50 years and can tell you that there is no such thing as a good answer to this problem. Cigs and alcohol, some people are determined to use them, get addicted and in the cases of meth and heroin destroy their lives. Impossible to stop some of them.
    Over the last 1,000 years or so everything has been tried, multiple times, and none with good results. Many countries that had opium dens, free use of all drugs have now totally banned them, and in some cases the death penalty. In some countries you do not want to screw around with drugs.
    I have seen the destroyed people in their 40’s and 50’s in the nursing homes with no hope of revival.
    It is good that some states legalize it so that the rest can watch for the net ten years and see what happens. I eagerly await the results.

  5. Donald MacDonald says:

    “This softening of opposition to pot has been even more dramatic when it comes to medical marijuana.”

    Treating various ailments with “medical marijuana”
    has been praised by many as a “quality of life issue” for sick people.

    But if “medical marijuana” is legalized in Wisconsin
    I must admit I will even envy the “quality of life” of sick people.

  6. Donald MacDonald says:

    If marijuana is legalized
    or even if it is not
    ALL journalists should be tested for THC
    just as brawny baseball players are tested for steroids.

    Since words more freely flow under the influence of weed
    droopy-eyed writers have an unfair advantage
    over the honest, clean toilers searching for words
    within the slow, careful confines of closed minds.

    But if the writers’ test results
    turn out to be “positive”
    the penalty should be nothing
    and the ban should be never
    only if
    the flow of clear writing continues.

  7. Donald MacDonald says:

    During recent years especially, there have been many discussions and writings about whether or not marijuana should be legalized in the United States. In the past, I have considered entering this discussion, but I usually do not claim to know what is best for anyone else but me. I do have, however, my story to tell you which may help you decide, either way.

    When I was in high school and college, I used to belong to “The Parkway Gang.” We were just a group of friends who lived near the Kinnickinnic River Parkway near Jackson Park in Milwaukee. It was with “the gang” that I first consumed alcohol when I was 17 years old, during “the summer of love,” on July 31, 1967 to be exact. I remember the exact date since it was the first afternoon of the “Milwaukee Riots” when all city residents were ordered to remain in their homes. But I defied the law enforcement authorities two times that day…when I went outside and walked a block to a friend’s parent’s house and when I drank my first beer with the gang.

    Feeling slightly under the influence for the first time on that date was one of several types of virginity lost during my long life. There is no reversing or forgetting the first, very personal discovery and experience of an altered state of consciousness.

    After that date, until I entered the military in 1969, I only occasionally drank alcohol with the gang, and my only drug of choice was Schlitz.

    So in June, 1969, I entered the military and by October of that year I was in stationed in Vietnam. But I must admit with absolutely no guilt that my one year of living life in Saigon was the very best year of the life I have lived so far. I worked 7 a.m. until noon 6 days a week and it was during my one year of living life in Saigon that I first started inhaling and holding in the smoke of burning marijuana. Thus another type of virginity was lost, but so much else was gained.

    Until I first used marijuana (hereafter to be mostly referred to as the monosyllabic “weed”) I consumed only alcohol. After my first use of weed, though, I rarely consumed alcohol for about the next 20 years. Instead, for about 20 years after 1969, I very happily used weed almost exclusively…almost every day.

    While under the influence of weed, I very much enjoyed the pure relaxation and flow of thoughts and internal words while I always must refer to alcohol as only “the dumb drug.” My “favorite” time to smoke weed, if I had to identify only one of my many favorite times, was at sunrise when I sit and listen to the quiet and I see light starting to angle inside and I feel cool breezes that carry the music of springtime birds into to my open windows…into my open room. I sit quietly, warmly remembering yesterdays and visualizing what we will gain tomorrow. You would have to be here and dream with me to know just what I mean.

    During those 20 years, working as a college-educated mental heath professional, I really did immensely enjoy myself every second of every occasion I was under the influence of weed. I enjoyed smoking weed almost daily…until, that is, I prepared to interview for a State of Wisconsin Probation and Parole Agent position.

    At that time, wanting this meaningful career which I knew I would continue until retirement, I immediately stopped my use of weed after about 20 years of almost daily use. I immediately stopped because, needless to say, it would have been most hypocritical of me enforce all laws for all probationers and all parolees if I would have continued to violate any law, including the possession of and use of weed. I immediately stopped without too much anxiety at all, although my wife claimed I was more grumpy than usual for two or three days.

    I clearly remember the agent interview when “The Regional Chief” asked me why I wanted to become an agent and I answered, word for word, “because of my sincere altruistic desire to perform an important community service.” I was most sincere and I was soon hired.

    My wife, Michelle, was also later hired as a Probation and Parole Agent. Michelle specialized in the supervision of offenders convicted of domestic violence offenses until she retired. We both found that our careers gave us the opportunity to live our ideals of nonviolence. We tried to assist many victims of crimes and we tried to motivate many offenders to not re-offend. We tried to motivate others to find non-violent ways of resolving disputes. Michelle and I conscientiously tried to help bring hope for a positive future to those who lost hope. Every day, for many years, we tried to help decrease crime and to increase peace in Milwaukee.

    One routine duty performed by an agent is to take into custody, usually from the office, “offenders” who violate laws and/or supervision rules and/or court-ordered conditions of supervision. Agents usually make arrests in the office, but they also come knocking at the door. The offender is taken into custody and transported to jail by the agent. Reasons for custody vary, from marijuana use to murder.

    Now you may believe that it was still hypocritical of me, considering my past weed use, to perform any agent duty, let alone the duty of taking offenders into custody for weed use.

    But I saw it differently, needless to say.

    I knew from experience that if I could stop using marijuana after about 20 years of almost daily use, then offenders could also stop using, at least while on community supervision. The difference, unfortunately, between many others and me was that me was willing to stop and many others were not.

    For many years, until I retired, I did witness the tragic crimes, intense suffering, needless deaths and extreme violence related to the buying and selling and use and abuse of illegal drugs.

    And I also know of the misery alcohol abuse causes and how tobacco use is the single cause of death worldwide.

    But during my professional experience for many years in mental health, criminal justice and law enforcement, I found that our community devastation related to illegal drugs has resulted primarily because of cocaine and opiate buying and selling and using and abusing as well as by the impulsive desperation withdrawals cause.

    The main problems existing amongst weed users are the high cost of purchase, finding who to safely purchase from, how to avoid arrest and the resulting inconvenience after improbable arrest.

    So until I retired, I was a Parole “Corrections Field Supervisor” for 16 years after working for years as an agent. I have to now honestly disclose, for the sake of this story, that even though I never, ever used weed during this period, I still enjoyed an altered state of consciousness frequently after work, once again making my “dumb drug” of choice only beer. And I did not want to pay the price of cheap intoxicants. At least I then gained a taste for craft and European beers, but I steadily gained a beer belly now weighing at least 30 pounds.

    Now Michelle and I are happy in retirement. Even though I still enjoy a good beer at times, I wish I could also tell you that I enjoy an idyllic retirement enjoying wisps of weed and the resulting flow of thoughts and internal words.

    I wish I could tell you that the “dumb drug” of alcohol has been again replaced by weed.

    I wish I could tell you my beer belly is shrinking and my good writings are gaining.

    I wish I could sit at sunrise and listen to the quiet and see light starting to angle inside and feel cool breezes that carry the music of springtime birds into to my open windows…into my open room.

    I wish I could tell you that I wrote this entire piece while under the influence of weed, but there are common-sense limits to my self-disclosure.

    For I know that if I made those reckless, public claims, especially in writing, especially in published writing, our very good criminal justice and law enforcement authorities who do serve us and who do protect us would also have no choice but to come knocking at the door.

    “The summer of love” supposedly occurred in 1967, but this all ended a long time ago in many, varied ways. So in this new age with old prohibitions, I must conclude my story by only wishfully thinking and safely saying that my present and future use of weed “ain’t nobody’s business but my own.”

  8. Tim says:

    It is interesting about the smoking bans & legalizing pot. It’s almost like the only option is to smoke it in a public place with unwilling participants in the area… wait, it’s nothing like that at all.

    False alarm.

  9. J2fs says:

    Patrick: If pot is legalized, that does not mean people could smoke it just anywhere. In fact, except for the possibility of businesses expressly designed for pot smokers, most likely existing smoking regulations would be expanded to cover pot smoke.

    I don’t want to have to smell cigarette smoke while I’m eating lunch – I wouldn’t want to have to smell pot smoke either.

    See? No inconsistency at all.

  10. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    As a clinical pharmacist I can tell you that medical marijuana is a joke. For everything that they claim to want it to use I can give you many drugs far better.
    It is simply stalking horse for pot heads.

  11. Todd Spangler says:

    It must be the conservative part of my moderate political philosophy that causes me to see pretty much eye to eye with WCD on this issue of medical marijuana. While I have some views that are fairly left wing, in other ways I am hopelessly square, and I will admit to never having even tried marijuana, and at age 49 now, it seems unlikely I ever will. I don’t doubt that pot has properties that render it suitable for certain medical conditions, as that has been my experience with a substance it is often compared with — alchohol — and which I have far more experience with, probably more for the worse than better.

    While most medical authorities tend to diss it for this use, alcohol in my own not inconsiderable amount of experience with it is a relatively powerful painkiller at higher levels, considerably more so than the likes of ibuprofen, at least in the comparisons I’ve done. However, the drawback (for many or most perhaps more of a plus) is that you have to get fairly drunk to be able to utilize its painkilling abilities to any real extent, and so in comparison to other drugs more commonly prescribed or used to alleviate pain, ethanol has relatively bad and problematic side effects. It should also certainly be kept in mind that alcohol is a relatively toxic substance that tends to be lethal at blood alcohol levels much over 0.40%.

    At least marijuana does not have that particular drawback, and I am not aware that it is even possible to OD and die from consuming too much pot — as is easily doable with the opioid painkillers that I read and hear so much about people unintentionally offing themselves with. Even so, I will likely remain more or less a stick in the mud on the overall issue of pot and continue looking somewhat askance at the recreational and medical uses of marijuana, while recognizing that it is probably not any greater societal scourge overall than the vice of alcohol use, which I have participated in myself for a few decades now and likely will continue to do so into the forseeable future.

  12. Bruce Thompson says:

    The Utah challenge was based on the federal constitution. Presumably the Wisconsin ban on gay marriage could be challenged on the same basis.

  13. STACY MOSS says:

    Your article documents the slippery slope we are on.

    Legalize Gay marriage and before you know it…

    and before you know it — dope is legal.

    Then what?

    Insider trading.

  14. bcm says:

    Wonder why Dohnal chose to ignore the gay marriage issue.

  15. Tim says:

    Dohanl, you’re right about the stalking horse… just look at Oxycontin. That’s obviously just made for those addicts that ran out of heroin. Adderall is just for meth heads that are too lazy to cook up another batch.

    Personally, I would believe Bob Dohnal… after all, he has a white coat! I mean, he may have lower quality schooling as a pharmacist than a doctor… but he would know, right?

  16. Andy says:

    I’ve also thought it strange that Liberals are so anti-smoking yet so pro-pot.

    Also, Tim… Dohnal’s outlandish way of expressing himself aside… you can’t argue that a pharmacist is probably a better source of information on medicine the the average person. You have a certain way of completely ignoring people who have expertise in a field simply because you do not agree with them or what they have to say isn’t convenient for your point of view.

    You just seem to know so much about so many things… I could be wrong… but did you stay at a Holiday Inn last night?

  17. Andy says:

    I shuddered when I saw the words “Fairness Doctrine” in the article… The “Fairness Doctrine” has got to be the most blatant anti-constitution idea ever taken up by congress. It’s hard to imagine a law that would be more limiting to our freedom of speech then that. I would no sooner want to force Fox or conservative radio stations from changing their programming then I would want to force MSNBC or to change theirs.

    Words cannot express how strongly I feel about that topic…

  18. Tim says:

    Andy, I suppose that’s the difference between you & I. When someone of any profession tells me something, I think about it. I consider their background & also what they’re saying with the facts as they exist.

    If it doesn’t add up, it doesn’t add up… it doesn’t matter what your profession is. Maybe you shouldn’t be so gullible…

    ‘Pot’, is just another drug that can be used to treat people. There are people addicted to many prescribed or perfectly legal over-the-counter drugs, do we go all prohibition on those too? I’ve talked to practicing medical doctors about this, there is no single opinion. However, I always get a laugh from the ones that tell me they’re against medical marijuana because it could be abused… that Vicodin is just worry-free right?

  19. Andy says:

    Yes, Tim.. I believe anything an expert tells me, no matter what! (sarcasm)

    Anyway, Dohnal will need to correct me if I’m wrong… but it appeared to me he was saying: There’s no benefits from medical marijuana that you can’t get from another medication, and much of which works better to boot. So why even bother having it as a medical option?

    I can kind of see this point of view. There’s actually other examples of what are now illicit drugs that at one time were used for medicinal purposes but are no longer because other things worked better and/or it wasn’t worth it for the amount they were abused.

    Really I don’t see pot being a big deal… but I can understand the argument at least.

  20. Tim says:

    Tylenol or Aspirin come in various doses for different uses. I’m sure we’ll see pot in the same way at some point soon. It really isn’t a matter of either/or in medicine, many medications don’t work uniformly on patients. Same weight, gender, presenting with the same condition yet different results with the same dosage of medication.

    Medicine has become more technical and taken great advantage of technology… still it’s often just trying a couple things known to work & seeing what happens. Pot is another option and will literally be like another drug available to treat conditions.

    However, that’s not where the large gains to society come from… it’s from decriminalizing pot. It was arbitrarily militarized decades ago; there’s no sense in keeping that in place out of a duty to tradition.

  21. Bruce Thompson says:

    I am surprised that no one has mentioned Jim Stingl’s article in today’s MSJ about a 6 year old girl who needs medical marijuana:

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