Watching a judicial debate is an exercise in frustration on so many levels, not quite as bad as watching paint dry, but almost. We want to know how the candidates will rule on the issues we care about, but of course they can't tell us -- that would mean they were prejudging cases without objectively ruling on the evidence. Are they liberal; are they conservative? Same thing -- they can't tell us, because to do so would undermine the conspiracy to pretend that there is such a thing as a truly objective judge who does not allow politics or ideology to intrude on the judicial process.
It's an elaborate charade that bears little relationship to reality. In the real world, we all know the April 5th Wisconsin Supreme Court race is about whether liberals or conservatives control the high court and its role as court of last appeal when it comes to Scott Walker's agenda. And yet, if the candidates admitted as much, they would more or less instantly disqualify themselves. Socially sanctioned hypocrisy is the order of the day. The candidates perform intricate verbal dances around the questions, which themselves are usually inane and useless. When there is a question that does touch on a major issue, it's answered through hints and innuendo. We in the audience are left to read between the lines and to interpret such tea leaves as which candidate is most likable, which is least likable, and which has the more judicial temperament (whatever that is).
That's why I rarely watch these things. But the April 5th race is so important I did watch last night's debate on Wisconsin Public Television between incumbent David Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg in the nominally nonpartisan election.
For what it's worth, I thought Kloppenburg was the clear winner. She seemed more judicial, calm, and even-tempered. Prosser seemed whiny and defensive. He staged some cheap theatrics by pulling a letter out of his pocket to challenge Kloppenburg when complaining about the third-party attack ad being run against him. A couple months ago, his reelection seemed a foregone conclusion. Since then, the race has been caught up in the protests against Scott Walker. Prosser seemed so upset about the unfairness of this development that he lapsed into the third-person to defend himself.
“Dave Prosser is not a partisan,” he said. “JoAnne cannot point to individual decisions where I have been partisan in my decision making or unfair or crazy. What she’s trying to do is really to focus all the attention on this theory of hers that cannot be substantiated to hide her own extreme political and social views.”I almost feel sorry for the guy. But it doesn't matter what I think, or who I think won the debate. What matters is the turnout and the desire of the people of Wisconsin to take back their state from the Koch brothers and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. That's what I think is going to put JoAnne Kloppenburg on the Supreme Court.