Defining Deviancy Down

In this update: 1. The changing meaning of clean 2. Audio now available for WDC reports 3. Hearing on Impartial Justice bill planned Defining Deviancy Down 

Email date: 5/1/09

In this update:
1. The changing meaning of clean
2. Audio now available for WDC reports
3. Hearing on Impartial Justice bill planned

The late politician and sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined the phrase "defining deviancy down" to describe the tendency of societies to respond to destructive behaviors by lowering standards for what is permissible.

Moynihan could have been talking about Wisconsin politics, a truth reinforced Tuesday when the Democracy Campaign issued a report on special interest interference in this spring’s elections. The report’s finding that interest groups spent $1.3 million to influence the outcome of races for two statewide offices was not deemed newsworthy by most mainstream media. The report did strike a nerve in some who objected to the reference to the organizations that did the spending as "smear groups." Two clear themes emerged from the objections: First, the level of outside group involvement was considered minimal this year compared to the last two years. Second, the tone and tenor of the campaigning was thought to be notably better than in 2007 and 2008.

The decline of Wisconsin’s standards of political decency becomes glaringly apparent when over $1 million spent by a handful of interest groups in two relatively low-interest state elections is seen as minimal. And this erosion is even more painfully clear when the campaigning is regarded as comparatively clean despite the fact that, as chronicled in our latest Big Money Blog, one of the groups even resorted to doctoring a candidate’s photo to put her in a more unfavorable light.

To not call such a tactic what it is - a smear - only serves to define deviancy down and further lower the already falling standards of political ethics in our state.

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For those who would rather hear about reports like the one we issued Tuesday than read about them, you can now get the audio version by going here. And you can sign up for a feed alerting you to new material by clicking on the orange button on our Big Money Podcast page.

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Thank you to all who responded to our recent E-Lert and contacted legislative committees to ask for public hearings on the Impartial Justice bill reforming state Supreme Court elections. Your effort paid off. A hearing on the bill before the Assembly Elections and Campaign Reform Committee has been tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, May 27. The plan is for the hearing to be held in Eau Claire with testimony also taken in Madison by teleconference. Mark your calendar. We’ll send out more details as we get them.