Sunday's "newly redesigned" Wisconsin State Journal opinion page included a good piece about salmonella-tainted peanut butter from syndicated Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Cynthia Tucker.
Tucker's op-ed, calling for more regulation of the U.S. food industry, was a commonsensical retort to the federal government's long crusade against regulation and corporate responsibility. But it was a bit surprising to read it in the opinion pages of the slavishly pro-business State Journal.
Don't get used to it.
Tucker is just filling in for State Journal opinion page fixture Steve Chapman while he is on vacation.
In a column last Sunday introducing the redesigned section, State Journal editorial page editor Scott Milfred vowed to feature the syndicated columns of self-described "independent, libertarian" Chicago Tribune columnist Chapman. (Warning: Anyone claiming to be independent and libertarian is a Republican.)
As if on cue, the first word in the headline of the Chapman column in that Sunday's paper, appearing directly below Milfred's column, was "moderating." The first word in the column itself was "moderation." And the piece was a wholly familiar argument against due-process rights for most of the prisoners at the detention center formerly known as Gitmo, complete with unnecessary jabs at the American Civil Liberties Union.
It's funny how quickly our nation's Republicans -- the most ardently extremist political party holding significant power in any industrialized democracy in the world -- have adopted "moderation" as their mantra now that they have minority status.
Milfred describes Chapman as "clear and unpredictable" and writes that he and his compatriots on the State Journal editorial board also "plan to offer a progressive view from The Capital Times on page 3." This would be more magnanimous if the State Journal didn't have a pact with the Cap Times requiring it to run this column on Sunday, whether it "plans" to or not.
Maybe it's just me, but what Milfred calls the "brighter, bolder, better organized, more thought-provoking and fun-to-read" Sunday opinion section sure looks and feels an awful lot like the dim, calculating, incoherent, dull and depressing thing I am accustomed to picking up at the bottom of my driveway on the Lord's Day.
The new model -- which already seems like it's been in place for months -- has the same muted colors, oversized headlines, gratuitous photographs and shameless self-promotion of the previous design.
But what's most familiar about the page is the State Journal's self-conscious claims of political independence and free-thinking moderation. A rule of thumb: Anyone who claims to be nonpartisan is most assuredly partisan. And most people who call for moderation are usually just asking for less of what they dislike.
Another truth: Almost all of those who claim to "lean left on social issues and right on fiscal matters" -- Milfred's characterization of the general drift of the State Journal editorial board -- vote Republican.
Yes, the home of State Journal op-ed page editor Jay Eastlick's "Right of Center" blog has embraced the motto "Wisconsin's independent voice" and placed it, in bold letters and quotations, at the top of the section's front page.
Apart from its own independence and moderation, the State Journal editorial page's two favorite subjects lately are its own Pulitzer Prize nomination and the top item on its editorial agenda: getting rid of state Supreme Court elections and replacing them with a process of independent, moderate, "merit selection."
Milfred's column on the new design reiterated this nomination for the Pulitzer ("journalism's highest award"). This, you might recall, came as a result of the editorial page's efforts on behalf of its previous favorite topic: the "Frankenstein" veto.
To many, it seemed like the Legislature passed its half-assed restriction of the governor's line-item veto authority last year mostly to get the State Journal to stop humiliating itself with stunts like sending staffers to legislative committee hearings dressed in Frankenstein costumes. (The Pulitzer Prize committee ultimately decided it would rather award no Pulitzer than give it to the State Journal.)
As for re-opining against state Supreme Court elections, the editorial board waited until the following Wednesday to do that.
And then they did it again on Sunday, in a large offering from Scott Milfred.
Dustin Beilke is a union organizer and freelance writer who lives in Madison.