'Fighting Bob' La Follette's Progressive movement argued for lots of reforms, including some like vegetarianism and alcohol prohibition that did not work out.
The editorial advocated "a more businesslike form of government" for Wausau. A strong leader, someone who could smash bureaucracy and find efficiency, that was the way of moving the growing city forward.
"The Record-Herald again calls the attention of Wausau people to the possible advantage of adopting a commission plan with a city manager, as the best possible way of handling Wausau's municipal affairs," wrote this newspaper's editorial board in 1927. "It may be wise for Wausau people to mull this idea over, and possibly they may conclude it is worth trying."
This editorial, which we republished last week in a regular feature that looks at editorials from the paper's history, felt creepily, eerily familiar to me when I came upon it in a bound volume in the basement of Daily Herald Media World Headquarters.
I had written a version of the same piece - altogether too close to the same piece, in fact - for the Daily Herald Media Editorial Board less than six months ago.
At least we are consistent. The 2013 editorial barely even took a stronger stance than the very mealy-mouthed 1927 version (it may be wise to mull it over and possibly even try it), concluding that "it's a worthwhile conversation to have."
And maybe it is. But I guess after 86 years - and note, too, that the Record-Herald is calling Wausau's attention to it again, suggesting earlier editorials - one is forced to conclude that maybe no one actually cares to converse about changing city leadership to a hired administrator from a full-time elected mayor.
I guess that's life as an editorial writer. Some topics of conversation get widely picked up, disseminated, argued against. Hey, maybe every once in a while, something even changes.
Other times, nine decades go by and you're still in exactly the same place you started. And I mean exactly the same place.
Horace Greeley, the famous abolitionist editor of the New York Tribune, spent the 1850s writing pieces advocating an end to slavery, a battle his side would win decisively. But in the same pages he also was calling for the prohibition of alcohol (his side would win, but, well, not decisively) and promoting vegetarianism. Some of the strands of Greeley's reformist liberal Republican school of thought would be picked up by Wisconsin's Progressive movement, which also would make common cause with prohibitionists and vegetarians. For many, at the time, the causes seemed utterly intertwined. Turns out they weren't.
It's actually pretty common throughout history for reformers to hold a mix of views that come to seem totally obvious - "on the right side of history," to use an overused phrase - along with others that today seem remote or even ridiculous. The 19th-century playwright George Bernard Shaw is famous for his terrific satire and social advocacy, but he also was a major advocate of English-language "spelling reform" known as "ghoti." The philosopher Jeremy Bentham was the founder of modern utilitarianism, but when he died in 1832 he left arrangements to have his body preserved, dressed and placed sitting up in a glass case at University College London, where it (he?) is on display to this day.
Personally, I hold a number of opinions. I am quite confident in all of them; if I weren't, I would likely hold others. But it can be useful to remember that at least some of the stuff I feel is important - and I'd guess this applies to reformers of all stripes, progressive, conservative, populist or other - won't turn out to be so important. Or, put another way: Even if I'm right, some of what I'd like to change is probably never going to change.
Here's my guarantee to you, reader: No more editorials calling for a citywide conversation about a city administrator. If such a conversation breaks out spontaneously, then, sure, I'll cover it. But if not? Maybe, pushing 90 years on, it's time to try out some other ideas.