Monthly Archives: May 2012

Idol Worship and Scott Walker: Signs of the Times

Out on the Les Paul Highway in Waukesha County, there are twin signs on a hillside in front of a business, announcing “Stand With Scott Walker – For Fiscal Responsibility.” That is an odd sentiment, because there is not, and never has been, anything fiscally responsible about Scott Walker. He may feed a hunger for fiscal responsibility, but he doesn’t practice it. During his eight years as Milwaukee County Executive, he deferred essential expenditures indefinitely into the future, but he never made any really hard choices. He wrapped himself in the mantle of keeping taxes down, by the simple expedient of shoving real costs forward, so that some hapless successor would have to raise taxes sharply. He gutted the county psychiatric hospital, inducing rampant security problems, including repeated instances of female patients being raped. If Walker maintained his home like he maintained Milwaukee County, his neighbors would have been calling building inspectors and reporting him as a public nuisance. At the state level, he cut support for education while spending more money on highways, under cover of a “budget repair bill” that cut neither taxes nor spending, just moved the burden around.

On South Howell Avenue in Oak Creek, is an even stranger sign: “Scott Walker for Sportsmen: Our Outdoor Heritage Matters.” Indeed it does. But when in his entire political career has Walker ever done anything to preserve our outdoor heritage? Walker let Milwaukee County’s award winning park system deteriorate for eight years, while trying to sell them off to private developers. Fortunately the County Board of Supervisors lived up to their name, by keeping him under tight supervision. As governor, Walker has rammed through legislation destroying the nonpartisan independence of the state Department of Natural Resources – putting it under the thumb of his august self.

If Walker is re-elected, it will be due to three factors: 1) The Democratic Party leadership was clueless enough to push Tom Barrett forward for another chance to lose to Walker, 2) Walker is able to project an aura and language that have nothing to do with his performance in office, tapping into what voters want, without the necessity to even pretend to deliver it, and 3) millions of dollars to perform the semantic miracle of projecting himself as a champion of fiscal responsibility and concern for our outdoor heritage. It could be 1984 all over again.

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Democratic Party leadership has learned nothing from 2010

When a party suffers a substantial defeat at the polls, one might expect it to re-examine the candidates it offers voters, and the program it commits to. But it usually does not. Hubris runs high among both Democrats and Republicans. In 2010, Republican House leader John Boehner said his party would go right back to what it was doing before its shellacking at the polls in 2006. When spontaneous citizen action offered the unparalleled opportunity to recall and replace Governor Scott Walker, surprised Democratic Party big-wigs began touting that the strongest candidate to challenge Walker would be TomĀ Barrett – the Milwaukee mayor who inspired voters so well in 2010 that Walker was elected running against him.

Say what? The way to win a recall is to re-run a loser? Dave Obey said so. Obey had the good sense to know it was time to quite in 2010, but having withdrawn from politics, he suddenly appointed himself the expert on how to unseat Walker when citizens rebelled against the new governor’s utter duplicity in office. Barrett may not have really wanted to run at all. It was pathetically obvious he didn’t, in 2010. Senior party leadership poured into his ears the facile assumption that only he could lead them to victory. He had long lists of big-name endorsements. What he lacks is an inspiring new program to offer the tiny fraction of voters who decide elections: those who are genuinely uncommitted and want a good reason to vote for one candidate or the other.

At this point, Barrett is the nominee runningĀ against Walker. Those who are committed to recalling the incumbent have no choice but to vote for Barrett. Many will, even if they have to hold their noses to do so. But will enough voters do so to turn Walker’s 52 percent victory in 2010 into a 49 percent loss in 2012? Barrett is spouting little except pious platitudes. Voter turnout in 2010 was low. It may be higher in the recall. Recalling Walker may depend upon bringing voters to the polls who sat out 2010, asking “How can I choose between two people I don’t trust? Has Walker’s performance been frightening enough to answer that question? Or has Barrett’s name on the ballot reinforced that cynicism?

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