(with apologies to Washington Irving)
Half way between Madison and Milwaukee, among the lakes that sustain high property values in eastern Waukesha County, there is a deep inlet running several miles into the interior of a lonely, unsettled stretch of scrub forest. On one side of this inlet is a classy subdivision of McMansions. Wherever real estate developers have been at work, one stumbles upon such estates in the midst of abandoned wilderness. It is as if a large but gentle tornado had picked up a bit of suburban sprawl near a big city, and dropped it without damage in the middle of nowhere.
On the other side, the land rises abruptly from the water’s edge to a shopping mall, anchored by an exclusive investment bank. In the vaults of this bank, according to not-so-old stories, there was a great amount of treasure deposited by Koch the pirate. The bank’s private status allowed a facility to bring the money secretly and at night, to be held until a good opportunity appeared to buy a controlling interest in any level of government.
About the year 2002, just at the time that earthquakes and pension scandals were shaking county governments, shaking many executives and supervisors down to their knees, there travelled the road from Madison to Milwaukee a meager, miserly, ruthless fellow, of the name of Scott Walker. He had a wife deeply devoted to him, and whatever one might think of her judgement, none could fault her tender loyalty. Each day of their married life, whatever his station, high or low, she fixed a lunch for him and wrapped it up in a plain brown paper bag. He was not above using these lunches as cover for his own deep machinations.
One day that Scott Walker had been making deals in Madison, as was his wont, he took what he considered a short cut homeward. Like most short cuts, it was an ill chosen route. Scott had long been picking his way cautiously through a particularly treacherous brand of politics; stepping from one convenient sound byte to another, affording precarious footholds among deep pits of mendacity, or pacing carefully, like a cat, along the prostrate trunks of fallen colleagues.
It was late in the dusk of evening when Scott Walker reached the investment bank, so he pulled in to get his bearings and take a breather. Anyone but he would have been unwilling to linger in this lonely, melancholy place. The common people had a bad opinion of it, from the stories handed down from the time of the Great Depression, when it was asserted that financiers had blown great bubbles that put one of every three men out of work.
Scott Walker, however, was not a man to be troubled with any fears of the kind. He consorted with radio talk show hosts, who assured all who would listen that the bankers had nothing to do with it, it was the Democrats who had caused the Depression, and would bring on another if given the chance. The sainted Hoover, they averred, would have saved the nation from all the horrors of unemployment if he had been given the chance to do so. Walker could, with a straight face, put the label “job creation” on any measure he favored, and “job killing” on any law that might protect ordinary citizens, without affording fat profit to his own contributors.
Walker reposed himself for some time on a great log laid out in a carefully landscaped border around the parking lot. He dug with an ornate walking staff into a mound of black mold at his feet. As he turned up the soil unconsciously, his staff struck against something hard. He raked it out of the vegetable mold, and lo! a cloven skull lay before him. The deep stains on the bone showed the time that had elapsed since death had struck. It was a dreary momento of the fierce struggle to prevent foreclosure of family farms decades ago.
“Humph!” said Scott Walker, as he gave it a kick to shake the dirt from it.
“Let that skull alone!” said a gruff voice. Tom lifted up his eyes and beheld a great man, with his face white as a sheet, wrapped in a black formal evening suit, sitting in a little gazebo at a corner of the parking lot, near a small but ornate rear door to the bank. Scott was exceedingly surprised, having neither heard nor seen any one approach. Although formally attired, the stranger’s pale face was dingy and begrimed with soot, as if he had been accustomed to toil among fires and forges. He scowled at Scott for a moment with a pair of great red eyes.
“What are you doing on my grounds?” said the man in tails, with a hoarse growling voice.
“And pray, who are you, if I may be so bold?” said Tom.
“Oh, I go by various names. I am known as Mammon or Moloch, as Lord of the Flies and Master of the Stock Exchange. I am the Great Patron of Five Year Plans and The Unbridled Free Market. I amuse myself by presiding at the poisoning of babies by mercury pollution in the name of commerce. I am the great patron and prompter of slave-dealers and union-busters, and the grand-master of the Gospel of Prosperity.”
“The upshot of all which is that, if I mistake not,” said Scott sturdily, “you are he commonly called Old Scratch.”
“The same, at your service!” replied the white man, with a half civil nod.
Such was the opening of this interview, according to the old story; though it has almost too familiar an air to be credited. One would think that to meet with such a singular personage, in this wild, lonely place, would have shaken any man’s nerves’ but Scott was a hard-minded fellow, not easily daunted, and he had labored so long with Panzer, Schulz, Fitzgerald, Gottlieb, Kleefisch and Grobschmidt, that he did not even fear the devil.
It is said that after this commencement they had a long and earnest conversation together, before Scott returned homeward. The grimy man told him of great sums of money buried by Koch the pirate, in the vaults of the investment bank. All these were under his command, and protected by his power, so that none could find them but such as propitiated his favor. These he offered to place within Scott Walker’s reach, having conceived an especial kindness for him; but they were to be had only on certain conditions.
There was one condition which need not be mentioned, being generally understood in all cases where the devil grants favors; but there were others about which, though of less eternal implication, he was inflexibly obstinate. He insisted that the money found through his means should be employed in his service.
There was no slave trade to set Scott up in, and usurers, although looked upon by the devil as his peculiar people, were literally a dime a dozen, none more being needed. But Scott said if he had eight years as Milwaukee County Executive, and eight more as Governor of Wisconsin, he would leave such a trail of broken hopes, broken families, poverty and destitution as would leave a million souls ready to sign a contract with the devil for a loaf of bread.
Old Scratch was delighted at the thought of a such a vile creature winning county-wide office in Milwaukee. The devil was as good as his word. Scott Walker found an opening in a pension scandal, got himself elected Milwaukee County Executive, and as one of his first acts in office, tried to renegotiate the medical coverage for bus drivers and mechanics. Its not that bus drivers and mechanics caused the scandal, voted for the pension payoffs, or benefitted… but the scandal was an opening, slashing medical benefits was Scott Walker’s pride and joy.
There wasn’t much to be done about the pensions excepts borrow money at interest, invest it hoping for a higher pay off, and keep paying what was owed. That is what the investment bankers advised. There were fat fees in it for them. Scott always tried to oblige them, not because he expected a cut for his personal fortune, but because he counted on favors returned to finance his election campaigns.
The only problem was that Scott was supervised by a county board, and Old Scratch couldn’t muster more than a third of them to sustain Scott Walker’s vetoes. He tried to scrap the bus system, but they wouldn’t let him. He tried to sell off the parks to private developers, but they wouldn’t let him. He tried to crush every union representing county workers, but the supervisors wouldn’t let him. About all he could do was to derail a plan to get buses and parks off the property tax; he kept taxes high, while speaking proudly of how he was fighting to reduce them.
As Scott waxed old, however, he grew thoughtful. Having secured positions of power in this world, and a good hold on the next rung up the ladder, he began to feel anxious about those of the next. He thought with regret on the bargain he had made with his friend in the black suit, and set his wits to work to cheat him out of the conditions.
He became, therefore, all of a sudden, a violent church-goer. He prayed loudly and strenuously, as if heaven were to be taken by force of lungs. Indeed, one might always tell when he had sinned most during the week, by the clamor of his Sunday devotion. The quiet Christians who had been modestly and steadfastly travelling Zionward, were struck with self-reproach at seeing themselves so suddenly outstripped in their career by the new-made convert.
Impatient to get all he was due under the bargain, he tried to run for governor in 2006, but it looked like a losing year after all. He let a man from Green Bay take the fall. Four years later, to give the devil his due, it was all set up for Scott. The fumbling, unpopular James Doyle retired. By the time he left the governor’s office, it was hard to know who would do more to destroy buses and trains, Doyle or Walker. Scott’s enemies, beguiled by the idol of “name recognition,” nominated a time-worn office holder with neither great sins nor great merit to run against him. But to make things sure, Scott found a woman of his own character to run for lieutenant governor on his ticket.
Scott’s running mate was a tall termagent, fierce of temper, loud of tongue, and strong of arm. Her voice was often heard in wordy warfare that embarrassed the Prince of Peace as often as it evoked his name. She loved her mini-van, and loudly denounced anyone who relied on buses to get to work. Scott was not prone to let anyone into his confidence, but as his was an uneasy secret, he willingly shared it with her. All her avarice was awakened at the mention of the hidden gold, and the prospect of political power it could buy. But even while she accepted his bargain with Old Scratch, her voice rose even louder than Scott’s own in fervent public prayers, which she hoped would be noticed and admired.
Anyone who might have gotten in Scott’s way fled in fear, or tripped over their own feet. Thus, Scott was the universal friend of the needy, promising 250,000 new jobs, without saying where he was going to find them. Everyone remembers Governor Walker’s time, when money was particularly scarce. The country had been deluged with shaky derivatives and dubious financial instruments; there had been a rage for speculating; the bankers had run mad with schemes for making new money out of thin air. In a word, the great speculating fever which breaks out every now and then in the country had raged to an alarming degree, and every body was dreaming of making sudden fortunes from nothing. As usual, the fever had subsided; the dream had gone off, and the imaginary fortunes with it. Homeowners were left in doleful plight, while mortgage holders transferred all remaining real wealth to their own accounts.
At this propitious time of public distress did Scott Walker set up in the governor’s office in the Capitol. Scott was the universal friend of the balanced budget, and he acted like a “friend in need.” That is to say, he always extracted money from those in need, and made a present of it to his wealthiest backers. He squeezed his constituents closer and closer, as jobs were lost, paychecks cut, and schools closed or shrunk; and sent them at length dry as a sponge from his door. In this way he became a hero upon the stock exchange, and his name was exalted on Fox News.
Scott was as rigid in religious as in money matters; he was a stern supervisor and censurer of his neighbors, and seemed to think every sin entered up to their account became a credit on his own side of the page. When he wasn’t cancelling railroads, closing bus routes, and giving short shrift to education, he proposed laws to defend marriage from dangers nobody had even thought of. He even talked of the expediency of reviving the persecution of Quakers and Anabaptists, both suspected of liberalism. In a word, Scott’s zeal became as notorious as his political base.
Still, in spite of all this strenuous attention to forms, Scott had a lurking dread that the devil, after all, would have his due. That he might not be taken unawares, therefore, it is said he always carried a small Bible in his coat-pocket. He had also a great folio Bible on his governator’s desk, and would frequently be found reading it when there were TV cameras around to pick up a video byte. When the cameras moved on, he would lay his green spectacles in the book to mark the place, while he notified his legislature of the next decree they were to approve.
Scott no longer had to worry about supervision – he was dealing with a legislature, not a county board. They spent all day kneeling in the dust at his feet, chanting praise and adoration, approving whatever he asked for. The Capitol was surrounded by angry protests, but that could have been just fine. Nothing tickled the cockles of Scott Walker’s heart like seeing tearful mothers and children out in the freezing cold, telling him to stop when they couldn’t make him stop.
But then, despite the devil’s best efforts to prevent it, the hard-pressed people discovered that they could recall Scott Walker. All they had to do was get one quarter of the number of people who had voted in the last election to sign recall petitions. Nobody had ever done that before, but even people beguiled into voting for him were ready to sign. He hired lawyers and tried to tie them up in four years of litigation, all to no avail. Recalled, he would be of no great use to Old Scratch.
One early spring afternoon, Scott sat in the governor’s office in the Capitol. He had destroyed not only unions, but the jobs of thousands who weren’t even union members. He was on the point of foreclosing any citizen presence in the Capitol. Having ruined families for whom he had professed the greatest friendship, Scott had grown testy and irritable.
“Charity begins at home” said Scott. “I must take care of myself in these hard times.” Just then there were three loud knocks at his office door. He stepped out to see who was there. A man in black evening dress was holding a black horse, which neighed and stamped with impatience.
“Scott, you’re come for,” said the man in tails gruffly. Scott shrunk back, but too late. He had left his little Bible at the bottom of his coat-pocket, and his big Bible on the desk buried under the legislation he was about to propose: never was sinner taken more unawares. The man whisked him like a child into the saddle, gave the horse the lash, and away he galloped, with Scott on his back, in the midst of a thunderstorm.
The clerks in the Capitol stuck their pens behind their ears, and stared after him from the windows. The good people of Wisconsin shook their heads and shrugged their shoulders; but had been so much accustomed to witches and goblins, and tricks of the devil in all kinds of bills and statutes from the first day of the “Budget Repair” special legislative session, that they were not so much horror-struck as might have been expected. On searching his campaign coffers, all the money from Koch the pirate’s treasure had turned to chips and shavings.
Such was the end of Scott Walker and his ill-gotten administration. Let all deceitful politicians lay this story to heart. The truth of it is not to be doubted. The very investment bank where he met his match in pure evil is standing to this day, and the parking lot is often haunted on stormy nights by a little man with a hard, flat, expressionless face, in a business suit on horseback, which is, doubtless, the troubled spirit of the ex-governor. In fact, the story has resolved itself in a proverb, and is the origin of that popular saying, so prevalent throughout the Midwest, of “The Devil and Scott Walker.”