Tag Archives: Scott Walker

The Politics of Resentment

A Wisconsin friend recently sent me an article about a book written by a Professor at the University of Wisconsin. (I realize that the professorial status of the author automatically makes her a member of a suspect “elite” whose observations or theories are thus automatically to be rejected..)

Kathy Cramer’s journey to the center of the political landscape began with road trips to corners of Wisconsin many people only drive through — if they drive there at all.

It accelerated after Election Day, when those same places had a key role in making billionaire celebrity Donald Trump the 45th president.

Suddenly there were national implications to a theme Cramer explored for more than a decade: how Wisconsin’s rural-urban cultural divide affects its politics. Cramer, a UW-Madison political scientist, published a book in March: “The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.”

Cramer spent five years researching the book–research that revolved around extended discussions with rural Wisconsin voters. Although her research focused on Scott Walker, a number of commentators have drawn parallels between the resentment Cramer uncovered — and the way in which she says it was politicized — and Donald Trump’s  appeal to rural Midwesterners.

Cramer said the book she wrote was not quite what she set out to write.

In 2007, Cramer laid out maps of Wisconsin on her floor, looking for places to visit to conduct research. As a Grafton native, she already knew some of the terrain.

Cramer said she began the work with a guiding insight.

“I’ve found that the best way to study how people interpret politics is to listen to them talk with people they know in their own settings,” Cramer said.

Cramer’s initial plan was to explore issues around social class, but as she talked to people in rural Wisconsin, she discovered a deep resentment of “city dwellers,” who were seen as getting more attention from government, and looking down on rural residents.

“I never expected that a big driver for the way people were thinking about politics was their attitudes toward the cities,” Cramer said.

Into that environment, Cramer said, came Walker, elected governor in 2010. In early 2011 Walker proposed Act 10, a measure to curtail collective bargaining by public workers.

Cramer said Walker was able to tell rural voters: “I hear what you’re saying, and it’s time we step back government, because clearly it’s not working for you. And public employees pensions, health care, salaries are quite a bit higher than yours, many times, so I hear what you’re saying. Let’s pull that all back.”…

But how does rural resentment toward big-city elites explain those areas embracing a Manhattan billionaire?

Cramer’s explanation: Trump “validated their resentment.”

“The way I interpret his message is, ‘You are right to be pissed off. And you do deserve more. And what you deserve is going to these people who don’t deserve it.”

“Those people” is a familiar phrase to any member of a minority group, of course. The article doesn’t delve into the identification of minorities with “city dwellers,” and I haven’t read Cramer’s book to see whether she addresses that issue. But it was impossible to listen to Trump’s campaign rhetoric without understanding–quite clearly–who “those (undeserving) people” were.

Quid Pro Quo…

I’m certainly not surprised by the recent revelations about Scott Walker’s unethical fundraising. I’m just depressed by yet another confirmation of the sorry state of American politics and the increasing corruption of the political system. I don’t enjoy being suspicious and cynical, but it’s getting a lot harder to maintain my Pollyanna side.

For those who missed the recent reporting, here’s one lede from the Wisconsin State Journal:

A new batch of leaked documents provides the most complete record yet of how Gov. Scott Walker raised millions of dollars for a supposedly independent, tax-exempt group during the 2011 and 2012 recalls — activity that prompted a now-halted John Doe investigation into whether Walker’s recall campaign circumvented state campaign finance law.

The newly revealed donations to the Wisconsin Club for Growth included six-figure sums from a lead producer who later stood to benefit from changes slipped into the 2013-15 state budget.

In another article, expanding on the details of the “lead producer,” we read

One of the more tangible revelations found in the leaked documents is how money buys bad policy-making decisions. An example is how Harold Simmons, a man who owned a company that produced lead that used to be in paint, made $750,000 worth of donations to Walker in 2011 and 2012 and got Republicans to protect him from lawsuits.

The Guardian US posted more than 1,300 pages of documents online, detailing more of Walker’s corrupt behavior. It’s unclear how the newspaper got the documents, which were being held under seal.

These disclosures come just weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court will consider a petition by prosecutors to overturn a Wisconsin Supreme Court 4-2 decision that quashed the investigation into Walker’s practices. The prosecutors bringing the petition argue, among other things, that conservative justices Michael Gableman and David Prosser should have recused themselves from the case.

Walker, in a May 2011 letter to Republican strategist Karl Rove, wrote that his chief political adviser R.J. Johnson ran the efforts to elect Gableman in 2008 and re-elect Prosser in 2011. Johnson was under investigation for his role in coordinating advertising for both the Walker recall campaign and Wisconsin Club for Growth, which is organized as a tax-exempt 501(c)4 group.

“Club for Growth—Wisconsin was the key to retaining Justice Prosser,” Walker wrote to Rove.

Johnson affirmed the group’s role in a December 2010 email to Club for Growth director Eric O’Keefe, saying “Club is leading the coalition to maintain the court.”

In this case, “maintaining the court” evidently meant retaining judges who’d been bought and paid for. Engaging in such partisan activities is illegal for a tax-exempt 501(c)4 like the Club for Growth.

It’s bad enough when elected officials like Walker ignore the laws with impunity, but when quid pro quo politics infect the judicial process, it’s worse. The ability of citizens to rely upon the impartiality of jurists is a bulwark against inequality, corruption and tyranny.(And speaking of politics infecting the judiciary, when will the Senate discharge its constitutional duty to vote on the nomination of Merrick Garland??)

It’s all pretty sleazy.

Buying laws, neutering the courts….and we wonder why young people don’t trust “the system.”

Those “Laboratories of Democracy”

A friend from Madison, Wisconsin, often sends me articles from that city’s newspaper. The most recent one had this headline: “As Deficit Looms in Wisconsin, Minnesotans Fight Over How to Spend 1.9 Billion Surplus.”

I’ve written about Wisconsin and Minnesota before. Scott Walker and Mark Dayton were elected at the same time; Walker, as we all know, pursued GOP “austerity” policies–slashing money for state government and education in order to “return” money to taxpayers, while Dayton actually raised taxes and increased funding for education.

As I noted in a previous post,

Minnesota and Wisconsin share common roots: both were settled primarily by German and Northern European immigrants; both states engage heavily in farming; and, until recently, both shared a political culture of populist progressivism. So when their politics diverged (with the election of Republican Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Democrat Mark Dayton in Minnesota), it created a natural experiment.

What happens when you apply dramatically different economic policies in otherwise very similar states?

The Madison newspaper article provides us with an answer to that question.

While Wisconsin’s budget, enacted in July, sets the state up for a $210 million structural deficit, legislators across the Mississippi are arguing over how to spend a $1.9 billion surplus.

Of course, results inconsistent with ideology and/or the desires of campaign donors will be discounted and explained away by the true believers, because we live in a world where “reality” is what the most skillful and unscrupulous propagandists tell us it is….

Scott Walker Wants to Do for the US What He Did for (to?) Wisconsin

Well well…to the surprise of absolutely no one, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (aka Koch Brothers’ favorite errand boy) has squeezed into the GOP’s presidential campaign clown car.

Walker’s positions were summarized by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich:

1. On immigration, Walker says he’s changed his mind on a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants and no longer supports the idea. He’s expressed skepticism toward legal immigration as well.

2. On gay marriage, Walker is calling for a constitutional amendment allowing states to ban it.

3. On abortion rights, Walker is pushing for a 20-week ban in Wisconsin with no exceptions for rape or incest. (In 2014 he told voters his previous legislation left “the final decision to a woman and her doctor.”)

4. On “gun rights,” Walker is against any attempt to ban assault weapons or limit the ability of anyone to own a gun.

5. On labor unions, he is the GOP’s most virulent anti-labor candidate, having taken on teachers and other public employees and signing a “right-to-work” law. (He says his battles with labor leaders have prepared him to take on the Islamic State.)

6. He favors tax cuts over deficit reduction and public education. His most recent Wisconsin budget cuts taxes, requires steep cuts to education, and deepens the state deficit.

7. He has tried to weaken Wisconsin’s “open records” law by blocking press requests that have yielded some embarrassing finds in the past.

Reich omits Walker’s persistent attacks on higher education– his sneering dismissal of scholarly endeavors and his ongoing effort to make the University of Wisconsin focus upon  job-training to the exclusion of the life of the mind. (He also fails to mention the criminal investigations that have been triggered by charges of serious wrongdoing.)

So how has Wisconsin fared under the administration of this paragon of the far Right?

The Pew Charitable Trust recently reported that Wisconsin has had the largest decline of any state in the percentage of families considered “middle class,” or those earning between 67 and 200 percent of their state’s median income.

In 2000, 54.6 percent of Wisconsin families fell into the middle class category but that has fallen to 48.9 percent in 2013, according to U.S. Census figures compiled by Pew.

All other states showed some decline but none as great as Wisconsin’s 5.7 percent figure.

Wisconsin ranks dead last among the 50 states in terms of a shrinking middle class, with real median household incomes there falling 14.7 percent since 2000.

I assume he’ll run on his record….

Misunderstanding Tenure

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker seems to be engaged on a vendetta against higher education.

Walker has cited Wisconsin’s (very real) fiscal woes as justification for slashing  $250 million dollars from the University of Wisconsin’s budget; however, Time Magazine reports that he has proposed forking over that same amount– $250 million in taxpayer money– to help construct a new arena for the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, who have threatened to relocate if the city doesn’t build them a new home by 2017.

Walker previously tried to change the mission statement of the University from a search for truth to “meeting the state’s workforce needs.” He retreated after that effort created a firestorm within the state, but now he has launched an entirely gratuitous attack on tenure.

There is immense public misunderstanding of tenure. Tenure is not “job security,” as it is often portrayed; as Josh Marshall recently wrote at Talking Points Memo, 

Tenure is among other things in place to protect scholars from the patronage and political demands of the moment and incentivize independent scholarship free of ideological, market or political pressures. That is 100% true. And by and large it is a good system – especially when understood in the larger context of academic life.

Tenured professors are protected from dismissals based upon the expression of  unpopular viewpoints. We are not protected against dismissals for poor work performance. (My own school has a post-tenure review process that defines performance expectations and expressly permits sanctions–including termination–for continued failure to meet those expectations.)

In a very real sense, however, the actual operation of the tenure system is beside the point. As Marshall notes,

The crown jewel of the Wisconsin university system is the University of Wisconsin at Madison. It is one of the top research universities in the country and the world. With this move, you will basically kiss that jewel goodbye. To me this is the more salient reality than whether you think academic tenure is a good thing or not in itself.

If this happens, over time, the professors who can will leave. And as the top flight scholars and researchers depart, so will the reputation of the institution. So will graduate students who want to study with them, the best undergrads, money that flows to prestigious scholarship. Don’t get me wrong. Not in a day or a year or even several years. But it will. If you don’t get this, you don’t understand the economy and incentive structure of university life.

If Walker’s attacks on a storied academic institution are successful, the University will be hard pressed to “meet the workforce needs of the state,” let alone engage in a search for truth.