Scott Walker, Precipitating Factor

As I battled a hangover and tried to make sense of what happened Tuesday night, I started to worry less about Governor Deadeyes and more about what really might be happening here.I argued about this time last year that if the Dems were going to come for the king, they’d best not miss.

And boy, did we miss…

The numbers revealed that even with massive turnout and massive outrage about Walker’s tactics, the election was no different than it was in 2010. In fact, Tom Barrett lost by a wider percentage this time than he did last time.

The people “in the know” saw this coming. About three months ago, I found myself talking to a pretty sharp political reporter who told me that, unless Russ Feingold or Herb Kohl decided to run, Walker would win this thing pretty easily. On the plus side, he noted that Walker would probably lose in 2014.

The scary thought that wandered into my mind last night was this: What if Walker was just the precipitating factor for the anger and hatred Wisconsinites always had toward each other?

In chemistry, a precipitate is a solid that’s suspended in a liquid and can’t be seen until another variable is introduced. At that point, this precipitating factor interacts with the mixture and the solid becomes visible. The idea is that the solid was always there, but it took this new variable to get it to show itself.

Scott Walker is just one person, but he’s one of the more than 1.3 million people who decided that state workers were overpaid, unions shouldn’t get to bargain and that “the spoiled few” needed a spanking.

Those 1.3 million people interact with public employees every day. They see them painting lines on the streets, putting out fires, running state offices and teaching their children. They saw the John Doe investigation building steam. They saw number crunching of jobs that would make a three-card monte dealer blush.

Those 1.3 million said, “Fuck ‘em… Don’t care… And We’re standing with Walker.”

I’m not ascribing this sentiment to money (I still favor spending limits), the individuals running (although Tom Barrett’s next gubernatorial campaign should be run by theWashington Generals) or the general lying (anyone who can be persuaded by a political ad these days is probably too dumb to find a voting booth).

Unless you’re the Jewish son of a carpenter who can change water to wine, there’s no way you’re getting that many people on board for an idea they didn’t already have percolating in their heads.

It frightens me that the people back in my old neighborhood might have always resented my mom for her benefits and state salary.

It worries me that the parents who attended our city school’s carnival and open house with me might have been bitter toward the people who taught their kids.

It hurts me to think that friends and family who have shared barbecues, birthday parties and baptisms might have looked at me and seen a “have” when I was struggling with the same things they were.

Wisconsin has always prided itself as being a purple state, but I don’t think that’s a fair assessment any more. In my view, purple would indicate that we could think some Republican ideas on finances are fine, but some Democratic ideas on social protections are good too. Purple would mean that we could fluctuate between good arguments that make sense, regardless of who was making them.

In this election, polls indicated that 91 percent of the people voting made up their mind on this issue months ago (or longer). The contrasts between who was voting which way created sharp divides.

We weren’t a blended purple. We were oil and water. Shake us up as hard as you want, but we will eventually separate out along a clearly demarcated line.

Barrett and others have now made the mealy-mouthed call for healing, but can we really “unlearn” something like this about our fellow citizens? It’s like finding out your grandfather is a raging racist only after you bring a black friend home from college at Thanksgiving. Can you ever really look at him as the guy who took you fishing and used to find a quarter behind your ear after that?

Healing from a major wound almost always leaves a scar. That scar serves as a reminder of what happened to you.

When you see that scar, you remember who inflicted it upon you as well.

And then a different kind of hurt prevails.

12 thoughts on “Scott Walker, Precipitating Factor

  1. Remember that video of the woman taking her son in to get his voter’s ID, and how angry she was?
    Maybe everybody’s just looking for an excuse to be angry, instead of being neighbors.

  2. I do not see the current situation as a state as much as a process: we are in a spiral of hurt and anger, triggered by Gov. Walker’s divisive and opportunistic actions. I see the divide as an ideological invention, not a real or permanent condition.
    The time was ripe: For decades, right-wing demogogues have attacked the government as the problem. Their criticism has a kernal of truth, but is largely false– a front for their own political agenda. Business owners and private employees have suffered great economic pain during the past few years. The pain on the private front was real.
    The pain inflicted by Gov. Walker and his cohorts on public employees is also very real. But Gov. Walker and the right-wing demogogues easily portrayed the resulting outcry and protest as just one more example of privilege and entitlement.
    Everyone in Wisconsin needs to understand that public employees have made great sacrifices, and not just under Gov. Walker.
    Still, I believe that many who voted for Gov. Walker understand that he shares responsibility for the division among the people in our state. I believe that they understand that, as our governor, he must now lead us in a way that UNITES and STRENGTHENS our great state and ALL of its people. This means inclusive policies and SHARED sacrifice going forward. This means not just a balanced budget and jobs today, but also investment in Wisconsin’s future.

  3. I think it’s an even bigger problem and more widespread than Wisconsin, and it’s one our hostess has discussed a great deal:
    Our betters have convinced us that, rather than looking at nice things others have and thinking, “Why can’t I have those, too?”, we must think, “Why should they have that?”
    It’s the same strategy, minus race in only some cases, that got Jesse Helms elected to the Senate five times. And they use it because it works. It takes leaders with giant brass balls to channel that kind of latent resentment where it really belongs, and we’ve been woefully short of those at the national level since Robert Kennedy was killed.

  4. I think Blue team needs to have a better story to tell. The Red team says “things are going to hell and it’s ____’s fault, the no-good bastards”. There is no simple uplifting narrative from the left to compete with that (cough…at least not from Barrett). I got an email from Obama the other day saying “We got beat” and I assumed it was about Wisconsin. No, it was about fundraising and Mitt Romney. I don’t really get fired up and ready to go to have fucking dinner with Sarah Jessica Parker.
    It’s like in the movie ‘The Straight Story’. We are all little sticks but together we cannot be broken. Union means more than just labor group it means “more perfect union” which is another way of saying standing together happily with your neighbors. There hasn’t been a lot of that and every day it seems like less.

  5. You’re just figuring this out?
    I view Wisconsin now as being like Missouri before the Civil War. Or perhaps Kansas or Nebraska. The sooner you figure out that some of the people in the state are actually your enemies — and crazy to boot –, the earlier you can get prepared for what’s coming, and the more organized you can get with the people who are *not* your enemies.

  6. “Barrett and others have now made the mealy-mouthed call for healing, but can we really “unlearn” something like this about our fellow citizens?”
    Did the Unionists “unlearn” the fact that the Southern elite were crazy enough to start a war in defense of slavery? No. They destroyed the Southern elite.
    Did the National Assembly in France “unlearn” the fact that the King was incompetent and unwilling to do anything about the problems of the country, to the point of betraying the country by conspiring with foreign troops? No. They executed him.
    Learning the truth is good, even though it’s unpleasant.

  7. I agree with Lex, though if I can add my own .00000002 cents worth — I lived in Madison for a decade, and even though it was the State seat, I rarely thought about any of the people working in the various GEF buildings, I rarely thought about public school teachers, firefighters, police, or other public employees. And I don’t think a number of people I met who were/are probably Walker supporters give them much consideration either. Instead, they buy into the “we’re broke” propaganda (possibly because they’re barely above water financially) and react by trying to drag everyone down to their level…instead of asking why they’re broke in the richest country in recorded history…

  8. Thanks for these excellent series of reflections. Two comments.
    There’s an attitude (and it’s pervasive though by no means universal up here in Maine) that “I suffered, and so everybody should.” It reminds me of the old joke about the Russian peasant, to whom a genie appears and grants one wish. The peasant thinks for a moment, and then wishes his neighbor’s cow would die.
    The other story is about the Holocaust Museum in DC. I remember seeing some anti-Semetic newspaper propaganda: “The Jews have the best apartments!” And so people slaughter each other for reasons of that scale.
    Horrible stressors in both cases, of course. But our elites seem determined to ratchet up the social stress, and that really contributes to the “everyone for themselves” attitude, on top of the Randroid propaganda.

  9. > our elites seem determined to ratchet up the social stress,
    > and that really contributes to the “everyone for themselves”
    > attitude
    Yup. I think the partial solution is deep solidarity. I mean, why shouldn’t everybody get the same perks as the government workers? And the good union jobs? Why should anybody be suffering any more than anybody else from the ratcheting up of the social stress?
    Deep solidarity is a hard row to hoe. But I think it is the only one that will work.
    P.S. I love first-draft articles…

  10. It ain’t that union workers are getting paid too much, it’s that others are getting paid too little… I’ve never seen a union leader, except Walter Reuther and my Teamster local BA, or any Democrats except Humphery, Gene McCarthy and Fred Harris go after the moneyed scum and called ’em out for what they are… it’s as if the Dems are all too scared of the Rethuglicans to really stand up to them… if the Dems always fall on the goddamn fainting couch every time the Repubs say Boo we’ll never turn this around.

  11. “[A]nyone who can be persuaded by a political ad these days is probably too dumb to find a voting booth.” Would that were true.
    What does that say about the boxcar-loads of money that will be spent on the campaigns this year? Each candidate will probably get about 50 million votes, and those votes will likely cost each candidate a billion dollars. Of course, those TV ads aren’t being directed at you or me, but rather at numbskulls who apparently can’t decide between the guy who’ll destroy their Social Security and the guy who won’t–I guess they can’t tell the difference.
    Yay, America!

  12. Before you get too worked up, you might want to see these:
    Did Walker win? Maybe yes, maybe no. Those that know better aren’t talking
    What is the purpose of an exit poll? Was this data abused to mislead?
    Given that the outcomes are totally unverifiable and the exit polls (which the US uses to monitor integrity in other nations) were WAY OFF and were “adjusted” no CORRUPTED to match the black box vote tabulations, there are actually larger issues here about free, open, and verifiable elections.
    You write good things – all legit points and stated with passion.
    But I still don’t understand why anyone on our side uncritically accepts unverified numbers that seem to always skew repug now.

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