Scott Walker has had a pretty good run as of late. He’s made some new friends and wrong-footed the right enemies and became, in fairly short order, a leader among the pack of Republican politicians running for president. Perhaps even the leader.
Not bad for a mid-Western governor, whom none would call “charismatic.” And only four years after he faced a recall election in which he was a high value target in the cross hairs of organized labor. He won that election and then ran for reelection in the normal order of things two years later. He was, in effect, elected governor of Wisconsin – nobody’s idea of a red state – three times in four years.
So, what is it about Walker? What makes Gail Collins of the New York Times finger him as the villain behind teacher layoffs that occurred a year before he even took office? Or stimulates the Daily Beast, and others in that herd, to come braying after him for cutting appropriations to pay for the reporting of sex crimes by the state university? That story painted Walker as complacently enabling campus rape until it became clear (as it should have been long before the articles were published) that the funding cut was requested by the university itself. Seems the money was redundant, so Walker was simply minding the store. Making sure the public’s money was not being wasted by people who tend to make a habit of that. Doing, that is, what governors are paid to do.
The retractions of these stories came with visible reluctance and even a little pain. Those who published them had wanted badly for them to be true (thus the careless haste) and no doubt believed, in the fashion of the times, that they were “true” in the sense that they supported the preferred “narrative.”
Which is that Scott Walker is a very bad man. And not merely because he opposes the progressive agenda and would like to roll back its successes. Hell, all kinds of right wing pols want to do that. Or say they do, anyway. You shake a Republican tree and half-a-dozen of them fall to the ground, talking about repealing this and defunding that. But Scott Walker is unusual, maybe even unique, and recalls the old joke about the graduate student out doing sociological research on religion in the rural South. He comes upon an old son of the soil and after a bit of conversation to soften him up, says delicately, “I’m wondering, sir, since you are a religious man, if you believe in Baptism by immersion.”
The old fellow squints and spits and says. “Believe in it? Hell, sonny, I seen it done.”
When it comes to rolling back the progressive agenda, you see, Walker has actually done it. That’s what the recall election was about. His enemies, many of whom still bear the tread marks of his tires on their backs, know that he is not another hapless Republican who makes it his business to raise taxes to pay for the excesses of the other party and calls that good government. Instead of enabling bloated government, he takes it on.
Walker’s appeal, one suspects, is based on a sense among the demoralized citizenry that government at all levels lives high, doesn’t deliver, and fears no man. Washington is ludicrously prosperous. Six of the richest ten counties in the nation are clustered around the nation’s capitol and populated by people who are doing very well. As for doing good … not so much.
What the people out beyond the Beltway see is government that is both expensive and incompetent. Cheap and incompetent might be tolerable. Expensive and competent would be better. But expensive and incompetent … that becomes, eventually, insupportable.
One can read only so many stories about a Veterans Administration where senior officials phony the paperwork to cover the fact that patients are being denied care and then give themselves performance bonuses. Or about an IRS whose senior officials refuse to testify before Congressional committees, then “lose” this official’s e-mails in a “computer crash,” then slow walk the subsequent investigation. Or about the failure of a web site critical to a vast new undertaking that would, we were assured, transform the way health care is delivered and paid for in this country
The failures of government don’t seem to bother the people who are currently in charge of it. They have bigger fish to fry. They were elected on a pledge to somehow transcend the old red vs. blue stalemate and take us into a post-partisan era of good feeling and unity. But they long ago gave up on that and “pivoted” (as they would have it) to fundamentally transforming the country.