Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Chief's 2011 People of the Year: The Wisconsin Republican Rogue's Gallery

During one of his more memorable stand-up acts, Bill Cosby told his audience the words his father told him when the comedian was just seven years old: "You know, I brought you in this world, and I can take you out."

Those words should be etched in stone above the entrance to the Wisconsin Republican Party headquarters.

As everyone knows, the Grand Ole Party was given life right here in a tiny, white school house in bucolic Ripon, Wisconsin. It is now currently run by individuals who seem hell-bent on destroying that party. Many of these Wisconsin Republicans hold powerful positions within the national party and the ones who don't seem to personify some of the worst traits of the 21st Century GOP.

These folks are The Chief's 2011 People of the Year.

* * *
Scott Walker

With the state of Wisconsin as polarized as it is, it seemed something of a miracle that Walker came into office with most of the levers of government firmly controlled by Republican hand. Both house of the legislature had comfortable GOP majorities, the Supreme Court tilts conservative, the Attorney General is a Republican, etc. Despite few obstacles standing in the way of his agenda, Walker arrogantly pulled a bait and switch that cost him a compliant state Senate and may soon cost him job in a few months. His administration has acted like little more than a PR machine that has no interest in actual governing.

For those of us that have followed Walker's career, this comes as no surprise. Walker has never been about getting results, but has always been about the making moves necessary to move to the next job. His supposed emphasis on jobs is floundering behind negative job grow during his administration; a Department of Workforce Development now on its third Secretary in ten months; not one, but two, emergency legislative sessions designed to focus on job creation that instead revolved around pushing through the conservative social agenda, an ultimately embarrassing spat with the state of Illinois.

And all of this while being under investigation for abusing his previous office and possibly breaking campaign finance laws during his campaign for the governor's mansion.

But Walker's really contributions to posterity will live on in two ways, one nationally, the other here in Wisconsin. Locally, Scott Walker is the architect of the single most polarized and vitriolic political period in living memory. In an environment this toxic most leaders would have at least made small public efforts to mend fences, if for no other reason than to appear to be the bigger man. Not Scott Walker, who has continued to poison the well with nearly act. It's clearly an intentional strategy designed to provoke the opposition into doing something stupid (thus winning his side sympathy from independents) and to keep his base in a constant state of alert.

Nationally, Walker's war against public unions may cost the GOP the White House. When Walker's attempt to gut public unions was attempted in Ohio, a key swing state, the plan was rebuked in a referendum and galvanized labor just in time for campaign season. If Ohio stays blue, the commentariat will look back and point fingers at Walker, justifiably or not. One can even make the case that Walker is the father of the "Occupy" movement.

Scott Walker has been running for Governor of Wisconsin all of his life. The most hard core conservatives in the state began rallying around him as long a eight years before he won the office. Just about every Republican in the state, save only a handful, made a loud public display of support for Walker earlier this year and it's all but certain that those displays are going to come back to haunt them in the future. If Walker is recalled, it won't just be a rebuke against his agenda, but he will have poisoned the Republican well for the next decade.

Justice David Proesser

Normally Supreme Court races are slam dunks for incumbents, but Prosser decided to shake things up a bit by creating a perfect storm that almost changed the entire slant of the court. While the state was still in an uproar over Scott Walker's efforts to neuter public unions, Prosser ran an incompetent re-election campaign in which it was revealed he called Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson "bitch" then threatened to destroy her late in 2009. A hot head dating back to his days as the speaker of the state assembly, Prosser actually sad the following when asked about the incident by the MJS:
"In the context of this, I said, 'You are a total bitch,' " Prosser said.
No, no, no: you got it all wrong! I didn't call her a "bitch," I called her a "total bitch"!

This was on top of having openly admitting to participating in the Caucus Scandal, from which he received immunity. It's no wonder he narrowly ekked out a victory after a contentious recount (see below).

But was most astonishing was Prosser's behavior when he resumed his office following the election when he was accused of chocking Justice Ann Bradley. The accusation led a local Madison reporter to file this single most stunning interview I've ever seen on local Wisconsin TV:

It's also the most awkward elevator ride in the history of the state.

Today the Wisconsin Supreme Court is so dysfunctional that it's legitimacy is in serious question and Prosser is largely the reason.

Paul Ryan

Forget being named "policy-maker of the year" or one of "100 global thinkers" -- Ryan is proof that in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king.

Paul Ryan's cult in the GOP is largely the result of being the only Republican who is not a frothing-at-the-mouth anti-intellectual, but Ryan is little more than a supply side ideological apologist: he starts with the solution (tax cuts) and works backwards from their until the problem (the budget deficit) has been solved, even if that means creating fantastical hypothetical world in which only his solution can exist (grossly exaggerated revenue streams). This is not how effective policy is made.

Ryan's budget and proposal to scrap Medicare in exchange for weak voucher program are just the kind of ideas that win praise from Beltway commentators for being "bold" and "outside the box" thinking, but they're also the kinds of policies that cause voter revolts once the details of are fully explained. Ryan may think his plan balances the budget -- 75 years from now! -- but even if the plan is graded solely on it's ability to level the nation's balance sheets it's a disaster that created a larger deficit of potentially $62 trillion by 2080, and all while gutting the social safety net.

We've discussed Ryan's intellectual dishonesty ad nauseum at this blog. We've noted how his rhetoric runs completely contrary to his voting record, so instead of rehashing old arguments, let's just point out the most recent example.

Before Congress left for Thanksgiving the House voted on a Blanaced Budget Amdentment to the Constitution, something Paul Ryan has been adamant in supporting over the years. The Amendment had little chance of passing , but Ryan was still one of only four Republicans who voted against it. Why? I'll let him explain:
“I’m concerned that this version will lead to a much bigger government fueled by more taxes." said Paul Ryan in a statement to the Washington Examiner, "Spending is the problem, yet this version of the Balanced Budget Amendment makes it more likely taxes will be raised, government will grow, and economic freedom will be diminished. Without a limit on government spending, I cannot support this Amendment.”
That's fine and we can even sympathize with the sentiment, but given Ryan's stature as the most "serious" member of the Republican caucus in the House and that his pet issue is the budget, how in God's name did a Balanced Budget Amendment get to a full floor vote without him approving the language of the bill? It is just another example of how Republicans are far more content to talk about the issues than they are about actually doing anything about them.

Ryan is the only Republican proposing new policies these days. The only one. The rest of actual Republican policy is constructed in "think tanks" that are rapidly devolving into PR machines for donors. Ryan's policies are really no different: it's a pseudo-intellectual sheen on a extremist ideology.

Mark Block

Block was given something that most people in politics only dream of: national attention. It's hard enough being a well-qualified candidate with stellar credentials running for President (just as John Huntsman), but Block helmed a campaign built around his candidate's promise to surround himself with the best and the brightest and then promptly became Exhibit A among the evidence that Herman Cain couldn't identify talent if it fell on him from the sky.

Here's Jonathan Martin's assessment of the campaign:
Herman Cain is in the midst of “reassessing” whether to continue his 2012 bid, but its legacy is already settled: His campaign will go down as one of the most hapless and bumbling operations in modern presidential politics, setting a new standard for how to turn damaging press coverage into something far worse.
The botched responses to allegations of marital infidelity, sexual impropriety and his own gaffes — not to mention the puzzling strategic decisions — have, in the eyes of many veteran strategists, reached record levels of ineptitude.
Perhaps the nadir of Block's time in the national spotlight was when he outright lied about a reporter being a relative of a woman accusing Cain of harassment.

But don't think this is going to turn the Herman Cain Experience into an object lesson in how not to run a Presidential campaign. Cain did manage to break away from the pack based on what Republican flavor-of-the-month voters largely based on on perceived charm, outsider status and a marketing gimmick wrapped in the trappings of actual policy (the "9-9-9 Plan"). Don't be surprised if future GOP fields are cluttered with charlatans looking to sell books or get their own late light talk show on FOX following that same formula. Right behind them will be hack campaign managers more interested in selling themselves than their candidates that owe a debt of gratitude to Mark Block for blazing that trail.

Reince Priebus

Largely quiet for most of this year, Priebus (the white one above) kicked off 2011 with one of the more shameless acts of backstabbing when he ran against then-RNC chairman Michael Steele, the very man whose campaign he managed two years earlier ... and who was a close adviser for much of Steele's term. Granted, Steele's tenure was something of a disaster, but instead of that reflecting of Priebus' judgment among his peers at the RNC, it won him his boss' job. Go figure.

Priebus has spent much of the year trying to rebuild the RNC coffers, with varying degrees of success, which is not saying much given the fundraising revolt caused by Steele. This year, Priebus may have to preside over a party with a Presidential nominee no one likes or, in the worst case, a brokered convention. For as unlikely as the latter possibility is, the former could further lead to the ongoing radicalization of the party as donors look to outside organizations to speak for them.

Ron Johnson

In Johnson's first year in office he's done little to disprove he's anything more than an empty suit. The only piece of legislation he has authored is an embarrassing work of bush league policy masquerading as policy. He's barely made any public appearances (the only two -- that's right, two -- that we know of were at tea parties sponsored by AFP) and the only time he bothered to sit down with a newspaper's editorial board was shortly after hiring a member of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's editorial board to his staff (if memory serves us correctly).

When he has stuck his neck out, usually in the form of the periodic op-ed piece, Johnson has shilled for the deregulating the banking system. Johnson has completely bought into what Barry Ritholz calls "the Big Lie," the absurd premise that the financial crisis was caused by a bill designed to curb relining in urban areas in the 1990s, largely because his blind faith in the so-called Objectivism of Ayn Rand tells him that it's always government's fault. In other words, Johnson has made clear that he has no interest in facts and that he will legislate on ideology alone.

Not that he's alone. To his credit, Johnson seems to understand that he's not a policy wonk and has kept his authorship of bill to a minimum. The flip side of that coin is that Johnson still needed to find a way to remain relevant in the Senate and he discovered that way in being a political player and running for the vice chairmanship of the Senate Republican Caucus, the third most powerful position in the party in that chamber.

So much for being a "citizen legislator." Johnson's opinion pieces and moves in Washington have revealed that he's more interested in power than in solutions.

Kathy Nicholaus

The poster woman for Republican bureaucratic incompetence that borderlines on corruption, Nichalaus is Wisocnsin's Michael "Brownie" Brown. After monumentally fucking up a contentious Supreme Court race in April, Nicholaus did little to resotre confidence in her ability to carry out her duty during the Alberta Darling recall election later in 2011 when, once again, Waukesha County's ballots were the last to be certified. Although she couldn't have been guilty of ballot tampering, it should as hell looked sketchy and for a party that's spent the last decade waging a jihad against the imaginary scourge of voter fraud, one would imagine they would be more sensitive to the mere appearance of wrong-doing. Not so much, it turns out. The fact that she was almost incapable of initially explaining her inability to account for all the ballots on election night was dumbfounding.

Nicholaus also demonstrates that competence pales in importance to ideological purity. Despite being admonished for using shoddy methods in the past, Nicholaus' connections and track record as a team player proved to be enough for Republican stalwarts to back her, even though she would have been canned for similar incompetence in the private sector, a well worn argument among the GOP. 

Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald started the year as the man with the job of shepherding Scott Walker's agenda through the legislature. He made arguably the single biggest tactical error in state legislative history when he tried to ram Walker's union-busting while being one vote short of the qourum needed to bring the bill to a vote. Fitzgerald, by then clearly acting on the instructions of the Governor, compounded his mistake with a series of heavy-handed tactics that made a bad situation worse.

When the union-busting business had been settled, Walker again looked to Fitzgerald to pass jobs creation legislation during two special sessions supposedly devoted to that activity, neither of which produced anything close to legislation that could be called significant jobs-producing laws.

Since two senate seats flipped following the recalls in August, Fitzgerald has appeared as quiet as his seems clueless about what to do with the new political reality in his chamber. That should come as little surprise given how servile he appeared during the craziness of last spring.

Also, appointing Fitzgerald's father to be the head of the state patrol did little to help the GOP's advancement of a meritocractic world.

Jim Sensenbrenner

This is probably something of a lifetime achievement award since Old Sensenbrenner is on the downhill run of his career, but it's worth pointing out his two most notable contributions to public life in America during his over thirty years in Congress.

The first was his role in Bill Clinton's impeachment, for which he was a "manager" largely because of his position on the House Judiciary committee.

But it's Sensenbrenner's legacy as one of the chief architects of the GOP draconian immigration tendencies that will have the most lasting effect on the party. Sensenbrenner's anti-immigrant crusade may have won him applause from the right wing base -- it did win him the Human Events magazine Man of the Year award in 2006 -- but it negated all the work the outreach work the GOP had previously done to the Latino community and brought out the worst nativist tendencies in the party which, five years on, shows no sign of relenting. Given the demographic shift expected to take place in the next generation, this could have a devastating effect on the GOP in the long run.

As proof of that, Sensenbrenner's bill inspired the single largest series of mass demonstrations in this country in decades. 500,000 people marched in Los Angeles alone. Their numbers dwarfed anything put together by either the Tea Party or the Occupy folks and the protests went on for weeks.

Think of it this way: In 2008 John McCain won Texas with 4.5 million votes to Barack Obama's 3.5 million. That may seem like a huge gap, but it gets a lot smaller when you consider that there are over 2 million Latinos who are eligible to vote in Texas, but just aren't registered. Latinos already make up 33% of the voters in the state where they already compose a larger voting bloc than in California. Between 2000-2009, Latinos represented 63% of the population growth in Texas. By the end of this decade, the will be as many Latinos as Anglos in Texas:
That means that Texas, the quintessential Red State during the last decade will probably be a Blue State by 2030, if not sooner. That development will severely impair the GOP's electoral math.

Sean Duffy

The first reality TV star to be elected is damn near close to the epitome of style over substance. Watch Duffy during the first few seconds of any time he speaks on the floor or does an interview on television: a strange smile emerges emerges from his mouth that might look strikingly familiar to anyone who has lived with loved ones suffering from substance abuse issues. It's almost as if Duffy gets his fix by getting in front of a camera.

To be fair, there's little that can be expected from a freshman member of the House, but consistency is not too much to ask for. In October Duffy sponsored a "jobs fair" of the kind that he had previously voted to defund earlier in the year. No one's ever accused Duffy of being a mental sequoia and now we know why: he far more comfortable being seen than heard.

* * *
We haven't even gotten to the perennial asshats like Glenn Grothman and Frank Lasee or the flock of freshman tea partiers now roaming the halls of the Capitol in Madison.

If any Republican readers have made it this far, I'm sure they're saying to themselves Yeah, but elections have consequences! This is precisely the problem. This is a leadership cadre that is hellbent on petrifying the GOP to the point of inflexibility. They can get away with it here in Wisconsin, where the polarized political environment and the demographics are not likely to change for the foreseeable future, but this isn't the case elsewhere.

During his time as Governor, Tommy Thompson changed welfare in the state, created Badgercare and  promoted mass transit and Amtrak. In the 1980s Lee Dreyfus signed the first bill banning housing discrimination against gays. In the 1970s William Steiger was instrumental in the creation of OSHA.

It's disappointing to look back and see how the last generation of Republicans had almost no influence on the current one, which seems to have been glued to talk radio and FOX in lieu of any sort of real apprenticeship with party elders. This can't bode well for the next generation of Republicans. If this crew is their leadership model the situation in Wisconsin, and likely nationally, will only get worse.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post, and spot on.