I’ve always loved Wisconsin. It’s fun to make fun of, but I have never once not had a great time in the state, whether camping up north or near Kettle Morain, hanging out by the lake in Milwaukee, relaxing in Door County with my lovely bride, reveling in the weirdness of Madison, or spending time at scenic Lake Ripley, my favorite spot, Wisconsin is always warm and hospitable. It’s got a great drinking culture, which doesn’t so much revolve around experimental cocktails as much as “the more the merrier”, and a great attitude toward eating. If there is one thing over which Scott Walker and I can bond, it’s ham, and the desire to eat more of it, at all hours. Ham for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can’t go wrong.
But ham is probably the only area in which Walker and I would agree on anything (although we could both confirm that empirical reality that he won’t be President, though I imagine we have different feelings about that). One other thing to love about Wisconsin was its progressive tradition, which came about naturally, from workers and farmers, as a reaction to the power of capital and its corrupting nature. That’s also why the backlash in Wisconsin was always so fierce, whether that was the union hating Herb Kohler Sr or the drunken lout McCarthy. Now, that backlash has reached its apex, as Walker and his pet legislature have turned this great state into their personal Koch-funded experiment, destroying voting rights, the social safety net, corporate accountability, and the environment. In short, trying to wreck everything that is great about Wisconsin.
Walker’s administration has been so over-the-top goonish that it shields Governor Bruce Rauner’s attempts to do the same in Illinois. Because we have been so successively mismanaged, and because Rauner’s main foes, Mike Madigan and John Cullerton, are political villains to various extents (Madigan comically so), Rauner has flown under the radar. The weight of Chicago and other Democratic enclaves (i.e. where people actually live) have thwarted the governor so far.
But don’t think Wisconsin can’t happen here. Rauner has the advantage of his opponents being tied to the government, whereas he is an “outsider” just trying to get things done. Deadlock, like the kind we have with the budget, benefits Republicans, even when they force it. Rauner is trying to squeeze Democrats into “reasonable, commonsense compromises”, which means gutting pensions, weakening unions, shredding safety nets, and further turning us into Wisconsin.
You can see them getting emboldened, too. A North Carolina-style anti-LGBTQ bill is trying to make its way through the House, coming out of Palatine, one of the red-turning suburbs. I can’t imagine this passing yet, and to his credit, Rauner doesn’t seem concerned with culture wars- just economic ones. But these are signs that the Right is feeling their oats more, helped out by absurd governors like Blago, and well-meaning but helpless ones like Quinn (and of course, Madigan). They want to break teachers and the service unions, and that’s how it starts. Liberal political organization is dashed, and the rightward tide rolls forward.
Remember, the greatest trick the Right ever pulled was convincing American workers that they should ask “hey, why do they get pension?” rather than “Why don’t we, anymore.” Every economic cruelty flows from that divide-and-conquer strategy. It’s worked in Wisconsin, at an operativ level. It can work in Illinois, too.