Photo by Gage Skidmore
“There is still time left to turn things around,” Scott Walker told a screaming crowd in Waukesha as he announced his candidacy for President of the United States.
“To do this we need new, fresh leadership . . . that can actually get things done, like we have here in Wisconsin.”
Wisconsinites, about 60 percent of whom tell pollsters they would not vote for Walker for President, might wonder what their governor is talking about.
Our state lags the nation and is at the very bottom of the Midwest in job creation. Walker’s scandal-plagued job-creation agency has been a disaster—giving away subsidies to companies that took the money and then offshored jobs. And Walker has failed to deliver even 50 percent of the 250,000 new jobs he promised to create when he first ran for governor.
In the budget he signed on Sunday, which garnered significant opposition from his Republican colleagues, two of whom described it as “crap,” he dealt with a ballooning deficit by borrowing money to pay for road construction, and forced through a highly unpopular austerity and privatization regime for K-12 schools and the University of Wisconsin.
But by getting things done, it turns out, Walker didn’t mean improving the economy, creating jobs, or good stewardship of Wisconsin’s greatest assets—its high quality schools and great research university.
Walker’s biggest applause lines came when he took credit for a series of “reforms” that he passed in Wisconsin that had nothing to do with improving the economy or the general welfare in the state:
“We defunded Planned Parenthood and enacted pro-life legislation,” he declared. “We passed Castle Doctrine and concealed carry. And we now require a photo ID to vote in the State of Wisconsin.”
The crowd went wild.
At home in heavily Republican Waukesha, the wealthy white suburb of Milwaukee that comprises his base, Walker was hitting all the right notes.
His next biggest applause lines included his pledge to tell Congress to “repeal Obamacare once and for all” and a line about “protecting our children and grandchildren from radical Islamic terrorism.”
Walker also touted the provision in the budget he just signed requiring people who get food stamps and unemployment benefits to undergo a drug test. Drug testing welfare recipients brought the Waukesha crowd to its feet.
Listening to Walker rev up the Waukesha crowd, in the heart of rightwing talk radioland, where the politics of divide and conquer got their start, was instructive.
Just as Donald Trump got a bump for calling a spade a spade with his racist attack on Mexican immigrants, Walker, in his announcement, was speaking to a strain of race-baiting in the white suburbs of Milwaukee that has played a significant role in his political rise.
What do voter ID, drug tests for food stamps recipients, warnings about Islamic terrorists coming for your children, Castle Doctrine, and concealed carry have in common? They all appeal to paranoid white voters who want to put black and brown people in their place.
The Obama presidency has exposed a bitter strain of race hatred in American politics, and Republicans, including Walker, are dancing with the devil when they play to their racist base.
In Walker’s case, it has been easy to miss. The crowds of 100,000 protesters who came out to oppose his attack on unions were mostly white. When he “stood up” to the teachers and firefighters and snowplow drivers of Wisconsin, there was no obvious racial subtext.
But as Alec MacGillis wrote in a terrific cover story for The New Republic, Walker’s rise, and the whole rightwing takeover of Wisconsin politics, has been fueled by the very powerful and explicitly racist radio talkers from the suburbs of Milwaukee.
And in his announcement speech, you could hear Walker tuning up the dog whistle for that same group.
“America is great. And it’s not too late. We have to start leading again,” he told the adoring crowd.
There was some garden-variety jingoism—the crowd chanted, “USA, USA!” as Walker told them “The world must know no greater friend and no worse enemy than the United States of America.”
There was a little Man from Hope. Walker took his lines straight from Bill Clinton when he said he learned from his parents if “you work hard and play by the rules, you can do anything.”
There the expected pitch that, having stood up to teachers’ unions in Wisconsin, Walker is a seasoned fighter, leading to the riff: “I will fight and win for you.”
And there was the Reagan closer: “We just took a day off to celebrate the Fourth of July, not the Fifteenth of April,” he declared, because, “In America we celebrate our independence from the government, not our dependence on it.”
Take that, you welfare queens. Walker is running to restore white America to its former glory.