It was fascinating to watch Scott Walker parade around the stage at the Iowa Freedom Summit touting his "big, bold, fresh" ideas as governor.
Back when he was running for reelection, Walker didn't advertise his "bold and aggressive" right-wing ideology in quite the same way. Concealed carry, castle doctrine and defunding Planned Parenthood––some of Walker's biggest applause lines in Iowa––barely registered a mention during the campaign.
And then there was his shout-out to the network of out-of-state, right-wing funders, whom he thanked for making his political career possible.
Sticking it to Wisconsin in order to build a winning national campaign turns out to be a very successful strategy, judging from the rave reviews Walker has been getting from his fellow Republicans.
Hence Walker's budget proposal to cut $300 million out of the University of Wisconsin system.
Apparently, not being afraid to "go big and bold" means being willing to take a meat cleaver to one of your home state's greatest assets.
We saw it with the scheme to liquidate our top-tier K–12 public school system and hand it over to private interests.
Now it's Bucky Badger's turn.
The staggering cut to the university system in Walker's budget, the largest in UW history, will reverberate far beyond the labs and lecture halls.
Top professors will pack up their grant money and leave for more hospitable climes. Our local economy, so bound up with our world-class university, will suffer. Throughout the state, students and their families will ultimately absorb the cost of the cuts through tuition hikes, putting college out of reach for millions of working-class Wisconsinites.
Cleverly, Walker is keeping a tuition freeze in place for now. But don't be fooled: starting in 2017 the governor is proposing that a new, unelected "public authority" have the power to hike tuition. That will happen only two years after this massive budget cut, and one year after Walker completes his presidential campaign.
Walker is making fundamental changes to our state, and not, as he claims, to make it better. Despite his triumphant demeanor, our economy is still lagging behind the rest of the region, and those few dollars a year in lower property taxes are poor recompense for closing schools and curbing access to college.
When will the reality of all this destruction catch up with Walker?
That's an important question not just for Wisconsin, but for the whole country.
In Iowa, Walker acknowledged that "the Occupy movement started in Madison, so I have to apologize for that."
It's true. The massive protests around what Walker called "my Capitol" in 2011 inspired similar occupations, including Occupy Wall Street.
The realization that a political class financed by billionaires is actively hostile to the interests of 99 percent of Americans ignited citizen activism all over the United States. It animated the protests in Madison, and it ultimately cost Mitt Romney the 2012 presidential election, when he exposed himself as the unabashed champion of the very wealthy, contemptuous of a huge portion of the public.
The Republicans are eager to dump the losing Romney brand. Right now, they are excited about Walker.
Without a doubt, Walker is a better spokesman than Romney. He has a folksier demeanor. He doesn't come across as an out-of-it rich guy.
But his policies are actually quite a bit worse.
By the time he leaves the governor's mansion, our once great public school system, our model environmental protections and our world-class university will be mere shadows of their former selves.
Walker is, of course, a favorite of the Koch brothers. He showed up at their swanky retreat in Palm Springs after his star turn in Iowa, just as the Kochs announced they will spend $889 million in the 2016 election cycle––as much as each party's presidential nominee.
Walker is a great frontman for the Kochs' ideology: union busting; deregulation, especially of their own fossil fuel industry (the governor in Iowa said Wisconsin was planning to sue the federal government over new EPA limits on power plant carbon emissions); tax cuts for the rich; repeal of the Affordable Care Act (another Walker applause line); and the privatization of everything.
Watching Walker describe the 2011 protests in his Iowa speech, my thirteen-year-old daughter was taken aback. "He's acting like he was a victim!" she said.
Walker's description of the protesters––my kids, their teachers, the snowplow drivers and cops and firefighters––as violent, angry radicals whom he bravely faced down, tells you a lot.
Teachers and university professors are the political enemy in Walker's world. But it's bigger than that. To him, the real enemy is the public at large.
More people need to realize it, before it's too late.
Ruth Conniff is editor-in-chief of The Progressive.