Ryan: Wisconsin Death Grip
Disasters befell one small town in Wisconsin during the final decade of the 19th century. The town of Black River Falls seems gripped by some peculiar malaise and the weekly news is dominated by bizarre tales of madness, eccentricity and violence amongst the local population. Suicide and murder are commonplace. People in the town are haunted by ghosts, possessed by devils… —“Wisconsin Death Trip”
Having one candidate wreck your state’s brand—a matter of which we Alaskans can speak with authority—can be chalked up as an aberration. But four, in the space of two years? That’s a pattern. That’s critical mass. And I need someone to explain to me exactly what’s going on in the Badger State.
Wisconsin has proud, enlightened traditions. As the home of Robert La Follette and AFSCME, it’s the birthplace of the progressive movement and public sector unions. It elected the first openly lesbian Representative to Congress (who is currently also a candidate for the US Senate and deserves whatever support you can throw her way). It’s home to smart progressives whom I’m proud to count as allies, like Nation columnist John Nichols and two-term Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. The state also has some great blogs like this one and this one.
So what gives in America’s Dairyland? Its voters have inexplicably fired Russ Feingold, and elected Scott Walker twice within two years. The ridiculous Reince Priebus has catapulted from Republican State Party Chair in Wisconsin to taking the reins at the RNC in Washington. And now, an eager young Congressman who believes that the nation’s elderly, children, students, unemployed, and sick are insufficiently poor is poised to be a… whatever Mitt has in place of a heartbeat away from the Presidency.
As pro and anti-Ryan stories saturate the interwebs in the immediate aftermath of his selection, the only thing you really need to know about the guy has been summed up in one damning sentence by Ezra Klein:
“Ryan sponsored a Social Security privatization scheme that went so far the George W. Bush administration rejected it.”
Let that sink in for a moment.
Make no mistake, Ryan’s “vision for America” is your standard GOP boilerplate: destroy our public institutions, give unchecked power to corporations, insist the government get out of the board room and snuggle into the uterus, etc. etc. Hilariously billed as some sort of deep-thinking, legislatively creative powerhouse, the guy has yet to utter or propose anything that hasn’t been showing up on right-wing bumper stickers for decades.
The thing Ryan has going for him, of course, is the ability to string together a complete sentence (not a given for veep nominees anymore *wink*) and enough sense to avoid Birther talk. These, apparently, are sufficient to get oneself crowned as some sort of towering intellect in today’s GOP.
Side note to those outside Wisconsin: Johnson’s the guy who loaded up on Koch money and dishonestly destroyed one of the most decent and courageous members the US Senate has ever known—a man who actually earned the title “the honorable Russ Feingold.” The reason you haven’t heard of Johnson is that he’s a complete non-entity. Say what you will about Walker, Priebus and Ryan, but at least they matter in today’s political arena. Ron Johnson, on the other hand, has cleverly avoided any accusation of relevance.
That Was Then, This Is Now
Our own Lisa Murkowski, ever eager to prove her GOP bona fides to her party bosses, has of course breathlessly posted the following to Facebook:
“Governor Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan shows he is ready and willing to confront the defining issue of our time head-on. We need bold and intelligent problem solvers to put our nation on a sound path for the future and restore the people’s trust.”
You see? Ryan’s not a heartless extremist who wants the elderly to survive on cat food in order to subsidize more tax cuts for billionaires. He’s a “bold and intelligent problem solver.”
Assuming he didn’t craft it himself to begin with, right wing wordsmith Frank Luntz would be proud of Lisa’s linguistic sleight-of-hand. The fact that he wants to throw women under the bus, slash federal funds upon which Alaska depends, stick it to retirees, and otherwise opposes the interests of so many Alaskans is of less concern to Murkowski than toeing the party line. Heck, Lisa joined four other GOP senators in voting against the Ryan budget (!) just last year. But that was before the Congressman from Wisconsin became the it-boy among party elders, and before Mitch snapped our “independent-minded” senator back into line.
Pep Talk From The Last Frontier
To my friends and readers in Wisconsin, then, I offer the following in closing.
I feel your pain. It’s a credit to your state that its current political meltdown is surprising to the rest of us. Without naming names, suffice it to say that there are states where your last two years would be par for the course.
Alaska wasn’t so lucky, and all it took was one trainwreck of a veep candidate for the nation to assume this is a land where moose outnumber books, where pregnant teens extoll the virtues of abstinence “education,” and where, for some reason, people talk like they’re from Minnesota.
I leave you with a quote from Nelson Mandela:
“ No condition is permanent.”