“Let’s get out of here,” my wife whispered.
It was just before dusk and we were about to enjoy a Bermuda sunset when our quiet spot was invaded by a swarm of loud visitors. Their accents gave away their home city. This was a gaggle of New Yorkers in all their bellicose glory.
What made me think back on that interrupted sunset was a recent visit to Wisconsin by America’s ideologue-in-chief, Bill Clinton. As he explained, he “came all the way from New York” to describe to us how our state had become America’s battleground. Thanks Mr. President, we did not know that.
Part of the national fascination with Wisconsin and Scott Walker owes to the culture clash between our usual Midwest nice and the bare-knuckle politics of the big city – sort of a Field of Dreams meets the Gangs of New York. Of course, we survived the election and we can now get back to our sweet corn and tomatoes. But before we do, let’s take an introspective look at what the election says about Wisconsin.
First, the obvious: Walker’s action that led to his recall election was indeed profound. His stubborn insistence on taming a budget tiger as well as reigning in public sector collective bargaining will change the face of government and politics in Wisconsin and the nation.
Yet, we should not give in to the temptation to overstate the message of Scott Walker’s victory. The ideologues would have us believe that Walker’s win is an ideological statement – read Tea Party victory. Similarly, the politicos would have us believe that Walker’s win represents a conservative mandate, one that the presidential candidates should heed. Well, take a breath and consider this; his win, important as it might be, has more significance for policy than for politics.
For fourteen months, at WPRI we have been following polling that we and others have done on Scott Walker and the recall movement. The public, whether or not they like Scott Walker the man, seems to like what he is doing. While the nice people of Wisconsin are too timid to support any of Walker’s particular budget cuts, that same public supports Walker’s austere budget in toto. Fifty-three percent of the public thinks a budget that included some tough cuts will ultimately improve Wisconsin’s future quality of life. It seems that we are OK with our leader giving us a spoonful of unpleasant medicine.
By the same token, while we aren’t infatuated with public employee unions, we do not hate them. We just think they overreached considerably. Seventy-five percent of the public agree that public employees should contribute to their own pensions and pay more for health insurance.
Perhaps the starkest contrast brought to life in the recall election was Walker’s education budget. He maintained that, by having employees contribute more to their pension and health care, schools could get by on less aid from state government. WEAC predictably howled about Walker’s school aid cuts. The public sided with Walker.
When we asked the public a non-Walker question – whether schools have gotten better or worse – 71% told us schools were either the same (61%) or better (10%).
So, before heading off to my grill for the summer, I have a few words to the rest of the nation, including the presidential candidates. In Wisconsin, we pay attention to public policy. You name the topic, we have an opinion that we’ll readily share with anyone within earshot. What’s more, if we have only learned one thing about Wisconsin it’s that we have a unique capacity to set aside our personal misgivings and focus on the bottom line. In Wisconsin, we support results, not ideology.
June 14, 2012