Winston Churchill once described Soviet Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”
Apparently, so is Wisconsin: We are a state that elects and re-elects conservative Scott Walker as governor and then five months later sends über-liberal Tammy Baldwin to the Senate; a state that delivers a big win for Barack Obama while returning a bigger conservative majority to the state Legislature.
Our cover story deals with one aspect of this duality — the alternative universes of deeply red Waukesha County and deeply blue Dane County. We’ve asked German political scientist Torben Lütjen to examine the way the two counties embody the deep political divide of our divided state. Professor Lütjen, who is in the midst of writing a book on such polarization, argues that of the country’s 3,000-odd counties, the Waukesha/Dane divide best illustrates what is happening to the country demographically and politically.
Addressing a second intriguing part of the Wisconsin puzzle, Warren Kozak explores the roots of the state’s current political prominence, asking, “What is it about big ideas and the state of Wisconsin?” In his piece, “Badger exceptionalism,” Kozak traces the history of Wisconsin’s unique role as a laboratory of democracy from the days of “Fighting Bob” La Follette to the rise of Walker and Paul Ryan, young leaders who are “writing whole new chapters of the state’s history books… and the country’s as well.”
As I argue elsewhere in this issue, the results of the November election mean that Wisconsin will continue to play a central role in American politics as an incubator of conservative ideas, reforms and leadership.