by Lisa Mux & Phil Scarr
If the Americans for Prosperity event we attended in Waukesha a few weeks back was a motivational rally, the pro-Walker gathering in Wauwatosa Saturday afternoon was feeding time in the hyena paddock. It was less Tony Robbins and more Tony Soprano. The modest crowd was there to Celebrate Scott Walker and his desecration of Wisconsin’s long Progressive history. It was politics as a full-contact sport. And Tommy Thompson was Tony Soprano’s hit man on meth.
Featuring divisive politics, a cleaving of public and private sector workers, driving wedges where none should be, the organizers pulled no punches. They divided the historic events at the capitol in Madison over the last year from their “real” Wisconsin, one populated by taxpayers instead of citizens.
The list of speakers included Leah Vukmir, Alberta Darling, Scott Stone, Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, Robin Vos, Van Wanggaard and Tonette Walker. It was a who’s who of Wisconsin conservative politics. Oddly, Scott Walker was nowhere to be found. But like the Dear Leader, he was there in spirit and the crowd and speakers lustily chanted his name like a spell to ward off the progressive demons protesting nearby (when they weren’t busy stealing the progressive chant of “Shame, Shame, Shame!” that echoed so nicely in the Assembly). Despite this impressive list of speakers, only two really stood out: Jarrid Madden and former Governor and HHS Secretary, Tommy Thompson. The two served as bookends for the conservative movement.
The biggest hit with this crowd was Jerrid, a high school student from Mukwonago. Sure, the professional politicians received a fair amount of applause, but this kid took down the house. As a woman next to us exclaimed, “God bless him!”, Jerrid began to preach the Gospel of Walker. “I’m a sixteen year old and I’m the new generation of conservatives,” he declared. “Scott Walker is doing exactly what he said he was going to do, repair Wisconsin’s budget, and this included the very necessary change to limit collective bargaining so public sector employees’ benefits were more in line with the benefits of the construction workers who built the buildings they teach in,” claimed Jerrid, to thunderous applause, and contrary to Wisconsin’s reality.
“My single father is a construction worker who owns his own business,” Jerrid continued. He said his dad “works all day, every single day; it makes no difference if it’s snowing, sleeting, raining or as hot as Hell’s Gates. He pays 100% of his pension and insurance BUT he also pays the salary, pension and insurance for my public school educators. With the budget repair bill they pay a little bit into their entitlements which helps my dad keep a roof over the heads of my two brothers and myself, and it also helps keep his business up and running so he can feed us and save for our future. I thank Governor Walker for all he’s done to help all Wisconsin businesses succeed. Yes, Wisconsin’s open for business!”
Karl Marx wrote about how, one day, there would be no class distinctions. Wages would be the same across all professions. Lawyers and teachers, doctors and janitors, everyone just the same. This was the final stage of Communism. A “perfect,” classless society. Surprisingly, Jerrid seems to be arguing for something quite similar. Construction workers and teachers are, to him, the same and should be paid the same and receive the same benefits regardless of the market demand for their skills and the distinctions we make between professions. This is an interesting proposition from an avowed conservative youngster. His father the construction worker and his teacher deserve to be compensated in exactly the same way. A noble proposition and one I applaud. But I’m not sure it’s what Jerrid intended.
Perhaps Jerrid should consider what would improve his dad’s ability to grow his business. As it turns out, the Europeans are much better at supporting self-employment and at creating small businesses than we are in America. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, compared to the other OECD nations, the United States ranks near the bottom of numerous measures of self-employment and small-business employment.
Why should this be? CEPR considers access to universal health care as the number one driver of small business creation.
One plausible explanation for the consistently higher shares of self-employment and small-business employment in the rest of the world’s rich economies is that all have some form of universal access to health care. The high cost to self-employed workers and small businesses of the private, employer-based health-care system in place in the United States may act as a significant deterrent to small start-up companies, an experience not shared by entrepreneurs in countries with universal access to health care.
Conservatives are all about dragging us down to the lowest common denominator while progressives want to lift everyone up.
Jerrid was a tough act to follow, but Tommy Thomson’s blood was boiling and he was ready to dish up the reddest of meat to the salivating masses thronging in the mosh pit below. The young men in their camouflage pants, Packer jackets and perhaps, concealed weapons, were ready to eat at Tommy’s trough.
Tommy was so consumed by his passionate labors in this conservative abattoir he couldn’t stand still! He delighted the attendees by reciting Walker’s butcher’s bill for the state. But even though Thompson’s passion overflowed, it seemed, in the end, to leave the crowd cold. The mixed audience reaction was surprising considering all the bloody red meat he tossed into the reactionary mosh pit below. He had his supporters, the occasional shout of “We love you, Tommy” wafted above the crowd, but many just clapped politely. Much of the carnage Thompson threw to the crowd remained unconsumed as Tommy wandered off the stage. The reaction of the crowd must have felt like a knife in the heart of his aspiration to snatch Herb Kohl’s Senate seat.
(A full version of Thompson’s speech is available here)
While we’ve all seen the Republican party shamble further and further to the right, it was heart-wrenching to witness Tommy’s struggle with the language of the conservative “Young Turks.” His commitment to these new conservative principles rang hollow as he danced around the podium in a desperate attempt to appear “modern” to Tea Party ears. As he stormed across the stage in a frenzy of crazy, proudly displaying the Big “W” on his back which stood for “Wisconsin”, “Walker” and “We Win,” Lisa and I decided it stood for “Wobegon” instead. Like a denizen of that mythical Minnesota Town, Tommy’s reinvented self will never be real.
The best thing about the afternoon was the pizza beforehand and the drive back to Waukesha.