On Scott Walker, Money and Enthusiasm

By Michael Kaufman

One of the reasons we’ve been told Scott Walker survived the recall election in Wisconsin is that his supporters were “more energized” and “enthusiastic” than his opponent’s. That may well be true but a far more plausible explanation is simply that “money talks.” Walker got so much money from uber-rich donors such as the Koch brothers that he was able to shell out more than 80 percent of the total spent in the campaign. So much for the notion frequently advanced by talking heads on television that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United-ruling has resulted in a state of offsetting “special interests,” e.g., corporate wealth versus “big labor unions” with regard to campaign donations. It isn’t so….and that alone might be enough to sap energy and enthusiasm from those who seek a more equitable society.

With money you can pay for cleverly twisted ads to convince working people that other working people’s pensions and benefits are why they are having trouble making ends meet. You can persuade them that Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, Head Start and food stamps are unaffordable “entitlements” in need of “reform.” Reform has now become a codeword meaning drastic cuts, privatization or even elimination of those programs.

Healthcare for all? Nah….that’s SOCIALISM! Protect the environment? Uh-uh. Drill baby drill. Frack baby frack. And while we’re drilling and fracking, let’s get rid of all those “illegal immigrants” who are draining our economy and committing crimes (the most galling of which seems to be not speaking English) and deport their children too (even if they speak English).

When I watched the debate on CNN between Walker and his opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, I could not conceive of anyone in their right mind voting for Walker. The guy couldn’t give a straight answer to any of the questions. Barrett seemed effective until he decided to emphasize that he knows how to say no to “unrealistic demands” by his friends in the labor movement. That must have been a de-energizing enthusiasm sapper for Wisconsin voters who are union members and whose right to collective bargaining has been under attack ever since Walker took office.

President Obama does this sort of thing quite frequently on a national and global level. It doesn’t seem to win him any friends among those he panders to, and it sure doesn’t create enthusiasm or energy among many who will vote for him in the presidential election, simply because the alternative is so appalling. Why is the Guantanamo prison still open? Even Colin Powell is disappointed about that, for crying out loud. Why have so many of the most noxious practices of the Bush era been continued (and in some instances even expanded) such as the threats to civil liberties embodied in the Patriot Act? Why do we continue to use drone planes to drop bombs on people in Afghanistan when so many of those bombs have missed their intended targets (suspected terrorists) and instead killed innocent civilians (often referred to merely as “collateral damage”)?

Perhaps it was too much to expect that Obama would renounce the policies of his predecessor or, as some had hoped, launch an investigation or even bring charges against those government officials who authorized crimes against humanity (i.e.,  “Shock and Awe” in Iraq, extraordinary renditions, etc.) in response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. There is a reason why George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and other former U.S. government officials avoid international travel. Numerous complaints have been filed against them at the International Criminal Court,The Hague,Netherlands, and elsewhere.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the end of the war in Vietnam. At a recent ceremony, President Obama rightly decried the way veterans of that war were treated when they returned home. He also paid lip service to the “patriotic Americans” who had opposing views. But he drew no conclusions about the lessons of the war itself. As I watched a telecast of the speech I thought of a song by the late Phil Ochs, written during the war in Vietnam. The lyrics made sense then. They make sense now. A few excerpts:

 We’ve got to protect all our citizens fair

So we’ll send a battalion for everyone there

And maybe we’ll leave in a couple of years

‘Cause we’re the Cops of the World, boys

We’re the Cops of the World

We’ll spit through the streets of the cities we wreck

And we’ll find you a leader that you can’t elect

Those treaties we signed were a pain in the neck

‘Cause we’re the Cops of the World, boys

We’re the Cops of the World

We’ll smash down your doors, we don’t bother to knock

We’ve done it before, so why all the shock

We’re the biggest and the toughest kids on the block

And we’re the Cops of the World, boys

We’re the Cops of the World

In fairness to the president, the last U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq in December. The Obama Administration has also committed to a full withdrawal of our forces from Afghanistan, but not until the end of 2014. That is too late to generate much energy and enthusiasm among anti-war voters for the 2012 election…. but more than enough to energize those who regard it as a sign of “weakness” to be exploited in cleverly twisted ads.

Michael can be reached at michael@zestoforange.com.    





Tags: , ,

One Response to “On Scott Walker, Money and Enthusiasm”

  1. Jon K Says:

    Technically speaking the American war [in Vietnam] ended in Jan 1973 with the signing of a cease fire. U.S. combat troops left in March 1973. The war, of course, dragged on for another 2 years. It was April 1975 when the last Americans were killed. The U.S. embassy was famously evacuated by helicopter on
    April 30, 1975. See http://www.pbs.org/battlefieldvietnam/timeline/index3.html
    from PBS for the complete timeline. It is incredible to think that Kennedy began the escalation of the war in Vietnam only 16 years after the end of WWII, and it is now almost 40 years after the end of the Vietnam war….I went to Hanoi in 2008 to investigate lead poisoning among children in two nearby rural villages….Everywhere I went, people were very friendly. I asked my traveling companion (a Vietnamese MD who came to the U.S. to study public health) why the people were so nice to an American. He said, “We fought the Chinese for 1000 years, we fought the French for 150 years. We only fought the Americans for 15 years.”

    I just finished, “Once upon a distant war” by William Prochnau, and am just
    beginning “A Bright Shining Lie” by Neil Sheehan. Fascinating and Depressing.

Leave a Reply