Paul Fanlund: No end in sight to Wisconsin’s politics of resentment: Kathy Cramer, a youthful and charismatic political scientist from the University of Wisconsin, struck up conversations that uncovered a pattern of simmering resentment toward those of us in Madison and Milwaukee. What she heard then and we see clearly now is that across Wisconsin, they really, really don’t like many of us very much, and appear unlikely to like us more any time soon.
My conclusion is that Walker’s three victories were in part about him and his personal brand, but the much bigger factor was the anti-government tide that has swept the country, Wisconsin included.
First, that people have been inundated by anti-government messages for decades, especially since the Reagan presidency. Those resentments calcified during the great recession and in the years since, even as wealthy people grew much wealthier and the middle class lost ground.
Second, because those with the most education are doing better (and Madison is jammed with academic elites) we are seen as not suffering as much, and that is noticed and resented.
Third, many outside Madison and Milwaukee see public employees with a level of retirement and health insurance benefits they no longer enjoy or never did.
Fourth, there is a ubiquitous message that government programs are skewed to help those who do not help themselves … the racial subtext is always there. Many in outlying Wisconsin see themselves as hard-working and self-reliant and getting no government help. They do not perceive their own public schools, Medicare, Social Security, highway infrastructure and so forth as the “handouts” they think flow to others.
How, some may ask, do (Walker) and fellow Republicans win even though they oppose such proposals as an increase in the minimum wage, widely supported in exit polls? … the minimum wage does not directly affect most voters, just as the GOP’s opposition to reproductive rights and same-sex marriage does not. Only the economy matters, and while Walker’s record is mediocre at best, he’s fully aligned against the perceived “takers:” the poor and the whiny public employees with their garish protests in Madison.
63 percent in that national poll said the economic system favors the wealthy. In a similar vein, a recent New York Times op-ed was headlined: “Inequality, Unbelievably, Gets Worse.” The analysis said that our taxes, while progressive, are low by international standards and that our social welfare programs are consequently less generous.
Yet any significant populist movement against wealth inequality seems hampered because — in the minds of many — that’s how capitalism is supposed to work. It is tolerable that a CEO makes 100 times what his workers make and pays taxes at lower rates.
Attitudes seemed to grow more visceral during the financial meltdown, which, ironically, occurred under the presidential leadership of a Republican, George W. Bush.
“Resentment” is the perfect one-word brand for the current political culture. In fact, Cramer, the traveling professor, is writing a book whose working title is: “Understanding the Politics of Resentment.”
She adds: “My sense is that his success in the suburbs is a little different than it is in the rural areas. In both cases, you could say there’s individualism going on, where much of what I heard was about hard work and who’s deserving. And their notion of the people who are deserving are those who work really hard ‘like I do’ and ‘pull themselves up by the bootstraps’ and that whole thing. You hear that kind of tone in suburbs as well as in the rural areas.
“But in the rural areas, the support I found was people not necessarily identifying with a Republican platform, but instead saying, ‘We’re going to support somebody who’s coming along and saying I’m going to decrease your taxes and I’m going to cut back government.’ ”
Barry Burden, a UW-Madison political scientist and expert on U.S. politics, agrees with Cramer on the topic of rural individualism. “People often feel like they’re hanging out by themselves,” he says. “You don’t feel like you’re getting much from the taxes you do pay. So you would jump at the chance at a tax cut.”
Cramer mentions race. “When you respect people, it’s very difficult to see racism in what they’re saying or doing. Race has often been used to argue against redistribution and wealth equality in American history. I think in the way that our country has argued about redistribution, it’s always been at some level about race.
Such lashing out at privilege does not extend to business elites, she says. “Why do you think the big battle is between public workers and private workers, for example, rather than CEOs and their workers or the rich and the relatively low-income?’ — the answer I almost always got was they’re supposed to make money. They’re in business. That’s what they are supposed to do. There’s just this huge separation between the … political world and the economic world. People’s sense of what’s just, that ‘massive inequality in the private sector is OK because that’s how it’s designed.’
Burden says he believes many residents have a misunderstanding about government spending. Small-town and rural residents “seem to perceive people living in Madison in particular, but also Milwaukee, as having these government jobs with excessively generous benefits and salary, whereas they were working hard and didn’t have access to those kinds of goodies. So, when a Republican goes into a smaller community and says — ‘I want to give back some of your money to you, put it in your pocket and let you make decisions about how to spend it. You’re better at doing that than some legislator in Madison or Washington’ — that’s a really appealing, intuitive logic.”
Burden adds that many seem to believe that most state money goes to the big cities. “But the truth is that on a per-capita basis the cities actually get less than smaller communities. That’s actually true nationwide. The rural red states get more than their share of tax money back from the federal government, whereas the more industrial blue states, like New York and Massachusetts, don’t get back as much as they pay in.”
Perhaps no truly path-altering solutions exist, and that is saddest of all. So the resentment simmers, and, here in Wisconsin, only conservatives have figured out how to fully exploit it.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Republicans "resent" city folk, liberals and public jobs, but love handouts to "hard working" rural conservative voters.
The incredibly spot on look at politics now needs no further comment. From the Cap Times: