On, Wisconsin!

An infamous person from Wisconsin

Wisconsin, that Upper Midwest state, is usually known for things like . . . cheese. Baked goods. Fish. Beer (the state contains a large proportion of residents descended from 19th century German immigrants).

But Wisconsin is generally not regarded by people outside the American Midwest as a movin’ and shakin’ state. In fact, one of the biggest laughs drawn in US theaters by the 2003 British film Love Actually was with this line: “I’ve bought a ticket to the States. I’m off in three weeks . . . to a fantastic place called Wisconsin!”

The Badger State is in the news now, because a Wisconsin judge has temporarily blocked a state law that would strip public employee unions of most collective bargaining rights, a stealth statute hatched by Republicans without the transparency demanded by law. This legislation not only would damage the century-old friendliness of Wisconsin law toward the middle class and families (laws designed, by the way, by early 20th century Republicans – at that time, the state’s Democrats were practically non-existent), but would also erode the openness and access important to citizens of Wisconsin.

Judge Sumi noted the essential nature of both in Wisconsin government activities, saying, “It’s not a minor detail. We here in Wisconsin own our government.”

In an astonishing mea culpa, Stanley Fish, who blogs on the New York Times, has reversed himself on the issue of academic unionization. His reason: Wisconsin. The title of his article: “We’re All Badgers Now”.

The actions of Wisconsin’s Republican legislators and its Governor Walker have thus managed to alienate a grand array of people in a legislative “the friend of my enemy is also my enemy” fashion. They’ve created what lawyers call a slippery slope. We can, if we like, see where this kind of legislation is heading – into more and greater despair, as US ideals slide further into the muck created by greed, self-interest and a Latin American-style carelessness for common good.

Years ago, a Wisconsin Republican was brought down by his lack of decency and mutual respect. That man was Senator Joseph McCarthy. It seems that Republicans in the current Wisconsin legislature have failed to read their history – and are therefore doomed to repeat it.

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