Sunday, May 27, 2012

Of Walker and Nixon, Race-baiting and Rumors: A Candidate's Character Matters

The question of character has become a central issue in the Walker recall election on June 5.
It’s not that we expect our political leaders to be saints. John F. Kennedy is well known for his extra-marital exploits, but that has not tarred his legacy.
But neither should we put up with liars and crooks — the reason that, fundamentally, Richard Nixon resigned in the face of impeachment.
Some of Scott Walker’s troubling traits, such as his “divide and conquer”/“drop the bomb” approach to governing, have been well publicized. (Make sure to check out today's New York Times magazine article, which asks: “How Did Wisconsin Become the Most Politically Divisive Place in America?”)
Likewise, it’s well known that Walker is the only U.S. governor with a criminal defense fund, stemming from the ongoing John Doe probe into illegal activities by staffers and appointees when Walker was Milwaukee County Executive.
Two recent developments raise yet more questions about Walker’s character.
The first (in what is another “divide and conquer” maneuver) involves a central theme in Walker’s recall campaign – a theme he articulated most clearly at an Oconomowoc event when he said he will make sure Wisconsin does not “become another Milwaukee.”


It’s a time-honored Republican tactic to win white votes by using subtle but effective messages based on race — without ever mentioning race. Nixon talked of “state’s rights,” Ronald Reagan attacked “welfare queens,” and Newt Gingrich labeled Obama a “food-stamp president.”
Now we have Walker promising statewide voters he will protect them from big bad Milwaukee.
Yes, Milwaukee has lots of tall buildings and the state’s largest freeway interchanges. But around the state, Milwaukee is best known as a city with lots and lots of African Americans, Latinos and Hmong people, many of them poor.
The beauty of using racial code is that there’s always plausible deniability. You can use racial stereotypes to get your message across and then perfect a holier-than-thou attitude and claim your statements were color-blind.
Walker’s anti-Milwaukee strategy was unveiled during his victory speech the night of the Republican primary, when he told his supporters, “We don’t want to be like Milwaukee, we want to be like Wisconsin.” At an Oconomowoc event a few days later, he promised that Wisconsin will not “become another Milwaukee.” (The irony, of course, is that problems of poverty and joblessness in Milwaukee stem in part from the suburban white noose that surrounds the city, a white noose that Walker helped tighten during his tenure as County Executive.)
Eight of Milwaukee’s Common Council members  issued a joint statement that sharply criticized Walker’s tactic, and Common Council President Willie Hines has a letter to the editor in today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. As Hines notes, Walker’s divisive rhetoric “has alienated the majority of every minority group that calls Milwaukee home: African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, Asians, the LGBT community and others.” Walker, Hines adds, is “choosing to divide Wisconsin rather than unite us.” 


The second development raising questions about Walker’s character involves an essay last week by a former Walker classmate at Marquette University. The essay covers both unethical tactics that Walker used when running for student office and, more seriously, questions about why he dropped out of Marquette even though he had senior status and just a year to go.
It’s been reported that Walker did not graduate from Marquette University, that he ran contentious campaigns for student office and was accused of violating the university’s campaign guidelines.
But the reasons have never been clear why Walker left Marquette. On its face, the move is a bit odd. Why would Walker, who had clear political ambitions from the moment he entered Marquette, not take that final year to get a degree? It’s not that Walker had some top-notch political job he couldn’t resist; he took a low profile job at the local chapter of the American Red Cross.
An October 2010 issue of the Marquette Tribune has a good round-up of the controversies surrounding Walker’s campaign when he ran for president of the student government. The article notes, for example, that Walker was accused of violating campaign guidelines “on multiple occasions.” It also cites the original Tribune editorial from the time of the campaign that called Walker “unfit” for office because of his mudslinging attacks on his opponent.
More recently, on May 22, a classmate of Walker’s wrote a lengthy essay about Walker’s time at Marquette. The essay is by Dr. Glen Barry, who after graduating from Marquette earned a Masters and PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He now lives in rural Wisconsin. An environmental activist, in 2010 Barry was recognized as one of “25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World” by the Utne Reader.
Barry summarizes Walker’s campaign controversies at Marquette, but also notes an unresolved question that has long surrounded Walker: why did he leave Marquette? “It is a closely guarded secret,” Barry writes. “I believe the general line of thinking — that Scott Walker was caught cheating.”
This is not the first time that Walker has been dogged by rumors of cheating at Marquette — a volatile accusation.
Are the rumors true? Or are they slander? Do they involve cheating in regards to his political campaigns, or academic cheating?
If the rumors are true, voters have a right to know. If they are slander, Walker has a right to be vindicated and cleared of such accusations.
Marquette University, understandably, can’t put the matter to rest. Student transcripts are private. Walker, however, could help end the controversy. He could ask Marquette for official copies of his transcript and release them himself.


For those who believe that a candidate’s character matters, there’s another recent article that is fascinating.
John Dean, a former White House counsel, has written a two-part series for the website The first part is titled, “A Fair Question: Is Governor Scott Walker A Conservative Without a Conscience?” The second part is titled, “Good Luck, Wisconsin, You’ve Got a Classic Authoritarian Governor.”
Dean is not opposed to strong, authoritarian leaders, noting that they “are often outstanding at running businesses, and when serving as high-ranking officers in the military, not to mention law enforcement.”
But, Dean notes, the same is not true of political leaders, except perhaps in a dictatorship. “Democracy and democratic institutions do not function well with dogmatic, unbending authoritarian leaders,” Dean writes.
Perhaps the most damning statement from Dean: “If I lived in Wisconsin, I would be uncomfortable with this man, whom I find more Nixonian than even Richard Nixon himself.”
Dean has some background in this matter. He was White House Counsel under Nixon from July 1970 to April 1973, deeply involved in the Watergate burglary and the subsequent cover-up.

Note: the original post said Nixon was impeached. He resigned in the face of certain impeachment.
— — —

This blog is cross-posted at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Purple Wisconsin project.

1 comment:

  1. Could not agree more with this article. Walker needs to be exposed for what he really is.