Nathan Sass

Wisconsin – Always on The Cutting Edge of Politics

In 2012 Elections, Paul Ryan, Politics, Ron Johnson, Ronald Reagan, Scott Walker, WI Budget Battle on April 12, 2012 at 6:00 AM

Most people in the US probably couldn’t tell you where Wisconsin is.  All they may know is that is someplace north of Chicago and that it has a few cities with major league sports teams.  Wisconsin is the definition of “fly over country”, and most people here like it that way.

Wisconsin’s anonymity however does not extend to the world of politics, and it has been this way for a long, long time.  It seems that Wisconsin is the place that movements that eventually sweep the nation are born.  Wisconsin is the “leading indicator” of the political world.

Most people do not associate the Republican Party with Wisconsin, but it was born in Ripon, WI on March 20, 1854 in a schoolhouse (only 6 years after Wisconsin became a state in 1848).  The Republican Party was established as the political home of the abolitionist movement in a time where abolitionist sentiment was not exactly widespread.  Eventually the party born in Wisconsin took the White House with a candidate named Lincoln who eventually ended slavery.

Following the Civil War, Wisconsin again was at the forefront of the changing political world.  In the late 1800’s Wisconsin once again became a leader of a movement that would eventually sweep the nation – progressivism.  Robert La Follette was one of the first progressives elected to major office when he won the race for governor of Wisconsin in 1900.  He was later elected a US Senator in 1906 and served until 1925.

La Follette was the champion of the “Wisconsin Idea” which eventually was adopted by notable national figures and emulated by other states.  La Follette and his reforms have been credited as a driving force behind the adoption of the 16th and 17th Amendments to the US Constitution (the federal income tax and direct election of US Senators).

In fact, Wisconsin was the first state to impose an income tax in 1911, complete with a “progressive” structure.  (Sorry about that, America.)

Wisconsin was also the first state to adopt an unemployment insurance program, and the first to create “make work” programs for the unemployed that would later become part of the New Deal under President Franklin Roosevelt.

Wisconsinites were also key players in national progressive policy initiatives.  Much of FDR’s economic policy under the New Deal was authored by University of Wisconsin progressive economists Arthur Altmeyer and Edwin Witte.  Altmeyer and Witte created Social Security, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Agricultural Adjustment Act.  (source)

It can be said that Wisconsin was the birthplace of the now ubiquitous “big government program” at the federal level, forever changing people’s idea of the role of the federal government.

Today Wisconsin continues to serve as a bell weather and leader in the changing political landscape.

Under Scott Walker, the concept of a large, intrusive and burdensome government is being rolled back in a very aggressive manner.  The resulting recall efforts are a testimony to the incredible shift of the reforms he has proposed.  Those who stand for the old “big government” ways are desperate to thwart Walker’s efforts to shrink government.

It is important to note that none of the shifts pioneered in Wisconsin happened in a single 4 year term of any elected official.  Most took decades to spread nationally, and in some cases there were momentary retreats from the changes these movements advocated.

The current time period is no different.  Scott Walker’s reforms are not going to change the entire US, or even Wisconsin, overnight.  It will likely take decades to spread around the country, but as history shows, what starts in Wisconsin can be seen as a strong indicator of the larger national trend.

Many people of diverse political stripes have become weary of “big government”.  Excessive regulation, intrusions into private life, spending, taxation and the resulting debt and economic stagnation have left many looking for an alternative to the policies in place since FDR.

While it can be said that the Reagan Revolution was a moment of change, the truth is that as transformative as Reagan was, he still could not shrink government in any significant way.

That seems to have been left to a new breed of Wisconsin political pioneers, champions of a new “Wisconsin Idea”.

Governor Scott Walker has boldly challenged the excessive power of the public sector unions.  Walker’s changes are a 180 degree reversal of literally decades of increasing spending, scope and reach of state government.

Walker is following in the footsteps of another Wisconsin Governor, Tommy Thompson, who similarly reformed welfare programs in Wisconsin.  His reforms, called W2, changed welfare from a life-long subsidy into programs designed to require people go back to work.  There is more to be done in this area, but his changes eventually became federal law when adopted by President Clinton.

Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan has proposed federal budgets for 2 years running in the US House that are truly revolutionary in their approach to massive entitlement programs like Medicare and its forefather Social Security.  Ryan has not proposed eliminating these programs, instead opting for a conversion of them into more citizen centered programs with far less government spending, and more importantly interference in the private sector and private lives.

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson has taken up Ryan’s proposed reforms in the US Senate, but more than that has been the most vocal critic of the newest New Deal-esque massive government program – Obamacare.  Johnson unashamedly stands against large government programs like Obamacare, and advocates for a decentralized approach almost totally opposite of the “New Deal” mentality.

All of the GOP candidates for the open US Senate seat in Wisconsin are proponents of Ryan and Johnson’s brand of reforms, and have vowed to carry them forward in Washington.  The likely Democrat candidate, Tammy Baldwin, represents the old “big government” thinking, and as polls are showing is not looking at an easy victory for her or for those old ideas.

The citizens of Wisconsin are probably weary of all the political back and forth of the last 2 years.  I hope they understand that they are not the first residents of this great state to have to endure such bitter political fights.  Their ancestors fought similar battles themselves, and while there was no massive media in that day, the fights were just as fierce.

It has been said that history repeats itself, and in this case I hope that this holds true.  If so, Wisconsin will once again lead the nation into a new political age, end the dominance of the progressive ideology that has brought us to this point, and perhaps return us to a world of limited government as the founders intended.

The recall election of Scott Walker is an important milestone on this journey, but I doubt the entire war will be one or lost on that one battle.  Already the fight against big government progressivism is being waged in other states and in Washington D.C. to great effect.

When the day comes that government is once again small, limited in power, and follows the constitution, conservatives everywhere should shout with pride “On Wisconsin!” – even if they still don’t really know where Wisconsin is.

  1. […] Wisconsin – Always on The Cutting Edge of Politics – 4/12/2012 […]

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