I saw an online ad the other day for Mark Neumann, a former Republican congressman who is now running for governor of Wisconsin. Curious, or bored — or both — I clicked through to his web site to see what he was all about.
The answer? Not much. Money: He’s very concerned about money, and his discussion of most issues relate them, somehow, to money.
The home page of the site has a few link buttons, a particularly vacuous mission statement for his campaign and the text of his campaign blog. In fact, the blog entries make up probably 80% of the text on the page. There were two blog entries immediately visible when I visited the site yesterday.
The first appears to be by a campaign staffer recounting a visit to some businesses, and it is revealing in a couple of ways.
First, Neumann is said to be visiting businesses, not people and not citizens. I’m certain there were people at those businesses, and I’ll bet they told the candidate at least a little about what they want him to know they’re concerned about in their lives, but you’d never know it from this report. Instead, we’re told that the candidate was given an exotic gift, that one of the businesses ships restored horse-drawn buggies around the world and that one of the onwers gave “an emotional talk about the state of business in Wisconsin.”
The second revelation: Neumann’s campaign appears to be focused on a world where most people cannot afford to tread. Imports from Turkey and niche exports of luxury items are not the stuff of life for real people. And most of us have a lot more on our minds — especially that we get “emotional” about — than just “business.” Our work may be how we live, but it's certainly not why we live.
That Neumann lives in a different world should not surprise us: He’s a multi-millionaire who has already put $1 million of his own money into the campaign and is reportedly willing and able to dump as much as $3 million into it. People with that much “play” money don’t live like the rest of us, don’t think like the rest of us, and don’t have the same problems, issues and concerns as the rest of us.
A three-sentence paragraph, tacked on the end, notes that “hunting is a big deal in Wisconsin,” conflates the issues of hunting and concealed carry of weapons, and tells us that Neumann is an avid trophy hunter. Once again, we’re presented with a candidate who is out of sync with the people of Wisconsin: people who already know hunting is a “big deal,” because it’s a defining characteristic of the culture for most of the state; people who know that hunting has absolutely nothing to do with concealed carry; and people who hunt because they love the experience and the food, not because they’re collecting trophies.
The second blog entry is written by the candidate’s wife, Sue. It, too, is revealing in both what is says and doesn’t say. As with the first post, the campaign is described as visiting businesses and business owners, not people and not citizens (and, I’ll add, not workers). Sue tells us that she buys something at every business they visit, as a way of “thanking the businesses,” and that the candidate bought her jewelry with pearls. Sue does drop the names of some high school classmates with whom they reconnected, but never mentions a single issue of concern of any person with whom she spoke.
Sue’s post also gives us a world that’s foreign to most of us — a world where discretionary spending seems limitless, a world of high-ticket luxuries and a world where businesses are more important than people.
As with the campaign staffer’s post, the language is quite revealing: they “thank” businesses instead of thanking people, they “visit” businesses instead of conversing with people. When people do appear in their stories, they are defined by what business they own. Indeed, Sue says they’re meeting with “business owners,” not with people, citizens or even voters.
Going to the “issues” tab of the Neumann site, we find “jobs” listed first, and in the discussion under that page we find more revelations. The first revelation is that Neumann is a liar who thinks you are stupid: He says his budget policies are “very similar” to those he proposed as a member of Congress in the ’90s, and that people “scoffed” at him then says:
Four years later, however, the federal budget was balanced, debt was being repaid, and the largest tax reduction in American history had been passed. Millions of jobs were created
Neumann wants you to believe the budget policies he proposed created the strong economic and budget results of the ’90s: when Bill Clinton was president, when Neumann was a small-state, no-name member freshman member of the 435-seat House of Representatives, when the “bubble” economies (dot com, stock market and real estate) were booming (for which we’re paying dearly now).
Neumann also has his history wrong. The first balanced budget submitted in 30 years happeend in 1998 when President Clinton submitted his 1999 budget— which means that “four years later,” as Neumann puts it, the budget was still not balanced.
When Neumann brags that “millions of jobs were created,” not only is he taking credit for something in which he played no recognizable role, but he’s failing to mention that “millions of jobs” were also created under every president since Roosevelt (Hoover lost jobs, as did “Dubya” Bush, making the “bookends”). In short, Neumann is failing to be honest.
On his “taxes” page, Neumann’s site makes this fraudulent claim:
This historical chart shows that the federal budget was in balance only for a short time over the last 40 years – and it is no coincidence that this occurred while Mark Neumann served in the U.S. Congress.
But, course, it was precisely a “coincidence” that Neumann was in Congress when the Clinton administration balanced the budget. Neumann’s claim to the contrary is nothing less than a lie.
The centerpiece of his “job” blog is cutting taxes by 24%, with a plan to cut them even more later. Defying history, economics and common sense, he’s claiming that cutting taxes will create jobs (he doesn’t address what such massive tax cuts would do to the state budget and the essential services the state provides). Reagan’s tax cuts for the rich didn’t trickle down into job creation, George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the rich not only failed to trickle down into jobs, they helped squander the federal surplus and balanced budget he inherited from Clinton, drive up record federal, deficits and debt and drive the nation in a deep and prolonged recession with massive unemployment. And this is what Neumann thinks the people of Wisconsin want?
In the same paragraph, he says he’ll make Wisconsin’s children the best educated in the world. That’s quite a claim, and he doesn’t say how he’ll do it. It’d be pretty tough even if the school budgets were flush with cash, but given their current shortfalls — which would be compounded by Neumann’s massive tax cuts — it rings not as hyperbole, but as a pandering lie. I also have to wonder about his commitment to public education, given that, by his own account, he quit teaching in public schools because he wanted more money, and that he is co-chairman of a nonprofit company that runs three private schools in Milwaukee.
What bothers me as much is why he wants our kids to be the best educated: so they’ll make a great workforce. On another page, he talks about providing businesses with educated workers, so it sounds like his concern is more for the businesses than for the children/future workers. Setting aside the creepy idea of treating our children as cogs in the industrial machine, and taking a broader view, it starts to look like, for Neumann, just about everything boils down to money.
Health care: Neumann can see only money. He thinks that the main problem with health insurance system now (which he says is “broken”) is that it costs too much. He lists waste, fraud, abuse and “defensive medicine” as the main drivers of health care costs, which is a long, long way from the truth. He desperately needs to update his website. He slams the Democratic efforts at health care reform — which he errantly, deceitfully, calls “ObamaCare” — for things that either never were part of the effort or have been discarded.
Neumann’s idea for fixing the broken health system? Wishing for a pony: He says “the solutions will be private sector ideas.” Funny how the private sector hasn’t produced those ideas yet, considering the health care reform effort has been going on in this country for nearly 100 years. Wishing for that pony won’t make it magically appear.
So he lists jobs, taxes, education, health care as his main issues, and for every one of them the heart of the matter — as he sees it — is money. This fits nicely with the constituents -- the businesses he visits and seems to want to represent. Maybe he’s confused by the Supreme Court’s insane ruling that corporations are “persons” with constitutional rights.
Strangely, he also lists “Second Amendment” and “Life” among his issues, but he doesn’t say why they are issues, how they affect people in Wisconsin or what he’d do about them. Under “Life” he announces he's “pro-life,” says he believes life begins at conception and ends “at one’s natural death,” and asks that everyone talk nice about it. That’s it? That’s it. The Second Amendment page is equally unenlightening. He doesn’t say much of what he do about either one. My guess is that they’re both listed on his site as “dog whistles” to the right-wing single-issue extremists. But hey, give him credit for not saying they're about money (although I’d make the case that the Second Amendment issues mostly are about money these days).
Neumann also has issues that don’t show up on his web site. For instance, he’s such a homophobe that he endorses workplace discrimination. In 1997, Neumann said that he would not hire a person who applied for a position in his legislative office after stating a gay or lesbian orientation. “If somebody walks in to me and says, ‘I’m a gay person; I want a job in your office.’ I would say, ‘that’s inappropriate’ and they wouldn’t be hired because that would mean they are promoting their agenda. The gay and lesbian lifestyle (is) unacceptable, lest there be any question about that.”
Lest there be any question about it, that marks Neumann as both an ignoramous and a bigot. It would also, if he followed through on it, make him a criminal, because Wisconsin outlawed workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation back in 1982. You’d think a guy who represented the state in the House, tried to represent us in the Senate and now wants to be our governor would know that. You'd think he'd have more respect for the law, even if he can't muster respect for gay people.
It’s not just gays that Neumann appears to dislike, it seems he’s not much for Catholics either. He’s a long-time member of a strange little sect of Lutherans that insists the Pope is the anti-Christ. From the church’s web site:
We recognize the Pope as the Anti-Christ by his false teachings and by his matching the traits of the Anti-Christ as revealed in Scripture, not by the alleged symbolism of something he wears or carries.
Darn. Here I thought Obama was the anti-Christ! Speaking of Obama, remember the grief he took for what his church was preaching? Think the wingnuts will give Neumann the same treatment? (Don’t hold your breath.)
There is, if you look at it from the right angle, a bit of ironic humor in the Neumann campaign. He’s trying to sell himself as a regular guy, a man of the people, running against career politicians, when he’s a multi-millionaire former member of Congress now in the midst of his sixth campaign for public office.
I’d hate to think what would happen if someone this shallow, this vacuous, this bigoted, this dishonest and this obsessed with money were elected governor. Life is about so much more than moeny. So is leadership. Is this the best Wisconsin’s Republicans can offer? In the coming days, I’ll take a look at Neumann’s primary opponent, Scott Walker. Stay tuned.