Bloggers on up to luminaries like former Nixon White House lawyer John Dean have spent a great deal of time demonstrating how Scott Walker is more Nixonian than anything else: Secretive, conspiratorial, mean-spirited, two-faced and more.
But Wisconsin's embattled governor is also a lot like George W. Bush. Not just in his policies, which among other things emulate the Bush fetish for privatization, tax breaks for the wealthy and special-interest giveaways. Walker, like Bush, is also projecting his own rather megalomaniac sense that he's creating an alternate reality. Not just creating it, but living in it.
The idea of the "reality-based community" goes back to 2004 and the Bush era, when many Republicans and Bush followers based their policies and political views mostly on faith, deep-seated assumptions and pure ideology, without regard for science or other factual information.
Thus, writer Ron Suskind that year quoted an unnamed Bush aide (later outed as master GOP manipulator Karl Rove, a/k/a "Bush's brain") who chastised the reality-based community. The aide commented, "That's not the way the world really works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality ... we'll act again, creating other new realities... . We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
It sounded an awful lot like George Orwell's fictional police state Oceania (from the novel "1984"), where history was regularly and instantly revised to suit evolving political needs. And that's how the Bush administration ended up looking, too.
The alternate-reality quote seems very applicable to the current Walker administration in Madison and much of the Republican Party apparatus that is now supporting him against June 5's recall election, in the process spending record-breaking tens of millions of dollars across Wisconsin, mostly on TV ads that increasingly seek to create a new Walker reality. Against all hard statistical evidence, Walker's theme is that his policies "are working." Well, those policies are in place and at work, but not producing the results Walker promised.
More below the fold.
For instance, despite many months of statewide job losses, using standard US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data that put a once-stable Wisconsin 50th among all states in job creation, Walker and independent groups including the US Chamber of Commerce are
running ads in Wisconsin TV markets proclaiming that in his tenure since Jan. 2011, Walker has overseen the creation of tens of thousands of jobs. In order to come up with that figure, though, Walker's administration this month abruptly abandoned the nationwide standard of using BLS data.
Instead, Walker suddenly embraced quarterly census data, which uses different standards to measure job totals than are used by BLS in any other state. That neatly gets rid of the unfavorable comparison problem he was facing. The quarterly data even lets Walker count a job in a neighboring state, such as Illinois, as a "new" Wisconsin job, if a Wisconsin resident holds that job.
So while supporters of Walker's Democratic Party recall opponent -- Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett -- are running ads citing the normal BLS data and noting that Wisconsin remains dead last nationally in job creation under Walker so far, Walker's saturation ad campaign baldly proclaims he's created tens of thousands.
That, dear reader, is an alternate reality.
Is Walker's in any way a more accurate reality? At best that's debatable, but of course since the election is only days away, Walker's gambit has removed careful analysis from the picture. The raw data his administration interpreted in his favor won't be independently analyzed until a week or more after the election. But never mind. This man is in a hurry to share the "good" news only his team so far has discerned.
The pro-Walker ads show headlines from newspapers that tout his positive job numbers. But the ads carefully avoid any reference to the fact that it was his own administration that planted these numbers with reporters. It's a classic example of the Republican echo chamber. The chain of possession is erased, so it is not apparent to casual viewers or low-information voters that the news stories touting significant job growth are just quoting Walker himself, who then, in his ads, quotes the newspapers quoting himself. He's not the "it" governor, he's the iterative governor.
Likewise, his budget move cutting nearly a billion dollars in state aid to public schools is portrayed in his ads as saving taxpayer dollars. Of course, in order to achieve this "savings," he's seriously tasked school districts. Worse, the lost revenue cannot be made up locally, because the state budget also included a new property tax levy cap on the districts. So many of those districts have been making plans to lay off teachers, cut classes, increase class size, drop curriculum and more. Which gladdens the hearts of Walkerites who really prefer privatizing education, anyway.
Meanwhile, under the same Walker budget, unionized school teachers not only effectively lost their collective bargaining rights, but were nicked a sizable percentage of their compensation. As if that wasn't bad enough for morale, school districts are looking to make the teachers work harder beginning next fall, inspiring many to quit or retire. But in the Walker-verse, this is a "win-win" for the citizenry. Never mind that many public school kids will now suffer under an educational system that has been seriously compromised. More low-information voters, anyone? Walker's policies will be producing them.
The Walker alternate reality, as in the case of George W. Bush, is quite malleable. Indeed, in some instances, Walker -- also channeling Mitt Romney -- has reversed himself several times. Each time, however, history from his point of view is altered or erased. The surprising thing is that his PR operation doesn't call itself the Ministry
of Truth, after George Orwell's grim idea.
For the first three months after he took office, Wisconsin gained jobs noticeably, even using the standard BLS system that, as I've mentioned, Walker recently disowned. Those months reflected the final days of outgoing Gov. Jim Doyle's budget, yet Walker not only took credit for them but embraced BLS. He still takes credit for the job growth, but somehow that is, in the Walker-verse, not inconsistent with his new attack on the very methodology that accounted for that growth.
Likewise, in those early months before his own budget took hold, Walker took credit for jobs created in the state's largest city, Milwaukee. Later, under Walker, job growth turned into job losses, both in Milwaukee and statewide. When Mayor Barrett entered the recall campaign, Walker's team immediately began running ads attacking Barrett for being on watch when Milwaukee lost many jobs.
Walker, nonetheless, still took credit for the Milwaukee jobs created early in the lame-duck Doyle budget period. So not only does Walker now disown the methodology that identified all those new jobs, he still takes credit for them, yet he attacks the mayor for job losses in later months that were calculated using the very same system that Walker now calls unreliable. You see, the BLS system is only unreliable for the historical months when the results were negative. In today's eve-revised Walker-verse, those losses essentially never happened.
Maybe it's too limiting to think of the Walker-verse as an alternate reality. Actually, it's a multiverse of shifting, alternate realities. It would mesh nicely with quantum theory, if Walker was much of a science man. Unfortunately, he's literally a faith-based governor, who has on occasion said God or Jesus told him what to do, like marry his current wife, for instance.
Walkernomics are clearly from his little pocket universe, too. One of his first acts in the governor's office was to turn down $810 million in federal grants to build high-speed passenger rail service from Milwaukee to Madison, as part of a larger Midwest high-speed rail initiative. Walker claimed the annual recurring costs of maintaining the trains and rails would be too expensive for the state.
As it has turned out, however, that cost, measured in a few millions of dollars, was chump change compared to the added cost of other maintenance and improvements required on existing Amtrak lines in the state. The huge grant would have covered those, but now the state will have to cover the costs, since Walker turned down the money. Walker has said all year that he supports the existing Amtrak system, but now that historical event is itself in danger of evaporating in a new iteration of the Walker-verse.
The reality-based community, of course, understands that Walker and his current pack of GOP enablers hate mass transit and intercity rail, even though Wisconsin won the unusually large federal grant for high-speed rail thanks to extensive bipartisan effort and especially the work of former GOP Gov.Tommy Thompson. But that was then and this is now. Thompson, who is running for the US Senate seat coming vacant in Wisconsin, transported into the Walker-verse and abruptly disowned the high-speed rail plan he was instrumental in procuring. It's like national Republicans demanding health insurance reforms largely implemented in President Obama's sweeping reform, but promptly disowning them and promising to reverse "Obamacare." In the GOP alter-verse, health care reform, based on GOP ideas, was never a GOP idea.
You can almost see Obi Wan gesticulating: "Republicans never believed in approving new debt ceiling limits. Republicans never ran deficits. Obama is a Muslim." The GOP base mumbles its confused assent.
The most charitable explanation for these sorts of amazing flip-flops and lies is an ideology that is utterly self-delusional. But that wouldn't explain the timing or the sheer mendacity of campaign images and themes that never accept shame or responsibility, even on those still-rare occasions when mainstream news outlets boldly note the inconsistencies.
As a campaign tactic, after all, reinventing reality has worked quite well for Republicans, so while many among them may indeed be true believers, others at best can only be seen as crass and cynical. Walker is a true believer, but it's hard to imagine that even he cannot help but notice his own spin and historical revisionism.
You can catch hints of his self-awareness when he's asked an awkward or embarrassing question these days on the campaign trail (where he spends all of his time, much of it out of state, even while criticizing the imaginary "out of state union bosses" who are responsible for the raging war against him). His tendency is to provide an off-the-cuff answer that is not only unconvincing, but reflects a non sequitur or, at best, ambiguity.
For instance, Walker was asked by a reporter if his indicted Milwaukee County aide Kelly Rindfleisch, whom he personally hired, had orders to do campaign-related work on government time, which is the basis of the criminal charge against her. Walker fished around a bit before answering that Rindfleisch "did what she was expected to do." That comes off as pretty self-damning if you're a member of the reality-based community, but it's at worst merely ambiguous, at least if you're among Walker's base.
The "many worlds" theory that arises out of quantum physics suggests the possibility of infinite branching of alternate universes, whenever more than one outcome can derive from an event. Even so, it seems as if Walker and the GOP in general are, at this rate, soon going to run out of alternate universes in which to hide the reality of their awful, illogical ideas and policies.