For two guys who each won 53 percent of the vote in Wisconsin at some point in 2012, President Obama and Governor Scott Walker have few other similarities, as evidenced by their recent speeches where the President gave an inspirational inaugural address for a second term and Walker gave the inaugural pitch for his second term campaign.
The President’s words were meant to reinvigorate a nation still struggling to improve its economy while staying true to its values of personal liberty and equality. Mr. Obama asked Democrats and Republicans alike to make decisions that embrace incremental progress and not “mistake absolutism for principle or substitute spectacle for politics.”
Governor Walker’s State of the State speech, by contrast, was rooted in absolutism in a term begun in spectacle. The cases he made for the past and the future were based on exaggeration and division. The budget surplus he claims to have created (after attacking public workers’ rights) does not exist based on his own 2010 promises to abandon accounting gimmicks, fund raids and tax hikes.
Mr. Walker touts a future with thousands of mining jobs without answering the question sticking with so many Wisconsinites of whether it is even possible to dig a massive mining pit that won’t ruin the lakes and rivers around it. Under his rule, we won’t find out. Shortly after his speech, Republicans introduced a bill which looks a lot like the bill written specifically by mining interests last time around. And the only hearing quickly scheduled for the fast-tracked bill would be at least a 4-hour drive away from the people most affected by it. The benefits of collaboration and moderation may be self-evident, but like they are certainly not self-executed.
The governor’s most enthusiastic promises centered on both “lowering income taxes on the middle class” and “helping the people of Wisconsin create more jobs” because he believes the two are linked far beyond what the evidence truly suggests. In his own way, Governor Walker is making the case that government can put people to work (by cutting taxes on higher incomes) while it’s the President who is making the case for American prosperity centered on individual initiative and enterprise so long as we protect the safety net that has freed Americans “to take the risks that make this country great.”
Where the governor seeks to tear down protections for workers, consumers and the environment, claiming the elimination of hundreds of state rules will “make it easier to do business with the state,” the President reminded Americans that “a free market only thrives where there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.”
The differences go on, with the President asking the country to embrace equality, pay women fairly, protect voting rights and keep kids safe while the governor took verbal shots at the President and made excuses for having the worst job creating record in the Midwest.
The President could point to a record of winding down two wars and turning around a national economy. Governor Walker, on the other hand, used so many variations of “it’s working” that he’s now the one susceptible to charges of using hopey-changey language as a distraction from dismal results.
Both men know rhetoric is no substitute for achievement. As they move forward to meet the challenges of 2013, President Obama must stay true to his word that “our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.” And Governor Walker must remember that his own line, that “what we did was think more about the next generation than we did about the next election,” is not supported by actions so far. He would do well to read up on the President’s path toward a better future.