We won’t see muddy waters in and around northern Wisconsin’s Bad River anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean anyone clearly understands how Governor Walker’s plans will play out in the years to come. This week’s news stories illustrate how cloudy politics play right into Republican hands when it comes to mining, budgets, social issues and more.
The few seconds it took Walker to sign the mining bill created a moment you’re going to see repeated in television newscasts for a very long time as it becomes the “file tape” that accompanies years of courtroom updates. Historians will look back on the past week and marvel at how one day’s political conquest pitched and plunged into a quagmire of legal challenges. We won’t know anytime soon whether real jobs will be created or real damage will be done, but that uncertainty doesn’t matter to Walker who only needs to say he tried to created jobs even if he was certain that wasn’t going to happen.
The mining imbroglio is not the only case of legal limbo brought on by the Republican rush to enact Walker’s agenda. An appeals court on Tuesday said the Act 10 attack on collective bargaining rights of certain public employees remains on hold while it goes through its own lengthy legal process.
A Dane County judge ruled last September that Walker’s signature achievement is not constitutional. Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen attempted to sow seeds of doubt about where Act 10 is and is not the law of the land when he made the amusing argument that the law can only be considered unconstitutional in Madison and Milwaukee because the legal challenge originated with public employees from those two cities. It’s certainly not the first time Van Hollen has tried to spin the law to match a Republican talking point, but a law unconstitutional anywhere in Wisconsin is unconstitutional everywhere in Wisconsin. The 4th District Court of Appeals was right to note in this week’s ruling that employers are apt to “play it safe” and continue to respect workers’ rights statewide in case his ruling is upheld despite Van Hollen’s attempt to confuse the situation.
There is even doubt about whether Walker’s other big boast, a balanced state budget, is real or a mirage. On Thursday, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau reported that the governor’s budget proposal included almost $1 billion in borrowing and it spelled out the ways in which Walker is raiding other funds to pay for transportation projects. For a guy who campaigned on having the state budget written to reflect GAAP standards (for Generally Accepted Accounting Principles), his first budget had a $2 billion GAAP deficit and his new proposal would increase the GAAP deficit by nearly 30 percent. Still, he will confuse anyone who reads about that by repeating his claim that the budget is balanced because he says it is.
There’s no lack of Republican confusion this week around the rest of the country either. The CPAC Conference was rocked by news that Ohio Senator Rob Portman was flip flopping on gay marriage now that his son is publicly out of the closet. (One has to wonder if the secret to making Congress productive is telling them that people close to them are gay or unemployed or women.) And the party that tells us how important certainty is to Wall Street heard testimony Friday from a former JP Morgan executive about the way her former employer obfuscated regulators and Congress itself last year as they looked into how the bank could lose billions of dollars while gambling with taxpayer protected deposits.
None of this uncertainty, however, about jobs or budgets or regulations or social issues, can harm such a rudderless party so long as it has the confidence (and the cash) to broadcast an adamant message that they know what they believe in even when they don’t believe it or hold true to it. If the public is left feeling confused about what politicians are doing, it’s easier for the politicians to keep blaming that uncertainty on someone else: regulators, environmentalists, gays, unions, and so on.
After all, certitude is all about believing something is true no matter what the facts or consequences expose. And give Republicans like Governor Walker some credit, no matter how wrong or vague or incomplete his achievements, he’ll always tell you it’s working unless it’s someone else’s fault.