Saturday, November 28, 2009

Scott Walker: an irresponsible leader

Ask anyone who has ever met him, and you'll be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't think Scott Walker is a "nice guy." Even progressive writer John Nichols has said that he "liked Walker from the start," though he doesn't agree with his politics. Walker's amiable attitude has allowed him to be seen as a personable politician, the rare breed of politician who many believe actually works to help those he represents.

But make no mistake: a state managed by Scott Walker would be a horrible disaster.

The front-runner for the Republican nomination for Governor, Walker is a strict right-wing ideologue, the kind that is obsessed with privatizing government to its fullest. It's his hope to make Wisconsin more hospitable towards corporations, with the idea that more benefits to big companies will trickle down to the people in need.

We all know how that philosophy works out: it's that kind of thinking that has led to a wider wealth gap and an increase in the number of people living in poverty (about one in six Americans). The benefits of Reaganomics don't trickle down to anyone but those who wish to hold onto more wealth -- usually the wealthy to begin with.

To better understand the politics of Scott Walker, it may do us some good to know whom he has reached out to, to gain support for his campaign. Earlier this fall, Walker spoke at a Tea Party protest event in Milwaukee; he also defended that group's decision to disrupt town hall meetings, touting their actions as "free speech." Perhaps even more troubling, Walker sought the endorsement of ultra-conservative and former Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin when she had visited Wisconsin earlier this fall.

Those are some pretty far-out associations that Walker is trying to court, representing some of the most extreme the right has to offer. Tea Party protesters, while free to exercise their rights to speech, used questionable tactics in order to stall the health care debate earlier this year (and have also laughed cynically in the face of a grieving mother whose daughter died because she lacked health care). The group has also labeled President Barack Obama as a socialist and a fascist, comparing his leadership style to that of Adolph Hitler's. Sarah Palin in her own right has done some pretty outrageous things, and represents the far-right's greatest hope for a presidential contender in 2012.

But let's assume that Walker's associations don't matter; after all, he's capable of coming to his own conclusions on issues. How does he perform as a leader? Recently, Walker vetoed a county budget bill that resulted in requiring Milwaukee County sheriff deputies and jailers to take eight furlough days -- this after Walker had criticized Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (and Democratic candidate for governor) for giving officers two furlough days next year. Walker claims he didn't think his veto would do that, and it's now unclear whether he can legally exempt law enforcement officers from taking so many furlough days.

If Walker wins the gubernatorial election next fall, can we trust that he'll understand what his vetoes will entail at the state level? He's already proven that he can't be trusted with the veto powers in a county government setting. So what assurances do we have that he'll be able to handle that responsibility, much less others, as governor?

Wisconsin doesn't need an irresponsible leader running its highest office. It also doesn't need the politics of Tea Party protesters, or Reaganomics, or Sarah Palin running it either. What it needs is a leader who understands the problems that Wisconsin citizens are facing, who understands how to help people directly, not through helping corporate interests. Scott Walker is not that leader.

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