Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What Would it Be Like to Care About Wisconsin? Imagining an Alternate Political Self

I'd have to be one of those people who think of teachers in the way that Hollywood asks us to in those hit movies where a failing school wracked by ill-discipline at every level is gradually led by a person of simple tastes, unsexy habits, and not-for-profit hair through a painful but redemptive process of acknowledging, pursuing, and satisfying its latent desire for greatness. I'd also have to be able to forget my actual teachers, who often dismissed or ridiculed my overt desire for greatness and whose unprepossessing looks and manners seemed less to suggest nobility of spirit than uncertainty of body.

I'd have to be one of those people who aren't distracted, when watching TV or browsing on the Internet, by lurid celebrity gossip; or, rather, who are distracted by such gossip but know it to be merely that, a lurid distraction, and whose intellectual compass needles reliably return (after some wiggling) to topics such as fiscal years, parliamentary procedure, and collective bargaining.

I'd have to be able to sustain aesthetic interest in Governor Scott Walker's face, a sort of embryonically indistinct contemporary male conservative visage that seems, like a stem cell, capable of growing into the faces of most of Walker's peers, but particularly Mitt Romney's. Which may be another way of saying this: Walker's face appears to be the average of the family of faces that Romney's is the ideal of.

I'd have to be able to shift cultural perspectives and take the state of Wisconsin seriously as a stage for Vital Political Dramas With Ramifications for Our National Future rather than continuing to see it as a comical repository of dated White Ethnic folkways, one of which is belonging to labor unions and others of which are eating sausage and bowling.

14 comments:

  1. Well, if you really want to know what it might feel like, I can report that it's exhilarating and exciting to care. Walking through the state capitol doors during the time of the occupation, hearing the drums beating and the chants, watching the sweet beatific grad students trying to keep everything clean, seeing the grad students and the cops and the firefighters on the same side (grad students and cops on the same side !! in Madison!!). Being in the Assembly gallery when the Reps screwed the Dems by unexpectedly rushing the vote and watching the red-faced Dems screaming "Shame, Shame" at the departing Reps was incredible drama. On the whole, I would say it's quite interesting to be part of something, no matter how small the part, rather than an observer. And to be with a community of people rather than alone. If you don't mind my saying so, given the jaded, world-weary tone of your piece, you might want to consider seeking out a little exhilaration yourself. Just a suggestion. Best of luck - Mary Lehman

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  2. Interesting post. I grew up in Wisconsin, and I've been teaching for 15 years now, so yeah, you're kind of killing me here. Thing is, I don't seem to care much about what's happening in Wisconsin either. Maybe it's because I live in Arizona, and I've got my own state political fanatics to worry about, or maybe sometimes I feel like the union keeps me from getting paid more than I could on my own merits. It's not just the Wisconsin situation either, I find myself less interested in political matters in general, and I often wish I had an alternate political self who cared more.

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  3. I care about Wisconsin but it's too painful to watch for long. Because I've known for a long time that if we don't provide social benefits across the board to everyone, like they do in Europe, unions and all safety nets will disappear. When most people can be fired for no reason, have their benefits diminished, and the work it took ten years of professional study to qualify outsourced to the cheapest bidder, people don't feel like it will make a difference to them if some public employees get unions. It'll actually feel unfair to many.

    When people see their healthcare bill greatly diminished because of a stupid procedural rule in the Senate, which means they don't live in a democracy, they stop caring in general.

    The only way unions of government safety nets will have a chance in h-ll is if we start providing those benefits to EVERYONE, like they do in Norway or Sweden or Italy even.

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  4. Intellectual and ineffectual superiority complex at work. Please don't ever leave your key bored for any reason, especially to vote, or to comment in any other public venue than this blog.

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  5. I'm a member of two unions: Carpenter's and screen actor's guild but I'm not active in either one. The latter got me the medical plan for one year. This is fairly rare, I'm told by the permanent employees who manage such programs. Once in, getting a job is your responsibility and may the force be with you. It is if you are in and not if you aren't.

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  6. In each of us, there is a finite store of empathy for peoples and causes, and a set of triggers that ignite our passions. At a time where one can commit to a cause by clicking a "like" button, there are very few people who are brave, introspective and honest enough to dissect why they *don't* care about a popular cause. Unfortunately most people have no use for introspection, honesty and bravery, especially when there are partisan battles to be waged.

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  7. No superiority complex at all. As the last comment explained, some stories grab us and others don't and sometimes the ones that don't are the important ones. But we can no more care at will than we can love at will unfortunately. Also I would think that those who do care about a given issue would do well to understand the difficulties others may have. This was an attempt to be candid about my own lImitations and not a suggestion that others should have them. Though I'm. Sure they do, perhaps on other issues.

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  8. Not to sound like a Marxist, but you need only imagine you are from an economic class that lives paycheck to paycheck to give a care about Wisconsin. This is exceedingly easy for most Americans.

    I like the bit about the face though. Although to me it's Rick Santorum's face that he's modeled after. I also expect it will be Rick's career that Walker's may end up resembling. Too conservative for a northern state, but a hero to the nihilistic base of the Republican party, he'll have a seat reserved at a thousand fundraisers, but hopefully no real future.

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  9. Hey Walter,

    Just discovered your blog. I grooved out on "She Needed Me" and "My Hard Bargain" back when I was an undergrad (in Salt Lake City, no less). Happy to see you + I'll start hanging out here.

    Warm Regards,
    J

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