By Matthew Rothschild on January 28, 2012

Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive, conducted this interview on January 26. It will run on progressiveradio.org starting on January 30. This is an edited transcript.

Q: Uppermost in people’s minds here in Wisconsin is the recall of Scott Walker and who is going to run against him. Your name has been mentioned. Are you going to run?

Dave Obey: Well, first of all, let me simply say that what’s happened is this state is incredibly sad. I served in the legislature in the Precambrian Era when dinosaurs still roamed the land. We had personal friendships across the aisle. We’d fight like hell from 9:00 in the morning to 5:00 at night and then we’d go over to the Congress Bar, and once in a while we’d buy each other a drink. We were adversaries, but not enemies. It’s not a happy time for the state because politics has become almost a snake pit. And I think the governor, though he doesn’t bear exclusive responsibility, bears a lot of responsibility.

In terms of my own desire to run, I don’t really want to run. And I have told people from the start that even if I were to consider it that I’d only consider filling out the governor’s term and wouldn’t in any way even think about running for reelection. But I’ve made quite clear that my preference by far is to have Herb Kohl run. Anyone with an ounce of observation ability knows that Herb Kohl is the most popular political practitioner in the state.

My other choice as to who would make the best candidate is Tom Barrett from Milwaukee. He’s got a sense of balance; he’s got guts; he’s got independence; and I think he’d bring the civility back to Madison that we so desperately need.

Q: Herb Kohl wasn’t involved really in the uprising here. Do you think that’s a disadvantage for him? I know some protesters would say, “Where was Herb when we needed him?”

Dave Obey: No, anybody who knows Herb knows where his sentiments were on that. I think Herb would bring a healing atmosphere to this town, and that’s very important. And with his business background it would be very hard to demagogue him as being somebody who doesn’t know how to deal with the business community.

And Tom Barrett would be a great governor just because of his personal qualities. Sometimes Tom is criticized for being too nice. But you can’t be too nice in politics, provided you also have a tough edge, which he has. But in terms of staying power as a candidate, those are our best shots if we want to win.

Q: What about Kathleen Falk, the former Dane County executive who is fast out of the gate? She seems to have some of the unions and the Democratic Party establishment behind her?

Dave Obey: I think she’s a fine person, but I stand by my judgment that Kohl or Barrett would be the strongest candidates.

Q: Why do you think about the recent poll that says 51 percent are for Walker?

Dave Obey: All I can say about that poll is I certainly haven’t met the 51 percent whom the poll claims are for Walker. I have never seen such depth of anger and frustration on the part of so many people. I’ve been in more than 20 counties in this state—north, south, east, and west. And I just find people immensely disappointed in the governor because he was elected at a time when they were looking for cooperation and teamwork and instead they got an architect of massive confrontation the likes of which I’ve never seen in my lifetime.

Q: What do you make of his all-out assault on collective bargaining for public sector workers?

Dave Obey: It’s ideology, front and center, and it’s a political power play. He’s determined to weaken politically any organization that represents people whom he thinks aren’t likely to vote for his party. In terms of national attention, the defining issue has been workers’ rights. But there are two other issues that really stick in my craw even more.

The first is what the governor has tried to do to the state by way of voter ID. He pretends he’s taking these actions to protect the integrity of the voting process. But there’s been far more fraud in the way he’s presented that issue than has been at the ballot box. What he’s done in practical terms, he’s making it much more difficult for senior citizens, for college students, for lower income people to actually have their votes count. Not everyone in the state has a picture ID or a driver’s license. It’s just a fancied up way to hide what he’s really trying to do, which is to weaken political opposition. And when you start messing around with people’s right to vote, you’re going right to the guts of our democratic system. That’s not only recallable; that’s impeachable.

My second point is he has brought on this snake pit mentality. And we desperately need somebody who sees politics in a different light.

Q: And he’s been bad on just about any issue you can think of on top of those two, like the environment and the social safety net.

Dave Obey: I agree with that, but I don’t think that’s enough to justify recall. I don’t like the recall process; I would prefer that people who get elected serve out their full term. But when those same people abuse the privilege of their office to such an extent, and when they mislead the public about their intentions, then I think they’ve crossed the line, especially when they start messing with people’s right to vote.

Q: What would be the impact if Walker were to prevail?

Dave Obey: It would demoralize the progressive forces in the state and would add to the general sense of detachment and disappointment about politics as a whole. I know there are people who think that just about anybody can beat Gov. Walker, and I would say that is simply not the case. The governor will take advantage of people’s basic determination to be guided by goodwill and he will try to take advantage of that and turn people’s concern about the recall process into an endorsement of Walker and his programs, and that would be a real corruption of what this has all been about.

Q: Plus, he’s going to have a ton of money.

Dave Obey: He ought to have a ton of money from his rightwing money friends because he’s been their local water boy. They’re trying to protect their investment, everybody from the Koch Brothers on down.

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story “In Obama’s State of the Union, Troublesome Passages for Progressives."

Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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