Doublespeak Rules in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin
Picture this: Four prisoners standing on scaffolding placing thousands of ornaments made by school children on a thirty-two foot tall Christmas tree at the center of the Wisconsin capitol rotunda. Every few minutes prison guards push the wheeled scaffolding units around the tree so the prisoners have full access to every branch.
Surrounding this scene are enormous banners draped over the first and second floor balconies that say, “Dismantling Democracy One Bill at a Time,” “What Happened to the GOP – You’re F-A-S-C-I-S-T!” and “Scotty We’re Coming For You,” while the voices of over a hundred people fill the cavernous building with harmonious, homegrown protest songs.
This week the holiday edition of the Solidarity Sing Along songbook was released. My favorite song is “The Twelve Days of Scott Walker’s Term” (lyrics by Stephano Drakovich) sung to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas:”
“On the 12th day of his term Scott Walker took from us:
Fair voting districts,
The shrinking middle class,
Lower than average unemployment,
A united DNR,
Health care for the poor,
Wisconsin’s shining virtue,
Good public education,
HIGH SPEED RAIL!
Fair union contracts,
Safe drinking water,
Stem cell research,
AND AN UNARMED POPULACE!”
As many Governors before him have done, Walker will officially plug in the lights on the Christmas tree this coming Friday. The original ceremony was scheduled for noon but it was recently pushed up to 8:15 a.m. I suppose his handlers thought it better to get the public exposure - and whatever the outraged Wisconsin public wants to express to him - over as early in the day as possible.
Schedule changes for Walker’s increasingly rare public appearances have been happening a lot lately. Earlier this week his office announced that he won’t be attending the tightly controlled “Stand With Scott Walker” rally in Eau Claire this Saturday. Brian Westrate, Chair of Eau Claire County GOP said, “The governor is a busy man and sometimes his schedule ends up crossing over itself.”
In his essay, “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell wrote, “Political language … is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” The pure wind blowing from the offices of Scott Walker and his legislative cronies this year rivals the most blustery of Orwellian gusts. Click here to see Politifact.com’s documented research on some of Scott Walker’s more egregious lies.
Published in 1946, “Politics and the English Language” remains surprisingly fresh and instructive sixty-five years later. Although I first read this in high school nearly thirty years ago, I’m ashamed to admit that I still practice some of the poor writing habits he identifies, like the use of metaphors so drained of meaning we can’t even get the spelling right (e.g. tow/toe the line). In the essay Orwell describes how vague, imprecise writing and speech generates political language that defends the indefensible by avoiding having to make “arguments which are too brutal for most people to face.”
At a recent hearing of the Joint Committee on Employment Relations, Terry Fritter described several of the underlying brutal arguments masked by the euphemism, technical jargon and trite, worn out stock phrases used by rightwing politicians. Terry works in a state research lab caring for animals, and before that he worked with animal carcasses at the Oscar Meyer plant. “I’m pretty knowledgeable about animal feces. What I see here is a whole lot of bull crap coming our way.”
The November 17 hearing was on the topic of the 2011-2013 state compensation plan, the one that involves significant increases in employee contributions to pension, insurance and health care costs. Highlighting the absurdity of Republican claims that state employees are a privileged class, Fritter said, “These are what you people call the ‘haves.’ Most of the people make between $13 and $14/hr, and $208 a month in healthcare, that’s a lot bigger percentage of their income than the Governor or all of you people sitting here. These are people wondering how they’re going to live paycheck to paycheck.”
He went on to force committee members to face another brutal argument underlying rightwing platitudes about deregulation and the end of collective bargaining: “I keep hearing all of this, ‘Geez, business isn’t gonna invest in Wisconsin because we have all of this uncertainty.’ But what’s uncertainty when you change the rules so you work Monday through Friday, but all of a sudden they can come up to you on Tuesday and say, ‘You’re gonna work 16 hours today,’ and you got child care issues. How can you change all that and then they come up to you and say, ‘you can’t work Friday.’ Talk about uncertainty, talk about screwing with people’s lives – this is what’s going on here. This is how you’re destroying people’s lives.”
On “shared sacrifice” Fritter had this to say: “I don’t see the attacks on the Chamber of Commerce. I don’t see the attacks on the AMA or the State Bar. All I see are attacks on the working stiff who’s going out every day doing the best he can for this state or the employer that he has. That’s where the kick in the teeth is coming.” He added, “What you’re doing is you’re actually creating a sharecropping system. You’re paying barely enough for people to get by as we keep funneling more money to the rich. Now how can you justify that as you’re stealing from people making $13/hour – how can you do that?”
An even more brutal aspect of this sharecropping argument is the increased use of prison labor as was on display so incongruously at the Capitol today. As to funneling money to the rich, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation announced yesterday that they awarded Spectrum Brands $4 million for maintaining their operations in the state.
In the novel 1984 George Orwell perfectly describes the mentality of Wisconsin republicans with his concept of “doublethink.” It is, “to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy.”
Think “local control” as you pass state laws undermining Milwaukee ordinances passed by referrenda. Think “small government” as you create more and more agencies designed to funnel resources to cronies. Think “balance the budget” as you increase spending on outrageous tax breaks and “awards” to corporate campaign donors. Think “family values” as you decimate healthcare programs and outlaw sex education in public schools.
The most rich doublethinking newspeak is reserved for the effort to forestall the campaigns to recall Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four Republican senators. Unveiling his proposed constitutional amendment to alter state recall rules, Joint Finance Committee Co-chair Robin Vos said, “No longer should taxpayer dollars be wasted on unnecessary recall elections that were triggered by a vote that some special interest group didn’t like.” Let’s see, some special interest group like the 200,000 people in the streets last spring and the more than 300,000 people from all corners of the state who signed recall petitions in 12 days?
Signing on to this proposal, Rep. Paul Farrow said, “Elections do matter, and never should the minority’s dissent be allowed to squelch the voice of the majority of voters.”
Rebecca Kemble is an Anthropologist who studied decolonization in Kenya. She serves on the Board of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and as the President of the Dane County TimeBank.
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