By Matthew Rothschild on June 05, 2012

He’s never been my favorite columnist. A poor man’s sociologist, he’s made a handsome living making vapid generalizations about the way we conduct our lives. He doesn’t know jack about economics. And he traffics on appearing to be the most reasonable Republican in the country. But at bottom, he’s a hack.

Take today’s column in the Times, “The Debt Indulgence,” where he pretends to know something about what’s going on in Wisconsin on this crucial day of the recall.

He begins by making sweeping claims about how people’s tolerance for debt led to the “mortgage-finance bubble” and the “fiscal bubble.” Those bubbles, in his view, are largely the people’s fault, not the fault of Wall Street manipulators.

He says voters for years have wanted government debt to mount and mount, though he doesn’t substantiate that claim with any evidence or poll data.

Only then, after half a column of throat-clearing, does he turn to Wisconsin and the recall vote on Scott Walker today.

“I’m not a complete fan of the way Walker went about reducing debt,” he said, with his customary hedging. (He’s got more hedges than Versailles.) But, he said, in an end-justifies-the-means way: “Walker did at least take on entrenched interest groups.”

I love the way Republicans refer to “entrenched interest groups.” By this term, they never mean the huge corporations that dominate our politics, here in Wisconsin and in Washington. No, they only mean labor unions, which have far inferior resources than the corporations and the super rich. (Not for nothing that Scott Walker outraised Tom Barrett 10 to 1.)

Brooks said that a vote for Walker is “a vote against any special interest that seeks to preserve exorbitant middle class benefits at the expense of the public good.” Exorbitant? State workers in Wisconsin have had their wages frozen for years now; they hadn’t been living high off the hog. They had decent health and pension benefits, which everyone should have. But Brooks and Walker want the middle class to race to the bottom.

Brooks also conveniently neglects to mention that the “special interest” that he so despises actually agreed to take the cuts in health benefits and pensions that Walker demanded, but Walker wouldn’t take yes for an answer. Instead, he insisted on crushing the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers.

Brooks praises Walker for “turning a $3.6 billion deficit into a $150 million surplus.” But every governor in Wisconsin has to balance the budget. The question isn’t whether it’s balanced, but how it’s balanced, and Walker balanced it by gouging state workers and slashing $1.6 billion from public education. So it was astonishing also to read that Brooks says Walker’s policies helped school districts spend more on students.

He makes the further outlandish claim that if Walker loses, “it will remove any hope this country might have of avoiding a fiscal catastrophe.” Talk about scare tactics! But as Brooks’s fellow columnist Paul Krugman has repeatedly pointed out, we’re more likely to head toward economic catastrophe if the federal government is obsessed about debt and keeps cutting back on spending right now. Krugman, by the way, has a Nobel Prize in economics.

In any event, the vote in Wisconsin has nothing to do with saving the country from fiscal catastrophe.

It has everything to do with whether Walker can get away with destroying a fundamental human right: the right to collectively bargain.

It has everything to do with whether he can get away governing in a ruthless and underhanded way.

And it has everything to do with whether he can continue to shred every bit of Wisconsin’s progressive tradition, one item at a time, until the state is no longer recognizable.

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story “Wisconsin gubernatorial recall race is historic."

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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