Wisconsin Brain Death Trip
(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari Goldstein.)
"Tomorrow is the day after the election. And tomorrow, we are no longer opponents. Tomorrow, we are one as Wisconsinites." - Scott Walker
"When deer hunting comes, nobody is talking politics, even though it's November. This year was different. We had people leave family gatherings. That's not our Wisconsin. Our Wisconsin has always worked together." - Dee Ives, RN, Republican voter, Barrett supporter
Back in the late 19th century, Black River Falls, a small town in Wisconsin, went completely insane, becoming a hotbed of murder, suicide and madness. It was chronicled in a 1973 cult classic entitled Wisconsin Death Trip that was later turned into a documentary. In order to find anything even close to a parallel in American history, one has to look to Salem, Massachusetts between February and May of 1692 in which three girls fingered countless dozens of innocent people of being witches and were treated like 17th century rock stars. What made the residents of this tiny Wisconsin town go mad over such an extended period of time?
Well, there are no hard and fast answers any more than there are for Salem's highly communicable insanity that resulted in the wrongful deaths of at least 25 people. Yet there was a severe recession sweeping across America at the exact same time and Black River Falls, Wisconsin was hit especially hard. Unemployment was high, crops failed. The local newspaper actually offered recipes for sheep's head soup in a pathetic attempt to keep the townspeople from starving. Men murdered their wives over suspicions of infidelity, in some cases their entire families.
There was also a diphtheria epidemic that claimed the lives of many children. Essentially, Black River Falls was a real-life Twin Peaks, producing characters rivaling the weirdest creations of David Lynch, including Anne Sweeney, who was obsessed with breaking windows, and a faded opera star who'd later be committed to the local insane asylum. When the townsfolk would dredge the river for dead bodies, as they often did, Norwegian custom would require a person to sit at the bow of the rowboat holding a chicken and, according to legend, the chicken would cluck when they were directly over the body and they'd stop to drag the river.
And now, 120 years later, progressive-minded folks still smarting from last night's recall election of the most staggeringly, shockingly and stupendously corrupt Governor since Huey Long have two choices: To conclude that Wisconsin is either now the stupidest or the most insane state in the union, proving, if Florida in 2000 already hadn't, that Democracy is not a synonym for intelligence, informed voting or even a sane political system. And Citizen's United ensured last night that democracy has little to do with the will and voice of the biological individual and much, much more to do with that of corporate individuals.
To be sure, not all the news coming from Wisconsin was grim: Former State Senator John Lehman defeated his old rival, Sen. Van Wanggaard, in one of four senate recall elections. Lehman was the only Democrat to win a recall election last night, by a microscopic margin of 779 votes. But it was just enough to give Democrats control of the Wisconsin upper chamber. And Democrats could widen their lead in the actual elections in five months as 16 are up for grabs as well as all 99 Assembly seats.
Plus, Scott Walker won by 6.9% despite news reports filtering out in the 11th hour about him being a target of the Justice Department's John Doe investigation and a 13th aide being given immunity by federal prosecutors in exchange for testimony, presumably, against Walker.
So, Walker's victory, obviously, is a pyrrhic one and it's increasingly likely that Walker still will not serve out his first term after being stigmatized as just the third Governor in American history to face a recall election. And it's not even worth belaboring that Walker wouldn't have stood a chance were it not for over $45 million dollars coming from wealthy right wing donors (66% coming from out of state, as opposed to the 26% out of state money that came Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's way), most of it, we can assume, coming from the Koch brothers and ALEC. The nearly $50 million, a stupendous sum for a gubernatorial recall election, enabled Walker to outspend Barrett 7 to 1.
Adding to Barrett's woes was the unwillingness of the habitually craven, wet-legged Obama administration and the DNC for refusing to get more deeply involved and essentially handing Walker the victory. Obama's 11th hour tweet and a video that didn't even feature him was akin to Mr. Burns crashing Homer Simpson's Super Bowl party with a tiny bag of chips.
Last night's bitterly contested recall election saw much higher voter turnout than the last one of 2010. More people than had voted for Walker in 2010 had signed the recall petition, almost twice as many as the 540,000 originally needed. And, once again, Kathy Nicklaus of Waukesha County was front and center, barely hanging onto her job just long enough for this final hurrah, still insisting she wasn't actually in charge of tabulating the votes.
We saw the usual Republican dirty tricks: Robocalls spreading propaganda and disinformation (telling voters if they signed the recall petition, they didn't have to vote) and the usual Republican thuggery through voter intimidation (Republican election "monitors", aka the King Street Patriots, a Texas Tea Bagger street gang, were dispatched to many polls throughout the state), verbal abuse and even vandalism.
The voice of the people? Hardly. The vox populi, in the wake of Citizen's United, is a mere afterthought. The Koch brothers, through their Americans for Prosperity front group, bought this election, fair and square. And Republicans didn't win this election as much as Democrats lost it through the failure of the Obama administration to let down its wide coat tails and the DNC withholding most of the money it could've given to the Barrett campaign.
But at some point, the people of Wisconsin also have to take the blame for their own defeat. 36% of union households inexplicably went for Walker despite his and the Wisconsin legislature's shameless (and illegally ratified) bill stripping public unions of collective bargaining rights.
To those of us who have strong, informed opinions, it doesn't matter how much money billionaires like the Kochs throw at us. We have a sharply defined sense of right and wrong. It requires no money to form an opinion on a candidate, especially one who dominates the airwaves and print media as Barrett had these past several months. But the American voter in general is constantly blinded by money. So-called progressive California proved it during Gray Davis' own recall election and they proved it again when they reelected a gap-toothed baboon action movie star and again when Mormon money flooded California and got Proposition 8 overturned.
In this Idiocracy prequel in which we live, in which the stupidest and most disingenuous make millions and millions and are idolized like those three little witch hunting girls in Salem, Massachusetts, money and its simulacrum of speech will always reign. And Wisconsinites, far from being united, should now say, "We are all Black River Falls."
Let the whirlwind be reaped.