By Bill Kaplan
"The budget plan (including a $300 million cut to the UW System) we present tonight will help restore the American Dream right here in Wisconsin."
-- Gov. Scott Walker
What a week for Walker. It began with: favorable press coverage by the chattering class, first in Iowa and New Hampshire polls, right-wing talk radio in ecstasy and the super-rich writing humongous campaign checks. However, back in Wisconsin, the game plan for Walker's austere budget furthering his presidential ambitions misfired:
* Defending the cuts, Walker belittled and denigrated UW professors, saying they should be "teaching more classes and doing more work";
* The Wall Street Journal speculated that Walker's UW cuts could give him a "boost" for the GOP presidential nomination in first-up Iowa;
* Former Wisconsin GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson said: "I know the voters in Iowa, and a fight with university professors is certainly not going to hurt him in that state."
However, it is not a good omen for a politician when conservative and liberal Wisconsin newspaper editorials are on the same critical page. For example, the conservative Wisconsin State Journal said: "The governor is strongly considering a bid for president. He'd like to quickly sign a state spending package that doesn't offend conservative voters in early presidential primary and caucus states such as Iowa. The legislature, to its credit, doesn't appear compliant if Wisconsin's universities, public schools and roads will be hurt."
Yes, some GOP legislators were aghast at the scale of the UW System cuts (13 percent!) and incredulous at Walker's ham-handed effort to eviscerate the Wisconsin Idea: his attempt to whitewash watering down the Wisconsin Idea as a "drafting error" or "miscommunication" was another misfire. Tellingly, GOP state Senator Rob Cowles called for more funding for the UW System, saying "the cuts are too deep". And, GOP
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he was opposed to the "rewrite" of the Wisconsin Idea. Walker retreated, leaving the deletion of "improve the human condition" and "the search for truth" on the cutting room floor.
By the end of the week the Associated Press reported: "In the face of opposition from fellow Republicans, Gov. Scott Walker saidThursday that he's open to adding more money for public schools, the University of Wisconsin and roads as long as property taxes are still cut ..." (perhaps fairy dust will be used for financing). There is a lesson here. Walker's narcissistic ambition to be president and his inability to empathize with regular folks is a threat to Wisconsin as well as to GOP state legislators.
As President Kennedy admonished: "those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside".
-- Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C. for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 - 2009.