Commentary Magazine


Scott Walker and the Rage Factor

“If the general cannot overcome his anger and has his army swarm over the citadel, killing a third of his soldiers, and yet the citadel is still not taken, this is a disastrous attack,” Sun Tzu’s advice for martial planners preparing to lay siege to a fixed position was never truer. The left has been storming Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s citadel for years, incurring great casualties and sapping their breastworks of strength in the process. And yet, they continue to come, dashing themselves in waves against Walker’s seemingly impregnable position. What compels this fools’ rush? The Light Brigade’s charge into a battery of Russian guns was driven by error and pride, but the 118 British cavalrymen who died on that Crimean battlefield were posthumously lionized in romantic poetry not as victims of their reckless commanders but as the romantic champions of a lost and noble cause. So, too, are the liberal casualties lost to Walker’s advance fêted. In their anger, Walker’s opponents have repeatedly made tactical mistakes that should now, in hindsight, be appreciated for what they were: foreseeable disasters. Instead, ideology has clouded judgment. Walker’s opponents are prone to careless errors, and those errors are not condemned as evitable disasters but lauded as demonstrations of devotion to an ideal. 

The latest causalities of the eternal effort to derail Scott Walker’s Shermanesque march of annihilation through the formerly unassailable commanding heights of Democratic influence are the activists that pursued the “John Doe” investigation in Wisconsin. In the summer of 2014, a Wisconsin special prosecutor alleged that Walker was at the center of a “criminal scheme” involving the coordination of conservative organizations and fundraisers that helped him to become the first governor in American history to survive a recall election in 2012. But the charges were flimsy and plainly politically motivated. Shortly after that, that prosecutor backtracked and contended that Walker was never the target of this investigation.

But those who were in the special prosecutor’s crosshairs, like Walker aide and “Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill” (Act 10) architect Cindy Archer, were subject to the most egregious forms of political intimidation. In the early morning hours one day this past April, Archer and her family were awoken to SWAT-like police forces that forced her to open her house up to a search. With tipped off reporters looking on, police ransacked her home, barking orders and throwing, as she claims, her “dead mother’s belongings,” among other effects, around the house in a most “disrespectful way.” In the end, the police departed with just a cellphone and a laptop. Archer wasn’t the only target of this manner of persecution.

“This was the on-the-ground reality of the so-called John Doe investigations, expansive and secret criminal proceedings that directly targeted Wisconsin residents because of their relationship to Scott Walker, their support for Act 10, and their advocacy of conservative reform,” National Review’s David French noted.

On Thursday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court mercifully ended the madness. “To be clear, this conclusion ends the John Doe investigation because the special prosecutor’s legal theory is unsupported in either reason or law,” the Court’s final disposition read. “It is utterly clear that the special prosecutor has employed theories of law that do not exist in order to investigate citizens who were wholly innocent of any wrongdoing. In other words, the special prosecutor was the instigator of a ‘perfect storm’ of wrongs that was visited upon the innocent Unnamed Movants and those who dared to associate with them.”

The decision was a victory for justice over thuggery. Add another scalp to Walker’s growing collection.

Wisconsin’s 45th governor has been inspiring fits of irrational rage since he came into office amid the Republican wave of 2010. In 2012, he defeated an ill-advised recall effort by a larger margin than he managed to secure in his first election. The recall was seen as a test of the strength of organized labor, an ailing institution hurled into chaos by Walker’s successful reform of state unions’ collective bargaining rights, and national labor spent tens of millions on the failed effort to oust Walker from office. The governor’s comfortable reelection victory in 2014 represented another stunning humiliation for labor.

“What the labor movement now has to ask itself is: How could it lose three times — in 2010, a 2012 recall vote and now in Walker’s 2014 re-election — to the nation’s most blatantly anti-union governor?” asked Politico’s labor reporter, Timothy Noah. “How especially in Wisconsin, cradle of the early 20th-century Progressive movement and birthplace of public-sector unionism? If not here, where?”

The crisis of identity has propelled Walker’s political opponents into spasms of inchoate fury. Like George W. Bush before him, the left presumes that Walker’s inclination toward evil is matched only by his stupidity. The President of the United States who oversaw the implosion of Syria, the rise of ISIS, and the return of interstate war in Europe during his tenure, has had the temerity to accuse Walker of being ignorant on how foreign affairs are conducted. NBC News echoed the charge when Walker observed decorum by refusing to criticize Barack Obama on his approach to foreign affairs overseas – the presumption was that he couldn’t rather than that he wouldn’t. Of course, that scolding occurred in between self-satisfied affirmations from the left and the media who presumed, incorrectly as it happens, that they were fully abreast of the latest thinking among evolutionary scientists. Having left college a few credits shy of a degree in order to take a job offer, many of Walker’s opponents have followed a similar course of implying, or suggesting outright, that he lacks the requisite intellectual heft to serve as president. And of course – of course – Walker has been accused of embracing racial and racist politics. “Unlike Mitt Romney — who was merely adopted by the world of racially polarized politics — Walker was born in it and molded by it,” wrote Slate’s Jamelle Bouie.

The whistles blow and over the parapets they rush; headlong into a hail, and every time with the same fervor of the last, broken wave. Ultimately, their headlong charges and the victories they yield to Walker only embolden his supporters. You would think the left would have adapted by now, but their judgment is clouded. Among the Republican 2016 candidates, only Walker inspires this kind of frustration among liberals. While figures like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have also undermined the left’s powerbases in organized labor and academia, he does not move liberals to commit frenzied tactical errors. Perhaps it is Walker’s mild mannered and seemingly imperturbable comportment that so irritates his opponents. Perhaps it is something even more intangible.

While Walker is certainly a formidable general election candidate, he is not unbeatable. Walker’s critics are correct to note that his many statewide electoral victories occurred in years that were not characterized by a general election turnout (although the size of his margins of victories probably means their outcome wouldn’t have changed). Reports that indicate he is acting as his own political strategist are deeply disturbing. If they are true, that might account for why Walker has so carelessly stumbled over and flip-flopped on issues like a pathway to legal status for illegal immigrants and the rights of same-sex couples. Walker is a vulnerable candidate in many ways. But his singular ability to blind his enraged opponents is a unique source of strength, and he would be wise to capitalize on it.

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2 Responses to “Scott Walker and the Rage Factor”

  1. JACK LEVEY says:

    “Having left college a few credits shy of a degree in order to take a job offer, many of Walker’s opponents have followed a similar course of . . . ” suggests that it was Walker’s opponents, and not Walker, who left college without completing a degree. Surely this is not what Mr. Rothman, in a well-reasoned but poorly edited post, meant to say.


    There is an ontological calm at the center of Scott Walker. This, more than likely, is the cause of the blind rage that drives Walker’s opponents, who, if anything else can be said of them, no doubt lack that peace, that ontological confidence. Walker grew up as a preacher’s kid, as I understand it. All the preacher’s kids I knew while I was growing up, were a mess, were in terrible disarray. My observation was that the parents did not live the faith of which they preached. Consequently, the kids were forced to live a lie, and it tore them apart. There is no evidence of Walker being torn apart, of going through a period of rebellion, ‘of trying to find himself’. This suggests to me that his father was genuine and honest in his preaching and in his living out what he preached. It also might very well suggest the calm and confidence sported by Walker, is something not manufactured for the political theater, but an expression of the outworking of his faith, a faith that blesses him with wisdom, understanding, courage, and fortitude, and, most importantly, a peace that is beyond the understanding of many.

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