NYT Critic Sees ‘Scary’ ‘Extreme Makeover’ in Wisconsin From Gov. Walker's Union Reforms

July 12th, 2018 8:32 PM

The New York Times will never forgive conservative Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for taming his state's public unions and then surviving the vengeance of a union-funded recall election. It found another line of attack in Thursday’s Arts section: Book critic Jennifer Szalai’s laudatory look at The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics by liberal author Dan Kaufman: “How Conservatives bet on Wisconsin and Won.”

She didn’t mention that Kaufman, who has also contributed to the far-left Nation magazine, has written several passionate encomiums to Wisconsin unions for the paper.

In January 2016 Kaufman saw a melodramatic “culture of fear” among the “state’s beleaguered workers.” June 2015 brought Kaufman’s "Labor's Last Stand -- Scott Walker and the dismantling of American unions." In May 2012 the Times Sunday magazine featured 5,000 words from Kaufman keyed to the then-upcoming Wisconsin recall election, in which Kaufman equated “civility” to supporting left-wing unions.

It’s less a book review than a convenient conduit for Szalai to get some liberal hits in:

Hardcore conservatives adore infrastructure, and they’re phenomenally good at building it. This isn’t to say they’re necessarily committed to constructing roads and bridges and dams; it’s the infrastructure of their own movement -- the one that has helped Republican politicians seize power in state legislatures over the past decade -- that inspires their real dedication.

Their efforts have been chronicled in books like Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money” and Nancy MacLean’s “Democracy in Chains.” A conservative donor class, seeking to protect its agenda from the uncertainties of a democratic system, has erected a scaffolding of legislative groups and gerrymandered districts with the care and diligence of a structural engineer.

Odd how gerrymandering has become important in the media now that it benefit conservatives and Republicans, who control most statehouses. At any rate, it continued:

For progressives, Wisconsin has been a demoralizing case in point. In “The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics,” the Brooklyn-based journalist and Wisconsin native Dan Kaufman shows how the state became a conservative test case....

After noting ruefully that Hillary Clinton didn’t visit Wisconsin in the election's closing days, Szalai reached back to 1976 to fret a pro-First Amendment ruling:

....Kaufman invites us to contrast a century of progressivism with what happened after 1976, when the United States Supreme Court outlawed limits on campaign spending.

Szalai used anecdotes from Kaufman and another leftist author to mock Wisconsin’s reformist conservative Gov. Scott Walker:

This was also around the time that a 10-year-old Scott Walker moved with his family to Delavan, Wis., from Iowa. A decade later, as a mediocre student at Marquette University, Walker was candid about his grand political ambitions, telling one of his classmates, “God has told me I’m chosen to cut taxes and stop killing babies.”

Walker appears in Mayer’s “Dark Money” as a “college dropout with no exceptional charisma or charm” who coasted to victory in Wisconsin’s 2010 gubernatorial election, after wealthy conservative backers identified him as a Tea Party politician with a simpatico ideology....


If anything, Kaufman argues, Wisconsin’s historical penchant for balance and moderation shows how extreme the conservative movement has become....Kaufman fears that some of Wisconsin’s progressive traditions have already been crushed beyond repair.

Clean air, clean water, good schools: The public infrastructure that was considered common sense for Wisconsinites has been attacked by the right as if it were a red menace -- or, in today’s vernacular, the rarefied purview of urban elites. Kaufman believes that Wisconsin’s extreme makeover portends something scary for the rest of us. “If conservatives cannot tolerate a state that offers what Wisconsin once did,” he writes, “what kind of future is there for the American citizen?”