By Dominique Paul Noth
On March 11, I attended a Lenten service. It was supposed to be about untying those emotional knots that block natural empathy to our fellow humans, not the similar political knots strangling our state. But, forgive me, Lord, it is hard to keep those separate.
During the service, a friend recounted her experience with a mother of young children who, despite her impoverished circumstances, was willing to help out at a Saturday food pantry. Afterward, the friend offered to drive the mother home with two sacks of groceries, rather than seeing her and one young son struggle with such burdens on foot for 30 blocks.
On the drive the friend learned firsthand about the mother’s escape from an abusive relationship and the fight to raise several small children after being evicted from her home. Then she saw firsthand the mother’s walkup apartment, its gloomy stairway, its tiny kitchen with no stove, the refrigerator with a door hanging off the hinge.
At least the hinge matched the broken door to the bathroom. Inside, the tub was filled with laundry. The drying laundry was hanging in a living room barren of any furniture. Three young children emerged from the bedroom squealing with delight to see mother and the visitor.
We all feel a psychological mix when faced with poor broken families – compassion versus the desire to flee lest the contagion of poverty affect us. That desire to flee lost out this time to finding a way to talk with and support the mother and children.
I suppose in Madison the dominating legislators would describe the visitor as having made the wrong choice. Given the legislative bills they are rushing through, they would say she should have rebuked the mother for accepting a hand up rather than toughening up to the demands of the marketplace and contemporary living. She should have told the abused mother just shake off the consequences, shape up and not act the victim – in other words, don’t tell your story, just pretend it never happened. They might bend because the help was from volunteers but they certainly would stiffen their attitude if the government dared display such compassion, though it clearly can do far more to help.
These dominating rulers, I fear, would not understand that such poverty -- such a fight for her children’s education, such combat against the diseases lurking in neglected buildings -- has grown far beyond one family into thousands of state families. It has become all too typical and shameful in the richest nation in the world. Nor would the rulers confess that their policies – deliberately concocting “losers” in the free market system -- bear any blame for the growing desperation in rural and urban Wisconsin, now affecting so many who, not through lack of desire, lack opportunity to find a living wage or a helping hand.
We would all like to push this suffering away from us and just hide in church on Sunday, rather than admit to empathy and guilt. But the failures are happening right here and growing. It is not in some Third World far away or affecting children caught in the wars of Syria and Africa.
|Sen. Carpenter was slapped down for |
questioning Lazich’s lack of inclusion.
And it was assuredly the air of superiority that bothered so many when GOP Sen. Leah Vukmir, caught on tape, asked the hundreds of school professionals, crowding into the state Capitol to speak on behalf of students, how many were being paid by the taxpayers to be there (most were on their own dime) as if she couldn’t understand anything but wages driving such concern for children.
The visitor telling her story at services certainly failed the message that would have come from such elected officials as Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, economic leader in the House, nominal Catholic and physical fitness buff. He could have cribbed another story that it would have been better to put the donated food in a brown paper bag so the children would feel their mother really loved them enough to make them lunch, rather than relying on the charity of strangers or the policies of a caring government.
|Eloise Anderson at a 2012 Milwaukee hearing |
with angry inner city child care workers.
Anderson, whom I have covered in the past, is also famous for nuggets of advice to poor women, such as the best way to get out of poverty was to marry well, or to give up child care for jobs in manufacturing, which are hardly abundant under the Walker administration.
(Can I call Ryan a plagiarist? What is the term for cribbing a story from someone who cribbed the story and both passing it along as genuine with a false message? It certainly fit right into the Rand Paul book of plagiarism to impress libertarians and right wingers at CPAC. There must be some word for this in the English language other than “nonsense.”)
At least the same day I was attending the Lenten service about compassion, Gov. Walker, the son of a preacher and former Eagle Scout, did explain to the press the most pressing issue facing the state, so pressing that he wants to call back at taxpayer expense a special session of the legislature to make his most pressing law take effect before he faces an election in November.
|Democrats gathered March 7 in support of Mary Burke|
at Ambassador Hotel. From left: Supervisor David Bowen,
city treasurer Spencer Coggs, US Rep. Gwen Moore,
Burke and state Rep. Mandela Barnes.
At this point under real math, Walker is falling probably 170,000 short of that job promise though he makes it sound a bit closer by madly counting every gain he’s not responsible for. Economists credit the general rise in the national economy (sshhh, under someone named Obama, whom Walker never dare mention). Yet even with his inflated job numbers, Wisconsin still lags its immediate neighbors and the national average badly, just as its combination of taxes and fees lay unmovingly in the nation’s middle range.
No, it can’t be jobs that are so pressing, because Wisconsin keeps shedding jobs– American TV gone, Tramont closing, Hutchinson dropping 140 and so forth. The states that are gaining in economy are mixing tax policies with civic, transit, education and cultural improvements and actual ability as administrators, something other governors can lay claim to in both parties.
|Leah Vukmir with her frequent bill writer,|
No, at least Walker in the Lenten season has identified the most pressing issue facing the state. It is putting a restrictive voter photo ID law in place before his November contest against Burke, though similar hasty laws have generally been declared unconstitutional in courts around the nation and though there is no evidence of the sort of voter fraud the law addresses.
But court action takes time. So just like the attempts to block the John Doe probe seem mainly a delaying tactic to make sure nothing comes out before November, perhaps Walker is hoping that a voter ID law can’t be challenged successfully before November if the legislature is foolish enough to go along (they already restricted weekend voting). Or could this just be a warning shot aimed at conservative state justice Patricia Roggensack, who has expressed reservations about the way his first voter ID bill was written?
It all does suggest that Walker has calculated the nonpresidential year turnout. The 60,000 or so poor, student, minority, disabled and elderly voters who will find the costs, rules, time and inconvenience too enormous to overcome -- well they might spell the difference between loss and victory, so tight has the race already become (tied in latest GOP-leaning poll).
Now there are some residents, clinging to the myth of tax cuts rather than the reality of bigger potholes and slower service, not yet convinced that Walker is all about getting elected again and single-minded to that goal rather than caring anything about them. So far nothing has changed their minds – not those embarrassing emails revealing his shallowness, nor those weird bills attacking local authority, nor his cuts in education, nor the attacks on local taxpayer flexibility.
How about today? The governor proclaims the state’s most urgent need is solving an invisible problem by limiting poll access to likely opponents of his policies in the nick of time to help him get re-elected. Voter photo ID, to quote him, is “the only real thing I thought that was pressing.”
Is the emperor that arrogant or just that naked in his desire for new clothes in the presidential contest of 2016? Of all the problems the state is facing, that is it?
He announced it during Lent, a time for reflection. So reflect.