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Is Scott Walker Too White To Get Elected?

scott-walker-whiteness-tnr

Conservative commentators are raising eyebrows at The New Republic cover story titled “The Unelectable Whiteness of Scott Walker.” More interesting is the theme conveyed by the subtitle “A journey through the poisonous, racially divided world that produced a Republican star.”

Ann Althouse, Moe Lane, and John Hinderacker not unreasonably consider the article, which is built entirely on innuendo and presumption, to be a smear. Althouse goes further, accusing TNR of “racism” for using “whiteness” as a slur. That strikes me as rather silly, given that it’s rather implausible that an article written by a white man for a white-owned, white-edited publication whose audience is almost entirely white harbors anti-white racial animus. Indeed, no non-idiot would argue that being white renders one unelectable in America; rather, the argument is that appealing only to whites—and, really, the subset of whites who live in the suburbs and rural areas—makes one unelectable to national office.

Regardless, while I actually agree with the premise that I just outlined, the article itself is, to put it charitably, not very good.

The opener is rather bizarre, having nothing to do with Walker:

On early August of 2011, a few days after Congress passed a deal to end the debt-ceiling showdown that brought the nation to the brink of credit default, a conservative talk-radio host in the Milwaukee suburbs went on an extended riff about Gwen Moore, the first African American elected to the House from Wisconsin.

Moore had missed the debt-ceiling vote, and her office explained that she had been unable to make her way through the massive crowd that gathered to celebrate Gabrielle Giffords’s triumphant return to the floor. This account provided an opening for radio host Mark Belling.

“She’s been in the Congress now for about ten years. During that time, she … has managed to be known for absolutely nothing,” Belling said. “Gwen Moore simply occupies a seat. A very large seat. … The woman is so fat and out of shape, she literally can’t get to the floor to vote anymore. … It’s time to vote and here’s Gwen: ‘I’m out of breath! Blew-ee, blew-ee!’ ” (Here Belling affected the exertions of an overweight black woman.) Or, he continued, perhaps there was another possibility: “What do you think the chances are she was sitting on the toilet? … Maybe Gwen was sitting there on the crapper and this was one that was not working out too well for her or something. ‘Blew-ee!’ ‘Congresswoman, you’ve got to vote.’ ‘I am sittin’ on de toilet!’ ” Belling concluded: “Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head, got there, and voted. … Gwen Moore can’t waddle her way across the street.”

For Belling, this kind of performance was hardly out of character. Back in 2004, he’d been briefly suspended for referring to “wetback” voters in Milwaukee’s Hispanic neighborhood. It was, perhaps, a sign of his audience’s uniform outlook that the diatribe against Moore went unnoticed by anyone who might have objected to it, including Moore herself.

Now, I don’t find toilet humor particularly funny and have never heard of Moore or Belling, much less heard Belling’s show. But while making jokes about a fat woman’s being too out of shape to get to the floor to vote may be offensive, it’s not obvious why it’s racist. Indeed, it’s quite possible that it went unnoticed, not because Belling’s show is such a cesspool—although, again, it’s possible that it is—but because it’s rather banal. Given that I’m quite sure that there are examples of more blatant racism on local talk radio, I’m befuddled as to why this was the lede.

In any case, the riff did not keep the state’s governor, Scott Walker, from appearing on the show a few days later. Belling’s treatment of Walker was notably more deferential. “Have you,” he asked, “sat back and thought about what has been accomplished by yourself and the Republican legislature? Has it really sunk in that you’ve transformed a fiscally reckless state into perhaps the most fiscally sound state in the nation? Has it sunk in, I guess is what I’m saying, do you realize what’s been accomplished?” Walker replied that no, his achievement had not sunk in, because he had been “so busy doing it.”

Again, it’s not obvious why a fairly innocuous, if juvenile, bit about an elected representative would keep the governor from appearing on a popular program aimed at his constituency. And, given that there are surely more prominent examples of a “poisonous, racially divided world,” it’s taking way to long to get to a point. Indeed, while I’ve become persuaded that there is such a thing as “code words” and “dog whistles” that signal in-group solidarity without explicitly mentioning the out-group, the “fiscally sound/fiscally reckless” dichotomy surely is not an example of either.

That accomplishmenteffectively eliminating collective bargaining for most public employees in the state, facing down the angry protests that followed, surviving a rancorous recall electionhas vaulted Walker into the top tier of Republican presidential contenders for 2016. He is the closest person the party has to an early favorite, and not simply because of Chris Christie’s nosedive from grace or because Jeb Bush is still waffling about his intentions. Walker has implemented an impeccably conservative agenda in a state that has gone Democratic in seven straight presidential elections. Unlike Mitt Romney, or, for that matter, John McCain, he is beloved by the conservative base, but he has the mien of a mainstream candidate, not a favorite of the fringe. His boosters, who include numerous greenroom conservatives in Washington and major donors around the country, such as the Koch brothers, see him as the rare Republican who could muster broad national support without yielding a millimeter on doctrine.

Six paragraph into an explosively subtitled cover story, then, we still have zero evidence. Finally, though, we start to zero in:

This interpretation of Walker’s appeal could hardly be more flawed. He has succeeded in the sort of environment least conducive to producing a candidate capable of winning a national majority. Over the past few decades, Walker’s home turf of metropolitan Milwaukee has developed into the most bitterly divided political ground in the country“the most polarized part of a polarized state in a polarized nation,” as a recent series by Craig Gilbert in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel put it. Thanks to a quirk of twentieth-century history, the region encompasses a heavily Democratic and African American urban center, and suburbs that are far more uniformly white and Republican than those in any other Northern city, with a moat of resentment running between the two zones. As a result, the area has given rise to some of the most worrisome trends in American political life in supercharged form: profound racial inequality, extreme political segregation, a parallel-universe news media. These trends predate Walker, but they have enabled his ascent, and his tenure in government has only served to intensify them. Anyone who believes that he is the Republican to save his partylet alone win a presidential electionneeds to understand the toxic and ruptured landscape he will leave behind.

Fair enough. Alas, we’re treated next to several more paragraphs that do nothing to advance this thesis. Were this a student paper, I’d have already stopped reading. For you, however, I’ll trudge on and just skip to the bits that should actually have been in the article.

It wasn’t until the ’60s that African Americans started to drift into Milwaukee in large numbers. For the next 20 years, the city offered safer streets and better schools than Chicago, and its industrial base was faring better than in many other urban areas. By 1990, Milwaukee’s black population had shot up to 30 percent. Today, it stands near 40 percent, while Hispanics make up another 17 percent.

This delayed arrival would prove highly consequential. Not long after a substantial African American community took shape, Milwaukee’s industrial base began to collapse and its manufacturing jobs disappeared. This left almost no time for the city to develop a black middle class or a leadership elite. Within short order, Milwaukee had some of the most glaring racial disparities in the country. Today, it has the second-highest black poverty rate in the United States, and the unemployment rate is nearly four times higher for blacks than for whites. The city had never been exactly welcoming to African Americans—its tight-knit enclaves of Germans, Jews, and Poles had fiercely resisted housing and school integration. But the decline of the black ghetto so soon after many of its residents had arrived made it easier for white Milwaukeeans to write off the entire African American community, or to blame it for the city’s troubles. White flight, like the Great Migration, came late to Milwaukee, but it came fast and fueled with resentment. Between 1960 and 2010, the population of the three formerly rural counties around Milwaukee County (Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington, or the “WOW” counties, for short) nearly tripled, to 608,000.

That’s sociologically fascinating. Several more paragraphs develop the point that there’s a racial divide in the greater Milwaukee area, ultimately circling back to the introductory idea that talk radio in the city is less than edifying. The key ‘graph:

Over time, the two shows became known by a single name: “SykesBelling.” In the halls of the statehouse, Milwaukee City Hall, and area county governments, elected officials, particularly insufficiently conservative Republicans, lived in dread of denunciations by the hosts and the tsunami of angry calls from listeners that would follow. Sykes is credited with, among other accomplishments, having blocked public funding for needle-exchange programs and having helped drive into bankruptcy an urban mall after harping on security issues there. In April 2013, he played a clip of “It’s Free (Swipe Yo EBT),” a viral video produced by a right-wing activist in which an African American woman raps about liquor stores where one can allegedly use a food-stamp card. Returning to the same theme later in the year, Sykes declared, “The number of Americans who receive means-tested government benefits— welfare—now outnumbers those who are year-round full-time workers.” No other midsize city has this kind of sustained and energized conservative forum for discussion of local politics. The only counterweights on the left are Wisconsin Public Radio, with its implicit but restrained liberalism, a lefty F.M. talk show in Madison with limited reach, and two African American talk-radio stations in Milwaukee, one of which recently went out of business.

None of this is Scott Walker’s fault, however, nor is any claim made that it is. So, several thousand words into a piece arguing that Scott Walker is too beholden to racial politics to get elected to national office, all we have is the notion that there’s a racist undercurrent to politics in Milwaukee. Finally, we get to the smear of Walker himself:

In 1990, at age 22, Scott Walker launched his first campaign, for the state Assembly seat held by Gwen Moore. It was a Democratic-leaning, majority-white district stretching west from Marquette; Moore recalls hearing that Walker thought he had a shot at winning because he was younger and better-looking than the Republican she had beaten two years earlier. “He had a certain kind of vanity,” she says. Walker ran on an anti-crime platform, pushing what Moore refers to as “dog-whistle literature.” This included one mailing that featured an image of a big gun, “implying that the neighborhood was going to go to hell” if Moore won.

So . . . a bitter former opponent says that Walker used “dog whistle” imagery in his campaign against her. What else?

Walker lost, and soon thereafter settled with his wife, Tonette, in more amenable political territory. Three years later, he ran in a crowded GOP primary field for the local state Assembly seat in the historically Republican inner suburb of Wauwatosa. This time, he won. The party, which under the leadership of Governor Tommy Thompson was pushing hard for welfare reform and private-school vouchers in Milwaukee, made Walker its point man on criminal justice. He authored a bill calling for “truth in sentencing” (eliminating time off for good behavior) and championed prison privatization, though he also surprised some Democrats by supporting legislation to improve defendants’ access to DNA evidence. As chairman of the elections and rules committee, he advocated for voter-I.D. laws, long seen as an effort to limit minority access to the polls.

But Walker didn’t really seem all that interested in making an impact in Madisoncolleagues from both parties recall him as an amiable backbencher. Instead, he seemed most intent on cultivating a constituency via the airwaves. Jensen, then the speaker, started sending Walker on television and the radio talk shows when he couldn’t make it and quickly realized that his colleague had an unerring ability to stay on message. “He’s the kind of guy you can wake up at three a.m. and ask him a question, and he’ll have a nice sound bite for you,” says Jensen. Charlie Sykes adds, “He is probably as media savvy as any politician we’ve ever dealt with here in Wisconsin.”

More innuendo and guilty by association. Presumably, Walker spent considerable time making public statements via the airwaves. Yet, we’re given not a single Walker quotation demonstrating that he plays racial politics? You’d think that there would at least be something that looks bad stripped of its context. But all we get is that he appeared on a very popular radio show that seems to stray into that territory.

The partisan gulf between Milwaukee and its suburbs in presidential elections has now grown wider than in any of the nation’s 50 largest cities, except for New Orleans, according to the Journal Sentinel series.

In such an environment, “there’s no persuasion going on at all,” says GOP pollster Gene Ulm, who often works in Wisconsin. In fact, there is not a single competitive state Senate seat left in the entire Milwaukee media market. Both parties focus entirely on turnout, and with impressive results. The WOW counties were in the top eleven nationwide for turnout in 2012, with Ozaukee first at 84 percent. Similarly, among urban counties, Milwaukee County ranks near the top, at 74 percent. (The national average was just over 60 percent.) In midterm elections, Republicans often win because the WOW counties vote no matter what, an achievement that Mark Graul, a Republican consultant, attributes in large part to the motivational power of Milwaukee talk-radio stations. However, in presidential-year elections, when turnout is up everywhere in the state, Democrats winin fact, they have won every single major statewide race in presidential years since 1984. Even Walker admits that he isn’t working the middle much anymore: “It was always a divided state but it used to be (that) you’d explain it as ’40/40/20,’ and 20 percent was the persuadable middle,” he told the Journal Sentinel. “That percent has shrunk now to 5, 6 percent maybe … or five or six people.”

It is as if the Milwaukee area were in a kind of time warp. Like the suburbanites of the ’70s and ’80s elsewhere in the United States, the residents of the WOW counties are full of anxiety and contempt for the place they abandoned. “We’re still in the disco era here,” says Democratic political consultant Paul Maslin. This has affected the politics of the state in myriad ways. The nationwide trend of exploring alternatives to prison hasn’t reached Wisconsinit has the highest rate of black male incarceration of any state in the country. Sykes told me he could track the desertion of the city through the discussions of Milwaukee public schools on his show. “Through the 1990s we were very interested in education reform, and then it was like a button was switched, and those were someone else’s kids,” he said. “That’s when I realized we weren’t a Milwaukee station anymore.”

This is all very interesting. And sad. But all it demonstrates is that Milwaukee—and Wisconsin writ large—are an extreme case of the national trend towards polarization that we’ve been talking about the entire history of this site, now in its twelfth year. And, circling back to the TNR title, it’s worth noting that Walker was in fact elected in such a climate. Although, alas, in the fashion one might expect:

Walker won the general election against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett with 52 percent of the vote. Some prognosticators expected that Walker might fare better than previous Republicans in Milwaukee County, given that he had spent eight years governing it. In fact, he did no better than the Republican norm, with 37 percent. But in the WOW counties, he exceeded even the GOP’s usual sky-high numbers. In his inaugural address, he took the audience on a long rhetorical tour of the state“Superior to Kenosha; Sturgeon Bay over to Platteville …” He did not mention Milwaukee.

We all know what happened next:

Barely more than a month after taking office, Walker introduced legislation to eradicate collective bargaining for all public employees except police and firefighters. Fourteen Democratic state senators fled the state to prevent Walker from assembling the quorum necessary for a vote, and tens of thousands of protesters descended on the state capitol for an occupation that lasted three weeks. Nationally, the tumult was described as a kind of alien visitation on Wisconsin’s paradise of Upper Midwestern civility. In fact, the episode had simply brought the polarization between the WOW counties and liberal Milwaukee and Madison out into the open for the first time.

Now, I opposed these efforts. Given that he did this out of the blue, not having campaigned on this platform, it struck me as an outrageous change in the social construct without the citizens having a chance to vote on it after lengthy debate. And I say that as one who thinks public employees (of which I have again subsequently become one) should not have the right to strike. Regardless, however, none of this is evidence that Walker is racist, uses racial animus as the key to his electoral strategy, or that he’s unelectable.

There’s essentially nothing in the rest of the piece that provides any real evidence of racism even connected to the Walker machine, aside from a mention of a supporter email that is at least vaguely racist.  The piece closes as it began, circling back yet again to the Milwaukee talk radio scene:

On Sunday morning, as the convention concluded with a closed-door prayer breakfast, I headed to my hotel and flipped on the television, just in time for Charlie Sykes’s weekly show. One of Sykes’s panelists raised the issue of “an incident in the fifteenth aldermanic district where supporters of a liberal candidate bought meals for voters.” The fifteenth district is mostly black, the candidate is black, and the former acting mayor who provided the lunches to voters is black. But the panelist didn’t mention any of that. For his audience, who live beyond Fond du Lac Avenue and its check-cashing outlets and shuttered storefronts, over the city line where the humble frame houses and bungalows give way abruptly to McMansion subdivisions with names like Harmony Hills and River Heights, he didn’t need to.

So, really, that’s the theme here. There’s a racial divide, everyone knows there’s a racial divide, and therefore anything white conservatives say is presumed to be grounded in this racial divide and therefore evidence of racism.

The odd thing is that, while I reject that premise, I have little doubt that race is a major factor in American politics. It’s just too big a part of our history and culture not to be.  The fears and frustrations of suburban whites, in Milwaukee and elsewhere, about crime, failing families, poor schools, the welfare state, and more are both real and at least partly seen through a racial prism. Some of that’s what we would have called racism even in 1974—that is to say, outright animus based on skin color. Most of it is just the cultural vestiges of racial history that are much more subtle and yet undeniably real.

Yet, even with that viewpoint and a deep skepticism of Walker as a presidential candidate coming into the article, I found the piece incredibly frustrating and not the least bit persuasive about its ostensible thesis.

I don’t think Walker will be the Republican nominee, much less get elected president, in 2016. But I don’t think race will have any more to do with that than it will for any other plausible GOP candidate. Rather, Walker isn’t charismatic by presidential standards and doesn’t seem to have any obvious traits that make him stand out from the field. Being a governor, rather than a member of this historically unpopular Congress, is a huge plus. But there are a lot of Republican governors with less baggage on more likelihood of appealing to the general public.

The bizarre thing about all this is that the central premise of the article—that appealing solely to a subset of the white electorate is making it increasingly unlikely that the Republican Party will win back the presidency—is almost indisputably right. That TNR wasted a cover feature making the argument so poorly is truly baffling.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. KM says:

    Is Scott Walker Too White To Get Elected?

    Is Scott Walker Too White Scott Walker To Get Elected?

    And the answer is yes.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 3

  2. SenyorDave says:

    This is a put on, right? You can’t seriously believe that the poison emanating from the “radio host” wasn’t racist.

    ‘Congresswoman, you’ve got to vote.’ ‘I am sittin’ on de toilet!’

    This isn’t racist? What planet do you live on? Just because he wasn’t fired doesn’t mean it wasn’t overtly racist. If he had affected the dialect of an old Jewish man and done a similar rift he would have been fired mid-sentence. And for a sitting governor to go on the same radio show is shameful. This sounds like the beginning of a good campaign ad to me.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 32 Thumb down 4

  3. … There’s really no ifs, ands or buts about this. This is an absolute hack job and TNR should be ashamed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  4. @SenyorDave:

    Whether what Belling said is racist or not (and I agree with James, I don’t see the racism either), it isn’t relevant to Walker at all.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 10

  5. PAUL HOOSON says:

    Mitt Romney also seemed laughably too white to me. – This is a new America in which Univision, the Spanish language network, is America’s top broadcast network, now beating CBS among some important demographic groups.

    As a bar owner in a largely African American and Hispanic community, my customers like me because I promote R&B and Hip Hop music events, and seem very accepted as a very soulful White guy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  6. James Joyner says:

    @SenyorDave: Without context, no, it’s by no means obviously racist. It’s not even an obviously black patois.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 14

  7. al-Ameda says:

    @James Joyner:

    Without context, no, it’s by no means obviously racist. It’s not even an obviously black patois.

    But of course there was context.

    (Here Belling affected the exertions of an overweight black woman.) Or, he continued, perhaps there was another possibility: “What do you think the chances are she was sitting on the toilet? … Maybe Gwen was sitting there on the crapper and this was one that was not working out too well for her or something. ‘Blew-ee!’ ‘Congresswoman, you’ve got to vote.’ ‘I am sittin’ on de toilet!’ ” Belling concluded: “Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head, got there, and voted. … Gwen Moore can’t waddle her way across the street.”

    At any rate Scott Walker seems tethered to Wisconsin state finances and to his relationship with unionized public employees and teachers – and not to race.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  8. Matt Bernius says:

    @James Joyner:
    James, agree with the article on just about every point.

    That said:

    It’s not even an obviously black patois.

    A lot depends on the vocal performance, but “Blew-ee!’ ‘and ‘I am sittin’ on de toilet!’ (note the dropping of the last syllable and the “de” instead of “the”) are both traditional blackface/minstrel-show markers. Likewise the overweight black woman is a pretty well known trope (see Rush Limbaugh’s running “joke” that Michelle Obama is somehow overweight).

    But to Doug’s point, the race baiting of Belling tells us very little about Scott Walker.

    Personally, I’m am so fricking tired of plays on “Unbearable Lightness/Unforgivable Blackness” — not to mention not particularly well thought-out treatises on race and politics.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  9. James Joyner says:

    @al-Ameda: I quoted that in the OP; it’s not “context.” By “context,” I mean what’s the background premise of the “joke.” I just don’t know why they’d make the joke outside of context. So far as I’m aware, blacks aren’t any more inclined to be on the toilet than whites. Was there some Moore-specific incident in the past? Is this some sort of running gag on the show?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 15

  10. gVOR08 says:

    Is there anything going on here deeper than a click-bait headline on what seems to be actually a pretty good piece on sociology and politics in greater Milwaukee and Wisconsin? I haven’t read the piece, very long, probably will later. Is there anywhere in the actual article that MacGillis says Walker’s too white to get elected? Or that Walker has been racist, as opposed to rising out of a racist situation?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  11. James Joyner says:

    @Matt Bernius: We overlapped here. I’ll take your word on the “Blew-ee!” thing, as I’ve never heard it before. Moore actually is overweight. Having seen her on Colbert—my only exposure to her before and one I recalled only after having Googled her pursuant to this piece—she doesn’t speak what I’d call “High English” but neither does she speak with a stereotypical ghetto patois either, so I’m inclined to agree that the “de toilet” thing is at least racially stereotyped.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  12. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08: That’s certainly the implication of the piece. Indeed, I can’t imagine why a national political magazine would do a cover story on the racial politics of Wisconsin if it weren’t for Scott Walker’s name being touted for a 2016 presidential run.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  13. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    White, schmite. How many EVs will he take on the only map that matters? Seems a non-white person did pretty handily there his last two outings so please spare me the white schtick.

    Good read, if a tad long.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. Dave D says:

    I grew up in a suburb of Milwaukee and both of my folks are very right leaning, so I grew up listening to Belling. The man is an unapologetic racist and the stark racism and racial divide in Milwaukee is stunning. I agree the piece isn’t very good and does a bad job making it central thesis, unless you’ve spent a lot of time in Milwaukee.

    One of Sykes’s panelists raised the issue of “an incident in the fifteenth aldermanic district where supporters of a liberal candidate bought meals for voters.”

    This right here was the deciding line in the piece while talking about how bad the talk radio is in MKE. Every caller that wants to talk about the “other” in Milwaukee, uses street names or neighborhood names or district numbers to predominantly black and extremely poor neighborhoods. Since Milwaukee is consistently on lists as the most or second most segregated city in America this is very easy to dog whistle. When a majority of the non-white city inhabitants live in certain areas (the north side is almost entirely black, while the south side is heavily hispanic) doing this is an easy and extremely lazy whistle to the listeners but also doesn’t scream how racist it is to outsiders.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  15. Matt Bernius says:

    @James Joyner:
    Totally understand she’s overweight. And the toilet joke is definitely a traditional fat joke as well.

    Either way, that article is really a steaming mess. I clicked through and read the whole thing, and it strikes me as a case of a writer trying to do a “Rolling Stone” or “New Yorker” political piece but lacking in the talent or the editors necessary to pull it off.

    That said, it provided more than enough stuff for Conservative pundits to bitch about. So I guess its helpful for someone.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  16. Hal_10000 says:

    @James Joyner:

    It’s a pity that it takes a potential Presidential run by Walker for people to pay attention to the divide that has developed in Milwaukee. My mother is from that region and it was not like that back in her childhood, even as minorities moved into the city. I think the point about the industrial base collapsing just as black people moved there is a very important one and I wish it weren’t garbled up with all this political horse race stuff.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  17. James Joyner says:

    @Dave D: @Hal_10000: I agree it’s an interesting topic. The piece would have been much better framed as “Milwaukee is what America could become if we continue down this path” than as a faux expose of Scott Walker. But TNR wouldn’t have run that, much less put it on the cover.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  18. rudderpedals says:

    Given that I’m quite sure that there are examples of more blatant racism on local talk radio, I’m befuddled as to why this was the lede.

    Was it not appropriate for a piece that was about how Walker was a product of a local talk radio environment that mirrors the toxic race and class division between Milwaukee and the surrounding counties?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  19. Matt Bernius says:

    @Hal_10000:
    In post-industrial America, Milwaukee’s story isn’t particularly unique. Throughout the North-East and Great Lakes, even in places with existing African-American populations, industrial prosperity was rarely equally distributed across racial groups. In city after city, you find the same general story of certain groups (who had the most access to jobs) moving out into rapidly expanding suburbs, while other groups become trapped in areas of extreme poverty.

    @Dave D:

    Every caller that wants to talk about the “other” in Milwaukee, uses street names or neighborhood names or district numbers to predominantly black and extremely poor neighborhoods. [...] When a majority of the non-white city inhabitants live in certain areas (the north side is almost entirely black, while the south side is heavily hispanic) doing this is an easy and extremely lazy whistle to the listeners but also doesn’t scream how racist it is to outsiders.

    From my experience, if you listen to local Talk Radio in Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse (probably Binghamton and Albany too), you’ll hear exactly the same devices. Every segregated local community uses similar language techniques to find “safe” ways to express ideas and feelings that would be “unsafe” to say in a less coded form.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  20. James Joyner says:

    @rudderpedals: It’s all setup for a piece that never delivered on its central premise.

    1. Wisconsin talk radio is toxic.
    2. Scott Walker has been on Wisconsin talk radio as a guest.
    3. QED

    That’s some mighty weak sauce.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  21. beth says:

    I have a feeling that if you listened to the actual voice used on the radio show, there’d be more evidence of a racist tone to it. I agree that the article does a poor job of showing that. Maybe if the author linked to an actual recording of the show? (I don’t know if it does; I’m going by what James wrote in his post).

    I do however find it hilarious that the same person who just the other day wrote a column about how Obama threw Hagel under the bus based on the testimony of only one person (and a Republican to boot) and when challenged on it, linked to two articles that still didn’t make his point, had that pointed out to him yet again and never responded with any proof at all is now nutpicking someone else’s article.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  22. Gavrilo says:

    @James Joyner:

    It’s not even an obviously black patois.

    Black patois? Is that anything like a Negro dialect?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  23. beth says:

    @James Joyner: There’s a reason the old saying “if you lay down with dogs, you get fleas” came into being. I have very little respect for any politician, on either side, who lowers himself to appear on radio shows that have a history of making racial/sexist/homophobic remarks on a regular basis.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  24. Matt Bernius says:

    @rudderpedals:

    Was it not appropriate for a piece that was about how Walker was a product of a local talk radio environment that mirrors the toxic race and class division between Milwaukee and the surrounding counties?

    That might work as a story if Walker had worked in radio. But the fact he was a semi-regular guest?

    Way too many dots that need connecting (not to mention way overplaying the role of radio in an environment like that).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  25. Barry says:

    @rudderpedals: “Was it not appropriate for a piece that was about how Walker was a product of a local talk radio environment that mirrors the toxic race and class division between Milwaukee and the surrounding counties? ”

    Seconding this.

    James, the point of the article was that Scott Walker has always run with a near-100% white and non-Hispanic base. Also, that the media environment matches that – he has the support of people who don’t need blacks or Hispanics as anything but enemies.

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  26. Matt Bernius says:

    @Barry:
    If that’s the original intent, then the writer managed to bury it. Either that, or the editor who came up with the headlines absolutely buried the point of the article by focusing on the wrong part of the story.

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  27. ElizaJane says:

    I read the article earlier today and find that I agree with both sides here. The headline and the lead-in were cheap — click-bait and guilt by association. On the other hand, they got me to read the rest of the article, which confirmed and magnified my already negative opinion of Walker. Which was probably just about what was intended.

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  28. rudderpedals says:

    @Matt Bernius: @James Joyner:

    I suppose it’s a matter of taste. I thought the article vividly imaged the personalities and transported the reader into the poisonous mileaux.

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  29. Matt Bernius says:

    @James Joyner:

    The piece would have been much better framed as “Milwaukee is what America could become if we continue down this path” than as a faux expose of Scott Walker.

    The problem is that the article can’t seem to commit to one or the other. And, generally speaking, where it crosses over is the weakest portion (though you did skip over the discussion of the cross communication between Walker and the second radio host – Sykes – which is where the article comes the closest to converging).

    Beyond that, I feel like the emphasis on the four counties around Milwaukee also discounts the role that the rest of the State of Wisconsin play’s in the story of Walker’s rise to power. Or is it simply that as Milwaukee goes so to goes Wisconsin?

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  30. wr says:

    I gave up on The New Republic even before Andrew Sullivan started using it to publish lies about health care and intelligence and his other pet issues. But just reading that quote from the radio host made me feel like I needed a shower. I’ve heard most of the national guys, even Beck, and find them pretty despicable. But I can’t imagine any actual human being listen to this piece of excrement by choice.

    Oh, and that’s completely separate from any consideration of race — I haven’t heard enough to know how he treats that subject.

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  31. bandit says:

    Further proof, as if any was ever needed, that all liberals are racist.

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  32. Dave D says:

    @James Joyner: I think that if you knew more about Belling and his show, he occasionally fills in for Rush, it is easier to draw the distinction. As you mentioned in the article when it came to Walker forcibly breaking the bargaining rights of public employees that it was something he hadn’t campaigned on. It is however a very Milwaukee-centric issue. The forced busing to the suburbs of primarily minority kids, the decay the MPS system has seen in recent years (primarily through decay in funding based on property taxes) and a very anti-union stance that was magnified when Walker was the county executive are all huge issues and have been for years. Belling had for years been calling for implementation of a lot of the things Walker has gone on to do.
    Again I tend to agree that the theme wasn’t driven home and they chose a guilt by association that doesn’t materialize well in the absence of knowledge of the area. However, I think you and Matt are downplaying how popular WISN’s radio popularity and reach. The tower transmits north to Green Bay south to almost the Illinois border and West to Madison which encompasses at least a majority of the state’s population.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  33. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    All this talk about how Walker’s appearance on talk radio actually means anything is completely moot. It’s been long established that “connections” like this are totally meaningless, and quite possibly racist to apply them.

    I refer, of course, to the examples of Barack Obama and his long associations with Reverend Wright and William Ayers, which meant absolutely nothing. So this article is even more meaningless than our host declared.

    …Unless, of course, there’s a double standard for conservatives and liberals, in which case I apologize and withdraw my comments.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 8

  34. Matt Bernius says:

    @Dave D:
    First, THATS where I remember that name from. Yeah, he’s god-awful (though Rush has never been one to choose guest hosts who might actually do a better job than he does).

    Belling had for years been calling for implementation of a lot of the things Walker has gone on to do. [...] However, I think you and Matt are downplaying how popular WISN’s radio popularity and reach. The tower transmits north to Green Bay south to almost the Illinois border and West to Madison which encompasses at least a majority of the state’s population.

    It’s not us downplaying it so much as the article failed to make those important points (unless I missed them). If you need local knowledge to “get” an article published in a nationally focused outlet, then the writer has failed to do his job.

    BTW, that claim would have also helped expand the focus of the article beyond that four county area and actually help us better understand how (and why) Milwaukee is so important to understanding politics in Wisconsin.

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  35. Dave D says:

    @Matt Bernius: I think it is that as with most states the big divide is usually the rural vs urban. The four counties surrounding Milwaukee has a large population, are still somewhat urban and provided a geographically close juxtaposition of the issues in the partisan divide. They are also the counties that the great white flight lead to being populated, which provides more contrast. Walker is a Milwaukee area politician and most of the grand conservative ideas and policies are meant to be forced on Milwaukee which is the source of most opposition. When talking about reforming the schools or welfare or denying medicaid expansion, every time the subjects are talked about by Belling or Sykes it is about how the others are stealing their tax dollars because they are too lazy to work. It is the same reason Paul Ryan gave that speech about how free school lunches destroy children because it means their parents don’t care about them or some such shit. Look at the two maps the first of the 2010 governor’s race where MKE county is a blue dot in the surrounding red sea, reddest in the WOWW counties (including Walworth) which was a win by 20 pts or more and the presidential races 1980-2008 where the WOW counties were also 20 pts or more Republican. These are very deeply conservative areas surrounding a city that had socialist mayors from 1910 until 1960 well into the red scare. This is a state that birthed the GOP and the Progressive Party, everything that Wisconsin politics is now currently is a product of this region and also spill overs of the corruption that comes from Chicago politics.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  36. Dave D says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    It’s not us downplaying it so much as the article failed to make those important points (unless I missed them). If you need local knowledge to “get” an article published in a nationally focused outlet, then the writer has failed to do his job.

    Absolutely and I have been back and forth about whether it was brushed off or that the piece makes a ton of sense to me. I completely agree this article was too focused to the region and may just be a piece to help the GOTV for the midterms now that it looks like Burke has a shot, thinking that this may be a part of the reason it was written since they focus on voting numbers in these areas.

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  37. gVOR08 says:

    @gVOR08: @James Joyner: I will highly recommend that all concerned read the Atlantic article in full. James’ charge that it’s all innuendo is misplaced. What James characterizes as a “rather bizarre” opener is an introduction to Milwaukee talk radio, on which Walker has heavily depended. MacGillis’ point is not that Walker is racist, but that he’s a product of the uniquely racially charged political environment around Milwaukee, and that what he’s done there won’t play on a national stage. The money quote is:
    “In Wisconsin, he occupies a comfortable cocoon; nationally, he’ll face tougher questions and even tougher opponents. A segment in February with Fox News’s Chris Wallace about the investigation into Walker’s county administration and the e-mail release did not go well. “He hasn’t shown the ability to do that, to step out of Nerf territory,” says Chris Larson, a Democratic state senator from Milwaukee. Terry, the former Belling employee, agrees. “No one’s really pushed his buttons, and trust me, when they get a hold of him and he can’t jump in the safety zone, it’ll go hard on him,” he said. In Wisconsin, “if he says something stupid … he can run to the outlets and they’ll take care of it. He could eat a child on television and [Milwaukee talk radio] would go on about how it benefits children.””

    This is an informative article, an explanation of how traditionally progressive, blue Wisconsin went Tea Party.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  38. Barry says:

    @Matt Bernius: “If that’s the original intent, then the writer managed to bury it.”

    Yes, the writing s*cked. Then again, it is The New Republic.

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  39. Nikki says:

    @James Joyner: I’m black, James. I didn’t even hear the broadcast, simply read what you wrote.

    And you and Doug are wrong. It is straight up racist.

    Why do you feel that you White guys get to determine what is and is not racist?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  40. Matt Bernius says:

    @Nikki:

    Why do you feel that you White guys get to determine what is and is not racist?

    I’m white and I read it as pretty clearly racist — see my response to James. And while I think my position is right, I’m arguing why the content made it racist.

    But, I don’t think James or Doug are so much saying something *is or isn’t* racists as they are saying they didn’t *feel* the content made it racist. Obviously others including the author of the original article had a different view.

    But to your point, given that the Alec MacGillis, the author of the Original TNR article is white as well, does he get to determine it *was* a racist statement? Or any one individual person of any race. After all, while an African American may be more sensitive to this issues, I think we can all come up with an individual or two (especially from the mass media) who you won’t want to see as a *decider* of racism.

    Which gets to the larger point, no single individual can make this sort of decision. Though as an aggregate group, we might get somewhere.

    At least James spelled out why he didn’t think it was racist. That enables an actual discussion on the topic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  41. MM2 says:

    This almost feels like two articles that got mashed together.

    Article 1 being that Scott Walker has had a very insular existence and will struggle when he is outside of his WOW county bubble and without his local talk radio cohorts to give him covering fire. Article 2 being that due to the polarization of Milwaukee and the surrounding counties, there is a real tone-deafness (and possible racism) to the way that the Suburban GOP operates as evidenced by the things that Walker’s staff have said in email and text communications and the content on local talk radio.

    But instead someone threw both articles in a blender and added some transitions to make it seem like a single article.

    My take away from the article is that Scott Walker’s “getting to know you” phase will result in colossal amounts of eye-rolling. I can’t imagine the national electorate being enthused about a guy who eats Reagan’s favorite foods on his anniversary or who decided to turn dumb college politics into a referendum on abortion.

    That’s the type of thing that the base eats up that screams “trying too hard” to the average voter.

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  42. Modulo Myself says:

    During a break in the proceedings, Jeff Johns, the genial chairman of the Ozaukee County Republican Party, warned me about Fond du Lac Avenue, which bisects the black swath of northwest Milwaukee. “You don’t want to travel that at night,” he says. “You’re basically traveling the colored section.” He also voiced suspicions about Democratic turnout operations in Milwaukee, with campaigns “picking people up for their votes” and rewarding them with “free meals and benefits.”

    The basic point of the article is that anyone who is surrounded by public figures who put their names to usage of the word ‘colored’ is incredibly isolated and backwards. So incredibly and isolated, in fact, that going forward with them is virtually impossible.

    I’m sure people could debate whether Jeff Johns is a racist but suggesting a debate is like a suggesting a debate over whether or not blackface and minstrel shows are racist. The debate is something that white people do in order justify why it’s acceptable and tolerable for professional white people to know only so much about America.

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  43. SC_Birdflyte says:

    The polarization between Milwaukee and the WOW counties was pretty well advanced when I lived there (1985-88). The old saw was that the 35th Street Bridge was the longest bridge in the world, since it connected Africa and Poland. I never listened to talk radio, but I knew some folks who thrived on it. It confirmed their beliefs about what was going on.

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  44. stonetools says:

    Sounds like article with screwed up click bait headline is screwed up.Sounds like it is trying to explain something important-how traditionally liberal, progressive Wisconsin went Tea Party. The explanation, apparently, is white racial resentment, stoked by right wing talk radio. The article apparently made the point in an inartful way.
    The article is apparently saying that Walker’s message won’t translate well to the national stage. Not really sure about that one. I need to deep dive into the article first.

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  45. Tillman says:

    Rather, Walker isn’t charismatic by presidential standards and doesn’t seem to have any obvious traits that make him stand out from the field.

    We have had some uncharismatic presidents, dude. Cf. Calvin Coolidge. Dude couldn’t lead an ant colony through a light rainstorm.

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  46. James Joyner says:

    @Tillman: But that was before the era of two-year presidential campaigns played out on 24/7/365 television.

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  47. Andre Kenji says:

    Scott Walker= 2016´s Tim Pawlenty.

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  48. MarkedMan says:

    James, I’m trying to level set here. Do you think Rush Limbaugh is an overt and obvious racist? Because although I agree the article was poorly written and didn’t convey the radio show’s racism well, I “heard” it very clearly because I know that type of radio show. I could be wrong and it could be unfair to the host but I really doubt it. But there are enough public examples of Rush’s blatant racism that if you don’t see it with him, well, then we are just coming from completely different world views.

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  49. Ben Wolf says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: What did Wright and Ayers do that was so bad?

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  50. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: I was a very regular listener from 1992 to 2002 or so, finally growing weary of his shtick. I didn’t find the show racist at the time. But, certainly, there have been lots of bits that at least tow the line. Racial and class resentments are part of what fuels the show.

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  51. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Ben Wolf: What did Wright and Ayers do that was so bad?

    What did unrepentant domestic terrorist William Ayers do that was so bad? Are you actually asking that?

    As for Wright… let me quote President Obama on him:

    “…words that degrade individuals have no place in our public dialogue, whether it’s on the campaign stump or in the pulpit. In sum, I reject outright the statements by Rev. Wright that are at issue.”

    “Had the reverend not retired, and had he not acknowledged that what he had said had deeply offended people and were inappropriate and mischaracterized what I believe is the greatness of this country, for all its flaws, then I wouldn’t have felt as comfortable staying at the church.”[

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  52. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner: Hmm, yeah I think we just have very different world views on this. To me, Limbaugh didn’t just “toe the line” he jumped over it then turned around and p*ssed on everyone behind it. “Barak, the Magic Negro”? Halle Berry and Obama are “Halfricans”? “Take that Bone out your nose and call me back”? “Ever notice how every composite drawing of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?” Statements about Donovan McNabb. Saying Gov. Paterson of New York was only doing what he was doing so he could be a “Massa”. And that’s just blacks. Limbaugh talks like a racist, acts like a racist and makes money by catering to racists. We can never know what is truly in that shriveled greenish lump of a heart he has, but as Howard Stern demonstrates, you become what you pretend to be, if you pretend long enough.

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  53. MarkedMan says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Wright didn’t say anything different than a thousand or ten thousand evangelical preachers. He said that if America doesn’t turn to a moral path God will damn America. Obama threw him overboard, but he shouldn’t have. The truth is that Wright was hounded because he was black and Repubs can’t stomach a black man speaking out of turn like that. How dare a black man invoke God to say a white man is immoral? Yet the Repubs fall all over themselves kissing Pat Robertson’s behind when he says God sent a hurricane to punish a city of people because they accept gays. Sheesh. You guys are something else.

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  54. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: I analyzed the Barack the Magic Negro thing seven years ago. I think it was reasonable, if unfunny, parody. Some of his other bits are more problematic.

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  55. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    …Unless, of course, there’s a double standard for conservatives and liberals, in which case I apologize and withdraw my comments.

    Okay, apology accepted.

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  56. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @MarkedMan: I believe that the first person to use the “TeaBagger” eponym on Tea Partiers was a Tea Party supporter himself, and that apparently gave carte blanche for everyone else to use it. Likewise, the first person to use the phrase “Magic Negro” on Obama was an Obama supporter, so by the same principle it became fair game for anyone else to use.

    Likewise, Harry Reid, Joe Biden, and Bill Clinton have said things about Obama that are ripe for quotation. And since repeating them is simply quoting those fine gentlemen who can’t possibly be racist, there’s no racism involved.

    I don’t particularly care to play by those rules, but I’ll be damned if I’ll agree to hold to a higher standard while getting kicked in the shins.

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  57. Matt Bernius says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    I believe that the first person to use the “TeaBagger” eponym on Tea Partiers was a Tea Party supporter himself, and that apparently gave carte blanche for everyone else to use it. Likewise, the first person to use the phrase “Magic Negro” on Obama was an Obama supporter, so by the same principle it became fair game for anyone else to use.

    Of course, if you are extending this logic, then it’s important to note that the folks who picked up on using “Teabagger” were using it to clearly point to the sex act implication of it (not as originally intended).

    Likewise the folks who picked up on “magic negro” used it in a far more racially charged sense than the original author intended it as well.

    So thanks for agreeing with the underlying implication (i.e. that there was a pretty clear racial element to it).

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