A Wisconsin native who identifies as a progressive advocate contrasts the history of his state with the drastic changes during the past decade that have surprised politicians, journalists, academics, and countless voters.
As Kaufman reports, Wisconsin’s progressive ethos had been taken for granted over so many decades that it seemed entrenched not only within the Democratic Party, but also most segments of the Republican Party, as well. For example, a Republican governor and Republican-controlled legislature favored collective bargaining for state employees, and a different Republican governor created accessible health insurance for poverty-level families with children. The author marks the beginning of the shift away from widespread progressivism to 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed limits on contributions to political candidates by individuals and groups. The money from anti–labor union forces and other self-identified right-wing radicals—many from outside Wisconsin—chipped away at historical progressivism. Early in the book, Kaufman identifies Scott Walker as the leading agent of change. Walker moved to Wisconsin in third grade, when his father became minister of a Baptist church in the town of Delavan. By the time he entered college at Marquette in Milwaukee, Walker aggressively advocated tax cuts for the wealthy and outlawing abortions. He never completed college, later proudly citing his lack of a degree. Walker entered electoral politics as a Republican state legislator, later choosing to seek, successfully, the top executive job in Milwaukee County. In 2009, when Walker’s anti-union fiscal cutbacks vaulted him into contention for governor, he won. Two years later, he survived an attempt to recall him from the governorship. As Kaufman focuses on Walker as governor, he advances the narrative by weaving in stories about avid Walker opponents from the shredded Democratic Party. Paul Ryan, Hillary Clinton, and other prominent national figures appear throughout, but this is not a book focused on Washington, D.C. Still, these tales from one state have national implications.
Kaufman's disdain for Walker and other hard-line conservatives is clear, but his research underlying the antipathy is solid and important.