THE BLOG
06/05/2012 06:42 pm ET Updated Aug 05, 2012

Class Civil Warfare, Wisconsin-Style

Between "Bowzer" shows, these days I fight for our nation's future on political campaigns. I spent three and a half weeks last summer on the first set of Wisconsin recalls, in which Progressives nabbed two Wisconsin Senate seats to draw within one of taking control and creating a firewall against the Koch brothers/Scott Walker agenda. With the retirement of Pam Galloway, the Senate is now tied, and as I prepare to return to Wisconsin for the stretch run, Democrats have a great chance to create that firewall by winning at least one of the seats now up in the recall elections June 5th.

But the big prize is of course Scott Walker's governorship, and Walker seems to have better than a fighting chance to retain his seat despite having divided the state as no governor ever has. Or, I should say, because of having divided the state as no governor ever has. Badgers are feisty animals, and it's no fun to watch them claw at each other. The good people of Wisconsin have never been so at each others' throats since I started going there doing shows in 1970. These are some of the kindest, most grounded people in America, but they haven't been so polarized since, I suspect, the days of their biggest mistake, electing the paranoid nut case Senator Joe McCarthy.

I recently spent a few days in Wisconsin with each of the candidates who have a good chance to flip the Senate. For me, an anecdote from that time tells the whole story. One morning in Eau Claire, a woman painting my hotel restaurant wall with a roller noticed my "Recall Walker" button and remarked, "Well, I think he's done a lot of good things." "Really?" I replied. "Like what?" "I just think it should be the same for everybody," she muttered. Recognizing the Walker "divide and conquer" code, I challenged her with what I believe to be the truly operative Wisconsin question: "Let me ask you something. How does a teacher making several thousand dollars less a year and having a lesser pension help you?" (It's been duly noted by many in Wisconsin that the assault on public workers and their bargaining rights hasn't been reflected back in any kind of material gain for the general populace at all.)

And so, the nice lady painting the hotel wall with a roller at clearly minimum wage responded in way that said it all for Wisconsin and, for that matter, America in 2012: "Yeah, I guess that's why my two sisters who are teachers don't talk to me any more."

This ugly movement that pits family members and working people of all kinds against each other based on envy is to me the worst possible thing for our country. It's "divide and conquer," just like Walker said to his billionaire donor at a fundraiser. "Divide" the working class against each other, public vs. private sector, union vs. non-union (or even public worker unions vs. private workers unions), brother against brother and sister against sister, both literally and figuratively, and you'll "conquer" on behalf of your greedy super-rich campaign donors. We've all noted the Republican tactic of calling out the other side for exactly what it is that they're doing. And there you have it, the real "class warfare." The fat cats pouring millions into the campaigns of pasty political marionettes in order to flood the airwaves and manipulate the working class to do their bidding. The woman with the roller is more than ready to be envious of her sisters' apparently outrageous teachers' salaries and pensions, so she'll vote to her own detriment and the Koch Brothers' gain. In her misguided envy, she has no comprehension that her sisters' merely decent wages and pensions have helped keep her wages up. The Koch/Walker puppet show of course needs her vote, because there just aren't enough greedy CEO types around to win a big general election, dammit, and you can just never have enough billions to keep for yourself! So that's the Republican position -- it's teachers who are ruining America!!! Not the Koch brothers or poor old Mitt, who are just trying to hang on to all of their money because it will "trickle down" like it hasn't one bit since 1980. What a dangerous road we've been going down since then, as 90% of the growth in U.S. personal income has gone to the top 1% of the population, and CEOs now make 300 to 400 times the salary of the average worker, not 30 to 40 times like it used to be when we had a strong middle class.

As I head back to fight it out in Wisconsin, the dream scenario is that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett will run a fiery stretch run campaign contrary to his generally moderate and reasonable nature, and will keep it close enough for us to win on the ground as we often do in tight races. That and flipping the Senate are important ways the Koch/Walker agenda can be stopped so the state can even begin to heal. But with a narrow victory in either direction, Wisconsin will still have been bitterly divided in a class civil war, and whether he's governor for another two years or not, that's likely to be the only real legacy of the marionette named Scott Walker.

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