By Miles Brown
June 22, 2014
Last week a New Republic article called “The Unelectable Whiteness of Scott Walker” caused a race-based fervor that reached far beyond Madison. But the local has been swift and dismissive — a downplay of the culture of Wisconsin’s race-based politics that shouldn’t be so blatantly ignored.
Writer Alex MacGillis chronicles Walker’s rise to power in the state of Wisconsin, which came at the encouragement of popular radio talk show hosts prone to racially divisive language and appealing almost exclusively to white, suburban voters. MacGillis and examines how these narratives and strategies will alienate the more diverse set of voters Walker would face if he were to put his hat in the ring in 2016.
Admittedly, this article has flaws. The very slanted anti-Walker tone is, on face, problematic. Overall, however, it is an accurate and fascinating article about a man primed for a national race in 2016. It also takes on the race-based culture of Wisconsin politics that few outside the Badger State realize bubbles under the surface.
What’s important and impressive about the article is the breakdown of racial tensions that permeate Milwaukee County. It is common knowledge (at least in the state of Wisconsin) that Milwaukee is the most segregated city in the country. Many even on the in conservative talk radio will admit to this. The state of black Milwaukee is dire indeed. The New Republic piece shows in detail how jobs have moved out of Milwaukee just as whites moved to surrounding suburbs, and that Walker is using these suburbs now as his base of support. He has succeeded in separating the people of Milwaukee from the rest of the state. The article also confirms his tendency to only govern for the people that vote for him and completely ignore those that don’t. And in this case, those are the people most in need.
The response from talk radio here in southeastern Wisconsin has been disparaging, as you might expect. Charlie Sykes, the editor-in-chief of Right Wisconsin, took issue with a few inaccuracies in the article. Others took issue with the clickbait headline (which, I’ll stipulate, painted a far graver picture than the article lived up to), and others took issue with MacGillis personally. But regardless of angle, all of them have one thing in common: They did not address the article’s central argument. Instead, they nitpicked at the little inaccuracies and misrepresented certain points in a silly attempt to delegitimize the article as a whole.
What they don’t realize is that it is not Walker or his supporters that are racist, it’s the policies they support. These policies, addressed in absolutely none of the response articles, are institutionally racist and cutting deeply from individuals that need the most help. Instead of addressing this theme from MacGillis’s piece, they defensively shield themselves from personal accusations of racism — a paltry response to a larger problem that has plagued the state for years.
Sykes (who authored a book called “A Nation of Moochers“) also downplays his influence in Walker’s rise to prominence in the counties surrounding Milwaukee. Having listened to a lot of shows like Sykes’ and Belling’s, I can attest that they do indeed get people riled up about the issues. And Walker has played into this nicely, catering directly to their audiences through his heavy rhetoric and exclusive policy.
These policies stifle (predominately black) people who are simply trying to be successful in Milwaukee. This community is quickly disenchanted by the government’s lack of concern, which is used as an excuse to cut even more of the services they need. So where is the connection to talk radio? These radio hosts, who all fiercely support walker, play up the language of “moochers” and the “laziness” of those in need to the suburban talk listeners, emboldening both their support for Walker and Walker himself to create even more policies they favor. Policies that include gutting Milwaukee Public Schools, cutting access to suburban jobs for low-income Milwaukee residents and massive slashes to health care access.
For many blacks, Walker’s policies have meant restricting their access to jobs that would allow them to work hard and make a decent living for their families. When people tout the “successes” of Scott Walker, they step over the failure of this governor to ensure equal opportunities for all of Wisconsin’s residents. Even the ones that signed recall petitions or did not vote for him. His eagerness to play to these divisive sentiments is the central reason why Scott Walker will not be a successful candidate for President, no matter how high talk radio puts him on their pedestals.