I know, I know – we’re a think tank. But to deny our readers the glory of “The Sarah Palin Battle Hymn” would simply be blogging malpractice. Savor every note.
I know, I know – we’re a think tank. But to deny our readers the glory of “The Sarah Palin Battle Hymn” would simply be blogging malpractice. Savor every note.
For the past six months, I’ve been embedded with the Ron Johnson for Senate campaign – and now, the story I’ve written about the race is online. It’s going to be a five-part series, and it’s being published by Wisconsin Interest magazine. It’s a good insider look at what actually happens behind the scenes of a U.S. Senate campaign.
Read part one of the story here and check back for updates.
Part II: “RonJon Goes Rogue”
Part III: “Sometimes You Just Say Stuff”
Part IV: “A Shot at the King”
Part V: “The End of the Road”
And National Review has run an excerpt of the longer piece at their website.
Here at WPRI, we seem to be writing about Paul Ryan a lot. People are probably starting to wonder if our acronym stands for the “Wisconsin Paul Ryan Institute.”
But much like Ron Burgundy, Ryan is kind of a big deal. People know him. (I was unable to determine whether his apartment smells of rich mahogany.) So I was enlisted to write a lengthy article about his life in Washington, D.C. – which required me to make a trip out there in May to follow him around.
On May 4th, I showed up at Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee, ready for my flight out to D.C. I was dressed as I normally am when I fly – jeans, untucked shirt, baseball cap, and about a week’s worth of beard. Sitting in the airport, I noticed then-U.S. Senate candidate Dick Leinenkugel walk up to the gate. A few minutes later, I saw gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker settle in nearby. Shortly thereafter, Ryan himself joined Walker. It then dawned on me that I was on the Tuesday morning flight that all the politicians take to get to D.C.
I walked up to Walker (who was heading to D.C. for a campaign event) and mentioned what a star-studded flight this was. I told him I fully expected Lady Gaga to show up in the airport. (He laughed, although I would think more highly of him if he didn’t know who Lady Gaga was.)
Despite being in the same place dozens of times, I’d never actually spoken to Ryan. I started making small talk with him, then mentioned that I thought we were scheduled to have dinner together that night. Suddenly, he looked concerned that this guy dressed like a hobo talking to him might be crazy. He started frantically scrolling through his schedule on his phone, and said “oh yeah, I guess we are… Not dressed like that, I hope.”
(I was thinking that when I showed up at his office, I should actually wear two suits at one time, just to show him how committed I was to dressing respectably.)
My time at the Capitol with Ryan is pretty well detailed in the article. When we first met, I asked him if he even knew who I was – he said he had read some of my commentaries. I actually felt bad about this – he should be busy fixing the world, not reading my ribald blog posts. (Among the ones I guarantee he never read is this one featuring Ryan, in which I speculate as to what it would be like today if congressmen were allowed to endorse products, as they did in the old days.)
When Ryan was in closed door meetings, I went out and wandered around the Capitol and the Longworth House Office Building. The building is triangular, with high ceilings, long halls and green marble floors. On a few occasions, I spotted lobbyists standing outside congressional offices staring at the floor, muttering to themselves. They were no doubt practicing what they were going to say during their meeting in order to convince the attending congressperson to spend my money. I’d actually almost prefer the lobbyist just punch me in the face and take my wallet on the spot. Then at least the feds wouldn’t get their cut off the top.
The halls of Longworth are also populated with a bloused armada of comely young women, hired no doubt because of their detailed knowledge of economics and foreign affairs. Usually not far behind one of these women is a member of Congress, working hard to make it look like wherever they’re going, it’s really important. Male congressmen are usually easy to spot – they’re the ones whose hair color would be laughed at if they worked anywhere but at the U.S. Capitol. I’m convinced that if male members of Congress stopped buying men’s hair coloring products, the American economy would suffer a housing market-style collapse.
Some of the faces of these Congress members are vaguely familiar; ironic, since somewhere out there in a small slice of America, each one of them are famous. It’s hard to believe that each one of these congressmen are actually 600,000 people looking to have their voices heard in Washington. (Although not literally, as they would need bigger pants.)
I stopped at the Longworth cafeteria to buy a soda, and when the portly African-American woman working the register rang me up, she told me it’ll be “150 dollars.” Then she chortled heartily, and said she’s just kidding – it’s only a dollar fifty. It’s a good joke – I felt like I was the first one she’s ever used it on – and it immediately made her a lock for the title of “friendliest federal employee in America.”
As I sat and sipped my Diet Coke, I saw Democratic Wisconsin Representative Steve Kagen, from the Green Bay area. For the record, we did not speak – in case he goes back home and brags to his constituents that he insulted me, as he is wont to do. (In 2006, Kagen claims he personally insulted President and First Lady Bush at a meeting for freshman members of Congress. In a strange twist, the fact that the story was false made him look even more like a classless jerk.)
Oddly, a few minutes later, I just happened to stumble upon an outdoor press conference given by Democratic Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind. The Wisconsin legislators appeared to be everywhere. Kind was speaking to the media, pushing a “keeping kids from being fatties” bill. Since Washington is essentially a swamp (both figuratively and literally), Kind was clearly wilting in his suit under the heat and humidity.
At other points during the day, I was escorted around by Ryan’s Budget Committee press secretary, 25-year old Marquette University grad Conor Sweeney. Sweeney took me down to the Budget Committee office, which is tucked into a dark corner in the basement of the Cannon House Office Building. As ranking member of the House Budget Committee, Ryan essentially has two offices – his eight-person member office, and another 15-person budget office, which resides in a dank dungeon in the bowels of a different office building. The cramped office is missing ceiling tiles, and rusted pipes jut out from the walls. It resembles a crack den. A television above Sweeney’s desk flickers on and off as the reception fades into fuzz and pops back. Sweeney proudly declared this office “the birthplace of the roadmap.” I took a picture for the Smithsonian.
Later, we had to go find out where the new House media room was, in advance of Ryan’s interview with MSNBC later in the day. Brightly colored Media Room A has been recently renovated – a podium stands atop a stage in front of American flags; about 50 media chairs sit in front. It makes sense that Congress would revamp their media room – they need to spend money to allow them to go on television to convince the American people that they need to spend more money.
Sweeney mentions that Ryan is conducting an interview with Fox Business Channel’s John Stossel in one of the side rooms on Thursday. The best thing about doing an interview with Stossel is that you never have to worry about him being late – his gigantic mustache gets there ten minutes before he does.
As I mentioned in the story, I was actually at the Capitol the very day that a Wisconsin political giant, liberal Congressman Dave Obey, announced his retirement. As a political observer in Wisconsin, I felt like I should attend, just to say I was there. But I also felt somewhat guilty – I have plenty of Democrat friends back in Wisconsin who would have killed to be there to see this – and yet it’s me, a conservative who opposes pretty much everything Dave Obey stands for, who gets to see the announcement in person. (At the press conference, I saw my own congresswoman, Tammy Baldwin, which made it a clean sweep as far as me seeing Wisconsin Democrats. Granted, I’m not a mind reader, but Baldwin seemed shocked and a little disoriented at the news that Obey was stepping down.)
In the piece, I mention that late in the day, we made our way to a speech Ryan was giving to a group of investment bankers at the Newseum. Ryan drove himself, Seifert and me to the speech in his green 2003 Chevy Tahoe (built in Janesville, of course). The power locks are broken, and Ryan complained that it would cost $400 to fix them. (Which, even if it wasn’t true, kind of seems like a story a congressman would want told about himself.) He is an extraordinarily adept District of Columbia driver, darting in and out of traffic as if he drove a cab. (Incidentally, the only people that love America more than Paul Ryan are Washington D.C. cab drivers.)
During the ride, we discuss baseball. Ryan mentions that his dad was in the same University of Wisconsin-Madison fraternity as former one-legged Milwaukee Brewer manager Harvey Kuenn. Ryan says he’s only thrown out one ceremonial first pitch – at an American Legion game (it was a little high, but over the plate), but he has an encyclopedic knowledge of other famous politician first pitches. And he is bipartisan in his criticism of awkward politician throwing motions.
In order to get an opposing view on Ryan, I made a few calls to Democrats – and actually landed an interview with Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (who happens to be the second most powerful member of Congress at the moment.) His staffer, former Wisconsin native Stephanie Lundberg, graciously set up ten minutes for me to talk to him by phone. (I opened the discussion by thanking him for hiring Wisconsinites in his office – it’s helping keep our unemployment rate down.)
Sadly, my interview with Hoyer didn’t make the final cut (it was essentially replaced by my discussion of Peter Orszag, White House Budget Director.) But here’s what appeared in the original piece:
Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who considers himself to be a Paul Ryan fan, disagrees with this approach. While Hoyer told me Ryan was “bright, principled, and effective,” he also questioned whether a “supply side” proposal like Ryan’s would work. “It’s been proven that supply-side economics don’t work,” said Hoyer, adding that “Reagan and Bush supply-side policies got us into a $4.86 billion deficit.” Hoyer did praise Ryan for his “courageous” stand, saying, he respected Ryan’s “intellectual integrity in putting forth his solutions and directions with are intellectually honest.”
I finished my final exit interview with Ryan on the morning of Thursday, May 6th, at 9:00 AM. While I talked to him, a security guy came through his office, checking things out. I asked Ryan what that was all about. He mentions that his next meeting is with the head of the World Bank. This blew my mind. So at some point, Ryan’s schedule looked like this:
9:00 to 9:30 – Christian Schneider, lover of pizza
9:30 to 10:00 – Head of World Bank
Keep in mind – at this point, Greece was literally in flames. The European economy was imploding – and I blame myself. I took too long asking Ryan about what his favorite Wisconsin Dells water park was.
I had to be out of my hotel room at noon, but my flight home didn’t leave until 4:00 or so. So I just decided to hang out in the airport all day and begin writing the story. As I sat there with my giant headphones on, I saw a tall figure walk up next to me – I looked up, and it was Ryan, once again on my flight. Seeing I was dressed the same way I had been on the flight out, he shook his head at me. “At least you shaved,” he said.
In closing, I wanted to thank Ryan and his staff – Kevin Seifert, Conor Sweeney, Sarah Peer, and Andy Speth among them – for helping me out with the story. Couldn’t have done it without you folks.
Also, the magazine cover painting of Ryan was done by Nathaniel Gold, whose outstanding work can be found here at his website.
Here’s one of our rejected caricatures of Ryan:
The big news around the conservative blogosphere today is this dope who decided to announce that he wanted to infiltrate tea parties and yell racist things, in order to make “tea baggers” look bad. (I would suggest he yell things like “black children deserve to stay in terrible schools!” since that is actually his party’s platform.)
Something smells here. It’s just too stupid to announce publicly that you’re going undercover to make your opponents look bad. Now, if any nutjob at any tea party in America says anything intemperate, tea partiers have an instant out. “It was liberals trying to make us look bad!” (And trust me – if any idiots show up with “Obama is Hitler” signs or whatever, they will be covered. I wrote about last year’s tax day rally, and there were a couple of “those” people there – and naturally, they showed up on every local newscast.)
So in the end, this guy publicly urging the infiltration of tea parties is actually doing his opponents a big favor. Which made me think that this might be an elaborate ruse. Maybe this guy is actually a conservative operative, who urges people to become liberal operatives, then blows the whistle on his plan in order to help conservatives. Basically, he’s a triple agent. It’s brilliant. In fact, it seems likely, given that it’s too smart to have been thought up by any of these lefty troglodytes.
This is also a big win for actual racists, who can now show up at the tax day rally and yell whatever they want with impunity. For these people, just do us a favor – wear a Nancy Pelosi t-shirt. Thanks much.
This weekend’s New York Magazine featured a lengthy excerpt from “Game Change,” John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s upcoming book about the 2008 presidential election. (It’s also the book that produced Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s “Negro” comment about President Obama.)
The excerpt that ran in the NY Mag was called “Saint Elizabeth and the Ego Monster,” and it goes into detail when describing the sordid goings-on of the John Edwards campaign – including Edwards’ involvement with Rielle Hunter. As a liberal friend of mine remarked, it’s “crazy on top of crazy, with a heaping dollop of sadness.”
For instance, here’s a story about what happened when Elizabeth found out about her husband’s daliances:
The next morning, John and Elizabeth were scheduled to fly out of Raleigh to separate destinations—he to South Carolina, she to Iowa. But when the traveling staff arrived at their home, they found Elizabeth out of sorts, disconsolate, still in her bathrobe. She had drafted a blog post she wanted published, defending her husband from the accusations against him. This kind of tawdriness was something the Clintons would be involved in, she wrote, but not the Edwardses…
At the terminal, the couple fought in the passenger waiting area. They fought outside in the parking lot. Elizabeth was sobbing, out of control, incoherent. As their aides tried to avert their eyes, she tore off her blouse, exposing herself. “Look at me!” she wailed at John and then staggered, nearly falling to the ground.
Sensational stuff, to be sure. And while the chapter goes to great lengths to portray Elizabeth as an unhinged crazyperson, the main focus has to be with Edwards himself. WHAT THE HELL WAS HE DOING?
It’s not like marital infidelity is something new in politics. But why are men in power so willing to throw it all away for some side action? (And in Edwards’ case, how could he possibly get another woman pregnant – and try to pin it on one of his advisors, to boot?)
On the one hand, infidelity probably isn’t any more prevalent in politics than it is in other walks of life. It’s just that it becomes newsworthy when it does – especially if the politician happens to espouse “family values.” (Athletes have long had the reputation of having the proverbial “girl in every city,” but this seems to bother no one. Unless the athlete is Tiger Woods, of course.)
But it does seem that an inordinate number of politicians do have a wandering eye. And they often act on it knowing that public humiliation is headed their way if they get caught – which makes it a lot riskier than if the guy working down at the bike shop does it.
Perhaps it’s because their position of power gives these guys the chance to meet more ladies. Before their political careers, they were just ordinary schlubs with thinning hair, sitting at home praying for the next Victoria’s Secret catalog to show up. When they become celebrities, suddenly their options open up. And a lot of them seem to have no qualms about making up for lost time.
But it almost seems like the same characteristics that make these guys want to be politicians also leads them to cheat. Maybe they initially run for office to overcome a sense of self-inadequacy. Getting the approval of voters helps them to verify their self-worth. Then, having a nubile young cocktail waitress accomplishes the same thing – gives them a false sense that they’re still youthful and handsome.
Or maybe they just enjoy the booty. Who knows.
His interest in conspiracy theories is disquieting, as is his admiration for Ron Paul and his charges of American “imperialism.” (He is now talking about pulling troops out of Afghanistan, South Korea, Germany, and elsewhere.) Some of Beck’s statements—for example, that President Obama has a “deep-seated hatred for white people”–are quite unfair and not good for the country. His argument that there is very little difference between the two parties is silly, and his contempt for parties in general is anti-Burkean (Burke himself was a great champion of political parties). And then there is his sometimes bizarre behavior, from tearing up to screamingat his callers. Beck seems to be a roiling mix of fear, resentment, and anger—the antithesis of Ronald Reagan.
At a time when we should aim for intellectual depth, for tough-minded and reasoned arguments, for good cheer and calm purpose, rather than erratic behavior, he is not the kind of figure conservatives should embrace or cheer on.
On a personal note, I find it hard to believe Beck is the “hottest” thing in conservatism right now, considering I haven’t seen a single one of his shows. I do understand, however, that he managed to scoop the traditional media outlets with his reporting on Obama’s green jobs czar and the ACORN undercover investigations.
Admittedly, there’s always been a tension within conservatism between the “Joe the Plumber” faction and the more “intellectual” base. The Friedman/Hayek wing considers their blue collar colleagues to be distant cousins that they appreciate being part of the family, but wouldn’t necessarily invite over for Thanksgiving dinner. They often times say things that are intemperate, they occasionally take conspiracy theories a little too far, and their spelling on Tea Party signs is a little hit and miss.
On the other hand, the snooty intellectuals don’t have to deal with conservatism on the ground level. Rarely do they have to stand out under a blazing sun for hours at Tea Party rallies to have their voices heard. They don’t have to raise kids while living paycheck to paycheck, watching the government take food out of the mouths of their children. To these people, conservatism isn’t about textbooks, it’s about survival – and it causes people to do things that may not be sanctioned by the elite cognoscenti. Plus, Peggy Noonan is one of them, and she makes me want to put my shoe through my television.
But in the end, the conservative movement needs both elements. It needs the bow-tie wearing eggheads to crank out the research and inform us how our liberties are being taken away. And it needs the plumbers out there to provide real-world examples of how excessive taxes and regulation stifle capitalism. (No matter how cringe-inducing these presentations may often be.) Without one or the other, conservatism will be relegated to a fringe concept, as government has the money to spend to promote its own interests.
What was the question again? Something about Glenn Beck?
Casually convening in their boardroom late on the afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008, the Milwaukee Area Technical College board appeared blissfully unconcerned with all that was amiss in the outside world.
Earlier that week, Lehman Brothers had stunned Wall Street by declaring the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history; then the federal government had bailed out insurance behemoth AIG and engineered a fire sale of Merrill Lynch. The stock market was gyrating wildly.
There was an enormous amount at stake that afternoon. MATC has a budget of well over $300 million and employs more than 2,000 people. Salaries, wages and fringe benefits constitute by far the biggest chunk of the school’s spending-and were already eye-poppingly generous.
Consider salaries: In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2008, the average full-time teacher at MATC had total earnings of $98,204, according to an analysis performed by the college at the request of Wisconsin Interest. That is tens of thousands of dollars more than most full-time faculty members could earn at other technical or two-year colleges in Wisconsin.
In fiscal year 2008, 249 of 580 full-time MATC faculty members made more than $100,000, according to college salary data. Twenty-nine made more than $130,000, and one earned $153,174.
Of course, the Board took all of four minutes to approve a generous new pay package for the system’s 2,000 employees, despite the worsening economy. Nichols’ article details how the members of the tin-eared MATC board found their way on to the Board, and the damage they have done as unelected members. A worthy read from beginning to end.
For months, people around Wisconsin have been anticipating the opening of the summer blockbuster “Public Enemies.” A large chunk of the movie was shot here in the Dairy State, and our tax dollars subsidized filming it to the tune of about $5 million.
Seeing as how we are a full service free market think tank here at WPRI, I used this specious connection to go see the movie to determine whether it was tax money well spent. I feel I am doing a public service to the taxpayers to report on the fruits of their generosity (and, I admit, I was excited to see if I knew anyone in the movie, and I have an unnatural man-crush on Christian Bale.)
I was actually surprised that they made me pay for a ticket, seeing as how my tax money has made me a co-producer of this film. In fact, I’m still waiting for my director’s chair and bullhorn, and anticipate they will show up at my house any day now.
So here’s the quick synopsis of the movie:
It’s bad. Really, really bad. Closing in on awful.
It is apparent that about 20 bucks of our $5 million was spent on a script. The movie meanders along, without any interesting dialogue or insight. At 2 hours, 15 minutes, it’s about 45 minutes too long. Johnny Depp, who plays John Dillinger, seems almost to be embarrassed to be in the movie at all. Characters talk to each other with canned speeches that don’t even approach plausibility. By the time the inevitable end came, I had checked my watch about 10 times.
Perhaps the most grating aspect of the movie is Oscar winning French actress Marion Cotillard, who attempts to speak English without a heavy French accent. It comes and goes, which is interesting, considering she’s playing a character who’s half Indian and who grew up in Wisconsin.
In fact, isn’t there a big movement up at the Capitol to prevent the state from contracting with foreigners for government business? There were a hundred American actresses that could have played that part – we should crack down on the OUTSOURCING OF OUR ACTRESSES! (Holding hand over heart while the Star Spangled Banner plays in the background.)
For me, the only cool parts of the movie were the ones that took place in the Capitol, where I worked for 8 years. I immediately picked out the North Hearing Room, where a lot of the partisan caucuses used to take place. And I got the chills when the characters walk around the inside the Capitol.
I certainly don’t mean to dissuade anyone in Wisconsin from going to see the movie, especially if you recognize some of the sets in Columbus, Oshkosh and elsewhere. But it really is a crushing disappointment. I am amazed that big budget movies this bad can actually get made. But who cares if Wisconsin taxpayers are out $5 million for a terrible movie? SOME PEOPLE GOT TO WAVE TO JOHNNY DEPP!
In fact, conservatives have an opportunity here – if government-subsidized movies are this bad, imagine how bad government health care will be. If people draw the connection, single-payer government health plans will be dead within a week.
In this most recent budget, Governor Doyle scaled back the film tax credit to $500,000. It’s a good thing for supporters of the credit that he did so before seeing “Public Enemies.” If had seen the movie in advance, he may have actually started charging movies to film here.
Perhaps most importantly, why didn’t anyone tell me that this guy from “Dazed and Confused” was in Wisconsin filming the movie?
It appears Chris Cillizza from the Washington Post’s “The Fix” has listed our little blog as one of the “Best Wisconsin Blogs.” Six blogs from Wisconsin were picked, with five of them being conservative (Badger Blogger, Boots and Sabers, Wigderson Library and Pub, Lakeshore Laments, and WPRI.) Since it sounds better, I’ll say we’re one of the TOP FIVE conservative blogs in Wisconsin. And since it sounds even better, I’ll say we’re the NUMBER ONE conservative blog in Wisconsin named “WPRI.”
Clearly, Chris Cillizza isn’t sitting in his D.C. office reading all these blogs – so someone had to e-mail him to tell him about us. So whichever inmate nominated us, we sincerely appreciate it.
You may have noticed that both our home website and this blog have gotten an extreme makeover. In the interest of making the sites easier to navigate and prettier to look at, we’ve undergone a full scale renovation. All the feed information should be the same, so no need to change your newsreaders.
So take the new format for a spin, and feel free to suggest changes that might make it easier to get around.
With the state plunging into its worst deficit ever and unemployment climbing, the State Senate has decided to pull the following bill to the floor on Tuesday:
The Right to Breastfeed Act
Under current law, there are various prohibitions against lewd behavior and sexual gratification in public. These prohibitions, however, do not apply to a mother breastfeeding her child.
While state law does not classify breastfeeding as a “lewd behavior”, many mothers statewide are the subject of harassment daily because they choose to nurse their child in a restaurant, coffee shop, or shopping mall.
LRB 0154 would help to create greater public awareness of breastfeeding by allowing a mother to breastfeed in any public or private location where she is otherwise authorized to be. Additionally, this bill would prohibit any person from interfering with the right of a mother to breast feed her child. Currently, 40 states have laws which allow mothers to breastfeed in any public or private place.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding of infants for six months, and continuation of breastfeeding after solid foods are introduced through age one. It is estimated that Americans would save $3.6 Billion annually in health care costs because breastfed babies tend to be healthier babies.
You catch that last line? Americans will save $3.6 billion in health care costs if more women breastfed. It just makes economic sense. Here’s your “stimulus” package! As if passing this bill is going to convince women to start breastfeeding their children that wouldn’t normally have done so.
Clearly, legislators are creating a problem that doesn’t exist, so they can take credit for fixing it. Does anyone honestly believe that women breastfeeding in public is a problem so great that it needs state government to pass a law? Can anyone cite more than two instances over the past 10 years where a woman has been asked to cease feeding her child in public? Women who do breastfeed their children don’t want their breasts exposed to the public any more than people in a restaurant want to see them – so mothers are almost always good about covering up and being discrete.
Of course, when the State Senate does pass bills they think help the economy, they do things like raising the minimum wage, which will force more people into unemployment. So in a strange way, the more time they spend on nonsense like this, the better our state’s economy might be.
Last week, WPRI President George Lightbourn addressed the Wisconsin Way convention, “Wisconsin’s Long-Term Visions/Short-Term Needs,” at the Concourse Hotel in Madison. In the unlikely event you don’t watch WisconsinEye exclusively at home, his speech can be seen here at their website.
Late last week, the new Fall 2008 Wisconsin Interest magazine was released. It includes the following pieces:
The Long Legacy: Supreme Court Appointments Outlast Presidencies – Rick Esenberg
The Milwaukee Plan: Reducing Crime to Improve Neighborhoods – Edward A. Flynn
Let’s Leave the Pessimists and Cynics Behind– George Lightbourn
Carrying Wisconsin’s Torch of Reform – Paul Ryan
Paul Ryan’s Health Care Roadmap: No More Small Steps – Michael Meulemans
How Jim Doyle Can Save Wisconsin’s Republican Party – Christian Schneider
The Mayor’s Chance: Mayor Barrett, Take This School System. Please. – Charles J. Sykes
Enjoy. Don’t cost nothin’.