Saturday, February 20, 2021

GOP empathy deficits add suffering and enforce inequality

Scorching hashtags like #LyingTedCruz shot across the Internet when it was discovered that Texas GOP Senator Ted Cruz had bolted to Cancun, Mexico with his family - and without the family dog - from his frozen, suffering home state.

The snark was brutal and well-deserved.

But it was a short and brilliantly precise Facebook posting about Cruz's behavior by the Wisconsin repertorial treasure George Hesselberg that really had me thinking all day Friday and into Saturday

Here, with his permission, is what he wrote:

Truth be told, the presence of Sen. Cruz in Texas is not necessary. Whatever work he can do to alleviate the suffering in his state can be done from anywhere. What he and his do not seem to understand is that empathy gets work done, motivates people, inspires a domino effect of positive activity. You just show up, don't get in the way, use your own skills to solve the problems. Above all, you don't make it worse. He made it worse. No empathy. Not a shred. He should stay in Cancun. 

Particularly this line: 

What he and his do not seem to understand is that empathy gets work done, motivates people, inspires a domino effect of positive activity.

And I thought, isn't this really the reality on the right here in Wisconsin? 

We see it over and over because GOP ideologues without empathy wield great power inside they government they profess to hate, so a decade of Republican control which has kept people down has also produced this unsurprising record.

Hunger in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin515,930 people are struggling with hunger - and of them 179,180 are children.

Rising poverty in Wisconsin

UW–Madison Institute for Research on Poverty: Wisconsin poverty rate rose in 2018 overall, for children, and for the elderly

An expanding wealth gap in Wisconsin.

Meanwhile state and local governments, facing huge declines in taxes collected, are contemplating cuts in service that could have the worst impact on poor and middle class people. One bright spot for Wisconsin was the online sales taxes have increased, but it turns out that the Republican-led state Legislature passed a law requiring that all such revenue must be used to lower income taxes paid. That means 20 percent of tax relief will go the top 2 percent of the state’s taxpayers, with none of it going to lower income taxpayers.

Wisconsin Republican legislators and the Gov. Scott Walker also passed the Manufacturing and Agriculture Credit, which nearly wiped out state income tax liability for manufacturers and agricultural producers in Wisconsin. Nearly all the value of the tax break goes to the very wealthy. In fact, just 11 claimants, all of which had incomes of $30 million or more, received an estimated combined tax break of $22 million in 2017.

Walker and Republican lawmakers piled on the benefits for the wealthy in a controversial lame duck bill, adding a $60 million tax cut that mostly benefits the top 20 percent of taxpayers. That likely includes members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, whose conservative majority has ruled against lawsuits arguing the lame duck laws were unconstitutional.  

And we repeatedly see ideologically-and-donor obeisant Wisconsin Republicans - like Cruz - choosing to help embed big picture problems by disregarding or dismissing solutions within their easy reach.

* Consider that then-Wisconsin GOP Governor Scott Walker raised taxes on low-income Wisconsinites, and created barriers to their obtaining food aid, and kept the minimum wage frozen at $7.25 per hour, and even stripped away some lifeline financial assistance to poor people through paternalistic budget wording aimed at motivating poor people to get out there and look for work. 

This from a career politician who ended up enjoying more than 25 unbroken years of generous public salaries and taxpayer-supplied family health care coverage, and other perks including eight years as Governor with a state-provided lakefront residence complete with two kitchens.

And a salary which topped out at $144,000.

And who now regularly inveighs on Twitter against what he calls socialism.

While finding work at several non-profits (the government-provided tax code means the rest of us have to make up the lost revenue), including one group which Walker will take over sometime early this year as President that paid its previous President $995,000 in salary and additional compensation. Details of Walker's financial package have not been public reported.

* Or consider the empathy-free displays by our habitually self-interested GOP millionaire Sen. Ron Johnson who, I remind you, is also perhaps the Senate's most-consistent and highest-profile, unyielding opponent of Obamacare.  

A brief digression, but given Johnson's jaw-dropping dismissal of the recent fatal attack on the US Capitol, isn't this 2011 headline just about the most ironic you've read in a long time? 

On the Capitol: Worst assault in Sen. Johnson's lifetime? Obamacare  

But back to present day Ron - who has twice recently voted against payments to people during the crushing COVID19 pandemic. 

Though taxpayers provide him a $174,000 annual salary, though when in session, the Senate usually meets Tuesday-through Thursday.

Johnson also has control over an annual office budget in the $3.7 million range which he is free to allocate as he pleases, and which includes numerous personal perks (some listed here), from excellent health and pension benefits to free air travel to subsidized on-site food service.


Yet he is on record (video, here), telling high school students in October, 2017 that food and health care are privileges, not rights.

When a student asked him if he considers health care to be a right or a privilege, Johnson replied, "I think it's probably more of a privilege. Do you consider food a right? Do you consider clothing a right? Do you consider shelter a right? What we have as 'rights' is 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.'"

I would add that privileges are easier to come by and enjoy if you are lucky enough to marry into opportunity.

Or as a Senator can influence tax-writing legislation which allowed corporations like the Johnson family business to shelter more income from taxation.

* Which brings me to WI GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. He kept his chamber adjourned for most of 2020 while collecting a full salary and eligibility for meal and housing expense reimbursements which he'd expanded as Speaker.

And, while avoiding any productive leadership during the pandemic, just voted in favor of a tax break on COVID relief loans he could apply to his own private businesses.

Sounds like more of that Johnson-Walker 'socialism for me, capitalism for the rest of you' ideology and lifestyle that helps solve their problems, not yours.

And Vos, like Walker, is another long-time beneficiary of the public payroll, beginning as a legislative staff aide after graduation from UW-Whitewater (where he'd roomed with potential 2022 gubernatorial candidate Reince Priebus), followed by election to the Racine County Board of Supervisors in 1994 and later winning a seat in the Assembly

*And since were looking ahead to the 2022 elections - RoJo says he needs another year to decide if he'll keep his promise to walk away from a third term  -  let me turn to former GOP Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch who is surely going to be a 2022 gubernatorial candidate.

This screenshot is from a January video Kleefisch posted on her PAC's Facebook page. She says she made 86 appearances in 2020 for Trump and down-ballot GOP candidates. Building up chits for 2022.  

To see her empathy deficit, I give you a four-minute video I believe was made for her 2010 campaign. It was posted on YouTube 8 days after she was sworn in as Lt. Gov. in January, 2011.

The opening is an absolutely ignorant rant about climate change, so don't fast forward to her put-down of the reporting profession before she launches into an empathy-free stereotyping of poor people.

The video shows Kleefisch speaking to what may be a class of journalism students, and has her judgmentally reprising her work as a TV journalist on a piece about lead abatement. 

Lead paint in older homes often found in lower-income neighborhoods is a toxic source of childhood blood poisoning because children put flaked-off lead paint chips in their mouthes.

Kleefisch explains to her audience that she was in a low-income family's home on an assignment when she worked in TV news and saw roaches all over the walls and dirty dishes piled in the kitchen sink while people were on a mattress - without a box spring - on the floor playing video games on a big-screen TV.

Kleefisch says that while some journalists would see the family as "victims," she was wondering why the people she was there to write about had spent their money on expensive toys or "name-brand sneakers" instead of on a box spring or roach traps or dish soap.

After all, she said, she'd washed her dishes by hand before she got a dishwasher!

Sound like the kind of post-COVID-catastrophe Governor Wisconsin needs?

Actually, we already one.

Walker made this very same attack during his 2014 campaign to stir up resentment voting in his base rather than actually solve real problems because it was the right thing to do:

In the final month and a half of the campaign, Gov. Scott Walker is making a blunt promise to voters — that he'll ensure jobless workers aren't on drugs, or their recliners. 
"My belief is we shouldn't be paying for them to sit on the couch, watching TV or playing Xbox," Walker told cheering Republican campaign volunteers last week in West Bend. 

Maybe Walker was taking cues from Kleefisch. Maybe they both were channeling Walker's idol Ronald Reagan who made 'welfare queens' famous.

But one person's welfare queen is just another well-positioned and entitled partisan - like Johnson or Walker or Vos, and yes, Kleefisch - with a reserved seat at Big Government's 'Socialist' buffet.

Less than three weeks after Kleefisch's term as Wisconsin Lt. Governor ran out in January, 2019, the Republican White House found her a six-figure salary as Executive Director of a national commission planning the 100th anniversary of Women's Suffrage.

Serving in a voting suppression state administration for eight years before punching that nifty ticket was certainly ironic, but not disqualifying.

Now, we don't know if Ron Johnson and Rebecca Kleefisch can win upcoming Wisconsin elections.

But we do know that both of them practice socialism for themselves while enforcing austerity and more problems on those who already have the least.

As George Hesselberg might put it, they should just get out of the way.


Arlen Christenson said...

This is a superb description of Republican politicians taking care of themselves at public expense. Thank you for this and for your other writing on similar subjects. This is among the very best

James Rowen said...

Thank you very much, Arlen. Hoping you and yours are well. Take care.