Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Record? What Record?

In about a year Wisconsin residents will once again go to the polls to determine who will lead this once-proud state.  The current incumbent, Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries), will win that election by exactly the same margin that he won the recall election in 2012, within half a percent.

You heard it here first.

This has nothing to do with the persistent questions of electoral fraud that continue to dog his administration.  The blood red counties surrounding Milwaukee have serious ethical problems when it comes to counting votes – enough to make the current right-wing majority on the state supreme court deeply suspect and probably illegitimate (hello “Justice” Prosser!) – but for the sake of argument here I am going to assume that the vote counts of both the last gubernatorial election and the recall election were, somehow, accurate reflections of the popular will.

Nor does this have anything to do with the on-the-job record of the incumbent, a record from which any thinking candidate would run screaming. 

Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) came into office boasting that he would create a quarter-million jobs thanks to his 68-page jobs plan (he made such a big deal over the fact that it was 68 pages long!), which he helpfully posted on his website.  When I downloaded my own personal copy, I discovered that it was written in a font so large that it averaged about 16 words per page, plus pictures, which is the digital equivalent of writing with crayon on a napkin.  It’s about as sophisticated as you would expect it would be, and perhaps because of this his actual economic record has been, shall we say, dismal. 

As of this spring, which was the last time I had the heart to look at the numbers, all of which had declined sharply from the previous administration, under Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) Wisconsin ranked 42nd in the nation for business and 49th in job growth through 2016 (both figures from Forbes Magazine, that noted leftwing rag), 45th in wage growth (from the Bureau of Labor Statistics), 49th in economic outlook (from the Federal Reserve), and 50th in short term job growth (from the US Chamber of Commerce).  If you look at the graphs, perhaps the most striking feature is that the state economy started tanking at precisely the moment his ALEC-written “budget” went into effect, in June 2011.  Balancing out the net job gains and losses, three years into his administration he’s about 160,000 jobs short (figure from PolitiFact), with a year to go.  This even as neighboring states have long been pulling out of the economic recession. 

He’s also the guy whose administration approved the illegal use of state troopers against sitting legislators and the use of violence against peaceful protestors.  He’s the guy whose administration’s demonstrated contempt for any law that gets in the way of his power is brazen enough that you’d think he was proud of it.  He’s pushing the radical right-wing fantasy of “Voter ID” laws – a failed solution to a problem that does not exist, from a statistical perspective, and one clearly designed to disenfranchise voters likely to disagree with him.  His relationship with the Koch brothers is sufficiently groveling that you wonder how he can walk with that puppeteer’s hand stuck so far up into his colon.

And on and on.  Honestly, it gets tiresome reciting the litany of failure this public figure has managed to achieve in so short a time.

Normally such a figure would have no chance in any election, but Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) isn’t a normal figure and this isn’t a normal election.  He isn’t a thinking candidate – he is a scheming candidate, a cunning candidate, a Manchurian candidate of the extreme right wing, but those are not the same things.  Besides, for a good chunk of the electorate, this isn’t about thinking anyway.

Not really.

I didn’t start out as a history major in college.  This often surprises people, most of whom know me as the professional historian I am these days.  When I started out in college I was a math major, and that lasted a surprisingly long time before it became untenable.  What surprises people even more is that history wasn’t my next choice either.  I moved from math to a psychology major and I graduated with a BA in psychology as well as history.

I can tell you not only why you are crazy, but why you were, too.

Double majoring also had the interesting side effect of canceling out all my distribution requirements, which in the long run meant that I had taken Calculus IV for no reason other than the sheer enjoyment of it.  It’s a funny old world sometimes.

I enjoyed my time as a psych major.  My main focus was on social psych – the behavior of individuals in groups – and for someone who is as much of a people-watcher as I am that was the ideal major.  But there were other aspects of the discipline that I enjoyed also, and one of them was the concept of cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is one of those complicated things that can nevertheless be boiled down fairly simply.  It’s essentially rationalization.  It’s used to explain why people get so attached to and so defensive of experiences which, by any objective standard, are miserable.  The short version goes like this:  “That experience was miserable.  Only fools would expose themselves to something like that unless it was really, really worth it.  I am not a fool.  Therefore that misery must have been really, really worth it.”  In fact, if you follow the logic of how cognitive dissonance works, the more miserable of an experience it was, the more positive the person who went through it feels it really must have been in the long run.

This is why people can look back fondly on such things as boot camp, hazing, Calculus IV, triathlons, medical residencies, comprehensive exams, and any cinematic experience involving Adam Sandler.  There is a gap between what you have, objectively, experienced and what you are absolutely sure that you, as a non-fool, would allow yourself to be subjected to.  This gap is filled with an unalterable belief that the experience must have significant redeeming value, so much so that you end up approving of that experience far more than any rational analysis would lead you to do.  You will defend it from all assault.  You will praise it as worthwhile for those coming up behind you.  You will seek to inflict it on others.  None of this feeling of positive memory has anything whatsoever to do with any objective merit from the experience itself – it’s all about you and how you rationalize having subjected yourself to that misery in the first place.

Thus we come back to Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries).

From pretty much any perspective other than extreme right-wing ideological fantasy, the current administration has been a colossal failure – a national disgrace and an international embarrassment from which it will take Wisconsin a generation or more to recover.  The quick glance at the statistics from his reign that I ran through above is all you need to make that case, and there is just so much more where that came from.  His administration has been a target-rich environment that way.

And yet he remains inexplicably popular.  He is the only governor in American history ever to survive a recall election.  His approval ratings – low though they are – have not budged in years, regardless of the track record of his administration.  In point of fact, his approval rating among Republicans hovers well north of 80%, even as his approval rating among everyone else is in the single digits – a remarkably polarized set of statistics which, when combined with the fact that the number of people who have “no opinion” about him is essentially zero, is further indication of just how little will change come the next election.  On top of that, his assaults on democracy, constitutions, and the rule of law are strangely celebrated by his supporters – people who otherwise claim to revere exactly those things and have no scruples against using them as cudgels to beat those who dare disagree with them on, well, anything. 

This is simple cognitive dissonance at work. 

They voted for this man.  They supported this man.  He has been an unmitigated disaster for the state of Wisconsin.  Only a fool would support such a man.  They do not consider themselves to be fools.  Therefore there must be some redeeming value in Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) that his opponents are too evil to see.  Therefore he must be defended.  Therefore they will vote for him again next year, in exactly the same percentages as they voted for him in 2012. 


That’s a bad sign for Wisconsin.


TimBo said...

From the Skeptic's Dictionary entry on Cognitive Dissonance:

For example, Marian Keech (real name: Dorothy Martin) was the leader of a UFO cult in the 1950s. She claimed to get messages from extraterrestrials, known as The Guardians, through automatic writing. Like the Heaven's Gate folks forty years later, Keech and her followers, known as The Seekers or The Brotherhood of the Seven Rays, were waiting to be picked up by flying saucers. In Keech's prophecy, her group of eleven was to be saved just before the earth was to be destroyed by a massive flood on December 21, 1954. When it became evident that there would be no flood and the Guardians weren't stopping by to pick them up, Keech

became elated. She said she'd just received a telepathic message from the Guardians saying that her group of believers had spread so much light with their unflagging faith that God had spared the world from the cataclysm (Levine 2003: 206).

More important, the Seekers didn't abandon her. Most became more devoted after the failed prophecy.

I think you're right. You're doomed for longer period of economic problems. So sorry.

Lee I said...

Oh, lordy. Will he be term-limited at some point?

David said...

Lee - no. Tommy Thompson was elected 4 times and served 14 years before leaving on his own to work for George W. Bush in Washington.