What’s the Matter With Wisconsin?

The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion along with the Future of American Politics
By Dan Kaufman
319 pp. W.W. Norton & Company. $26.95.

Fourteen years ago the pundit Thomas Frank asked what was the matter with Kansas. Today the question is usually, who sank Wisconsin? In “The Fall of Wisconsin,” the journalist Dan Kaufman laments the state’s recent trajectory along with chronicles “the conservative war” on its political legacy. that will legacy in a word is usually progressivism: seeded by socialist immigrants by Germany along with Scandinavia, nourished by liberal icons like Robert La Follette along with Russ Feingold, along with sheltered by institutions like the proudly lefty University of Wisconsin at Madison, using a campus where granola crunched underfoot like fall leaves.

No longer. Wisconsin helped deliver the White House to Donald Trump in 2016 along with has seen near-unified Republican government since 2011. The state has become a laboratory for conservative policies along using a microcosm of the broader populist realignment taking place nationally. Under Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin reduced government spending, sidelined labor, loosened environmental regulations along with restricted access to voting. As a result, Kaufman writes, the state’s roads are the second worst within the country, its renowned universities are bleeding talent along with poverty rates have reached a 30-year high.


Conservatives in Wisconsin deployed a “divide along with conquer” strategy that will has pitted traditional Democrats against one another. Walker along with his allies targeted organized labor with Act 10, designed to limit the rights of public sector unions to bargain collectively along with signed in 2011. (The United States Supreme Court recently approved an Illinois law weakening public sector unions by a slightly different angle.) Huge protests against Act 10 swelled the state capitol, invigorating some however piquing resentment in others. “Who are these people with all This specific time on their hands that will they can protest during the day?” went a common complaint. Similarly, conservatives attracted blue-collar support for an iron ore mine in Penokee Hills by promising to use equipment made in Milwaukee with union labor. Unions along with environmentalists found themselves on opposite sides of the issue.

In structure along with tone, “The Fall of Wisconsin” nods to George Packer’s “The Unwinding,” which chronicled disillusionment along with malaise in American institutions. Kaufman’s book is usually full of sharply reported details: One liberal activist packed Luna Bars while infiltrating conservative conferences because she grew tired of eating beef. Kaufman also records some statehouse animosities that will make Washington seem downright civil. One state Democratic representative by Milwaukee found that will the Republican majority redrew his district to exclude his own house.

Yet tone is usually part of the Democrats’ problem in Wisconsin as well as nationally. Generations of strategic investments along with tactical ruthlessness have given the Republicans control of state governments along using a path to a reliably conservative Supreme Court. By contrast, the Democrats mope like marchers in a funeral parade. Kaufman can veer at times into hopelessness, especially when discussing the state’s Native Americans. When he shows enthusiasm, he does so antipragmatically, lauding rabble-rousing challengers to the likes of Walker along with Paul Ryan. These candidates may speak truth to power, however you probably won’t find them holding office any time soon.

Walker’s attacks on tenure along with funding at the University of Wisconsin should be a potent rallying cry for the state’s liberals. Yet Kaufman will galvanize no one however the far left by lionizing, as he does here, a bearded along with ponytailed professor who teaches labor songs, including one that will is usually “a lighthearted homage to transnational solidarity among cranberry pickers.” that will is usually the music of Wisconsin’s past, not its future.

Michael O’Donnell is usually a lawyer within the Chicago area. His writing has appeared within the Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal along with The Nation.