Running errands in an ancient Volvo yesterday, I heard two facts from a radio interview between Norman Goldman and a member (Democratic) of the Wisconsin legislature (whose name, alas, I have forgotten).
Fact one: In the midst of the budget-crisis, Scott Walker met with GOPer dis-information specialist Frank Luntz. The meeting was unearthed by a Wisconsin newspaper and reported widely elsewhere, including at Mother Jones by Andrew Kroll, who noted:
On the right, Luntz is the man behind the message. He described last year’s much-needed financial reform bill as “a permanent bailout fund.” (Which it wasn’t.) He urged GOPers to paint President Obama’s health care reform bill as a “Washington takeover.” (Wrong again.) He also coined the phrase “death tax” to replace estate tax. In their fights against Democrats, Republicans have eagerly latched onto each of these Luntz-isms and more. And he likely offered Scott Walker, whose public support had begun to erode at the time of their meeting, some tips on how he, too, could rework his message.
“Disinformation specialist” is not unfair or unkind to Luntz, who revels in his ability to deploy language precisely in ways to which Orwell objected.
What does the fact of the meeting mean? Opinions vary, but I think it adds to sense that Walker and other Republican governors are following a strategy set out by Rove, Luntz, and others. One purpose of the strategy seems to be to wreck unions and thus deprive President Obama’s campaign of money; another purpose seems to degrade public education further. Another purpose borders on insane: to refuse federal money for important projects–just to make some kind of point, which eludes me. Approximately 70% of Wisconsin’s population lives within easy access to a railway that federal funds would have turned into a high-speed corridor. So refusing the money is at least a two-fer: reject a project that will put people to work; reject a project that will be good for the economy in the long run.
Fact two, provided by the Democratic legislator, who displayed a kind of bemused, sanguine attitude we’ve come to expect from the Midwest: there are @ 1 billion dollars of outstanding, uncollected taxes “out there” in Wisconsin. They remain uncollected because the revenue department has lost so many employees. Pragmatically, the legislator suggested increasing the staff and collected the money. The overall budget-gap is, I gather, about 2.5 billion, so 1 billion of outstanding tax-revenue is, as highly technical economists would say, quite a chunk of change. But let’s be cautious and assume the Democratic politician may be over-stating. Let’s only “give him” half a billion of un-recovered tax-revenue: still a large percentage, large enough to make one wonder (or not), again, why Walker is spending so much time and political capital on breaking a union–and on “reworking his message.” Love that euphemism: reworking. It means keeping the same message, which isn’t effective, and restating it in such a misleading way that it might well work. Go, Luntz! Damn Eric Blair, full speed ahead!