Killing the “Wisconsin Idea”

As Bob LaFollette got up in that wagon to speak in 1897, “The Wisconsin Idea” was already coursing through the blood of the German immigrants who stopped to listen. The war on those most vulnerable was already going on. And if the people in this photograph somehow had the power to peer into the future, perhaps they’d gaze at February 2011. Right now. Today. And think to themselves, “Will this war ever end?”

The Wisconsin idea is so simple that it’s greatest danger lies with those who skim over it so fast that they don’t really absorb what it says. The Wisconsin idea envelops public policy, education and politics. But at its heart is this little pearl, the commitment “to insure well-constructed legislation aimed at benefitting the greatest number of people.”

Bob LaFollette was “The Wisconsin Ideas’” greatest advocate. And if he were still with us today, he would be the one at the front of the battle lines, drilling into the minds of even the most rabid, drooling dog barking at the legions of American’s least likely to take care of themselves—all those imaginary “welfare mothers,” all those fictionally lazy “unemployed”, the sick, those who serve the government, the military, the war veterans, —drilling into their minds that the drunken sailor spending that got us here simply will not be paid back by those least able to afford it.

“Ensuring well constructed legislation aimed at benefitting the greatest number of people.”

LaFollette would be pounding the message, the Wisconsin idea, in ways that made “The twitter” quiver and Facebook tremble.

Because the guns aimed at this idea represent an even greater threat than the negotiations over who gets how much money, the ugly slanderous talking points aimed at government public servants, and all the sleazy, “big lie” internet messages that foul the telecom highways of the world like litter out a car door that forever remains on the side of the road every single time someone presses “Send” and extends the life of another piece of garbage.

Here’s why—when you kill an idea, you kill the origin of the thinking that kills the possibility of a better future. In doing so, you kill everything from a healthy life, to a roof under which you can sleep, to food on your table. You kill conversation, honest debate, and at the very end of this list: you kill the potential for leaving the world better than when you found it.

Yesterday, thousands joined the protests in Madison, the state capital. The newly elected Governor issuing a statement saying, “It’s simple. We’re broke.” A much easier statement to swallow than the rest of the story:

So what we’re going to do about it is first demonize public employees and take away their collective bargaining rights. If you want me to be direct? We’re gonna crush the unions. We will dance on the grave of Bob LaFollette. We will take aim and start carpet-bombing the Wisconsin Idea. With visions of shock and awe. Because if we can crush the vulnerable in Wisconsin. we can do it anywhere.

The Wisconsin idea. “Legislation benefitting the greatest number of people.” Note what is not in that phrase.

Nothing about class warfare.

Nothing about republicans and democrats

Nothing about the media or the sex and drugs and payoffs to congressmen.

Nothing about The President causing all the problems.

The Wisconsin idea. Currently under attack.

What would Bob LaFollette do? Attack back? Bite a blogger? Tweet somebody? Keep quiet and do nothing?

Or perhaps ask the question,

Can you really kill an idea?

2 Responses to “Killing the “Wisconsin Idea””

  1. chicagoguy14 Says:

    Photo Credit: Wisconsin Historical Society

  2. Paul Haider Says:

    I am so proud of these Cheeseheads for protesting what their new governor (a Tea Bagger) is trying to do to them; it’s a though there is a little Egyptian in every Aamerican. Let’s hope that there were some Beloiters who were not too stoned or drunk to join these protestors. Here is a lyric from a Steve Earle song that was also covered by Joan Baez: “Come back Emma Goldman, and rise up old Joe Hill/Their barricades are going up, but they cannot break our will/Come back to us Malcolm X and Martin Luther King/We’re marching into Selma as the bells of freedom ring/Come back Woody Guthrie, come back to us now/And tear your eyes from paradise and rise again somehow.”
    Paul Haider, Chicago

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