(Note: This article appears in the upcoming edition of Wisconsin Interest Magazine, which also includes an exclusive excerpt from "Unintimidated: A Governor's Story And A Nation's Challenge.)
Three years into his tumultuous first term, as he prepares to run for re-election and perhaps position himself for a presidential run in 2016, Scott Walker remains a puzzle to even some of his closest observers. He is, after all, a hard-edged conservative who talks about being a "champion to the vulnerable"; a fiscal conservative who disdains the politics of austerity; as well as a master communicator who sometimes fails to make his case.
His new book is unlikely to satisfy his critics or dispel all of the mystery behind the man we should know so much better. But it is a start.
Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge (Sentinel Books), is an attempt not merely to tell the story of his battle over Act 10, but to define "Walkerism" and to sharply differentiate its style and philosophy from those of other leading Republicans, especially failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Along the way, the book highlights the paradoxes of the man at the center of the storm. Let’s take a look at those paradoxes one by one and how they might play on the national stage.
Walker is a fiscal conservative but disdains the politics of austerity.
After nine years as Milwaukee county executive and three years as governor, Walker’s image (at least among progressives) is that of a relentless budget cutter. In a scathing attack in 2011, historian John Gurda accused him of "dismantling government one line item at a time, regardless of the consequences."
But in his book, Walker is sharply critical of what he calls the "sour politics of austerity."
"Too often, conservatives present themselves as the bearers of sour medicine, when we should be offering a positive, optimistic agenda instead."
His budget could have laid off tens of thousands of middle class workers, slashed Medicaid, and cut billions from schools and local governments, he writes. "But," Walker asks, "where is the optimism in that?"
Instead, Walker champions what he calls a "hopeful, optimistic alternative to austerity."
The key, he writes, is rejecting the "false choice" of spending cuts versus tax hikes and opting instead for changing the fundamental rules of the game. "We found a way to make government not just smaller, but also more responsive, more efficient and more effective. And because we did, we were able to cut government spending while still improving education and public services."
Walker is a hard-edged conservative but talks about being a "champion to the vulnerable."
Early in the fight over Act 10, a liberal critic referred to Walker’s "icy ideology." But his argument for championing the less fortunate is central to Walkerism (and to his scathing critique of the failure of Mitt Romney to connect with voters.)
"Republicans need to reclaim their position as the party of upward mobility and opportunity for all," he argues. Walker places heavy emphasis on the need to reform entitlement programs not by emphasizing green eyeshade critiques but by stressing the importance of moving people from dependence to independence.
When the left accuses him of "hating" the poor, Walker responds: "I love the people of my state so much that I don’t want them to be permanently dependent on the government. I don’t want to make it harder for them to get government assistance; I want to make it easier for them to get a job."
But Walker is also prepared to go further, embracing a more activist and inclusive agenda:
"We need to champion immigrants who come here seeking a better life. We need to champion those born here in poverty who want nothing more than to escape it.… That requires more than saying the right things. It requires showing up in inner city schools and talking about expanding school choice, reading initiatives and our plans to reform education, so that everyone among us will have the mental tools to build a better life."
In the book, Walker is scathing in his critique of Romney’s 47 percent comment, saying that he "cringed" when he heard Romney say, "I’m not concerned about the very poor." And he labels Romney’s use of the phrase "self-deportation" as "disastrous."
"You can’t win the presidency when nearly two-thirds of the country thinks you don’t care about their struggles," he writes. ...
Check the full version of this article HERE at WPRI.org.