Wisconsin. You've heard of it. Maybe it was a fat joke. More likely it was a cheese joke. A drunk joke? Even more likely it was about drunk fat people eating cheese. Yes, Wisconsin Dells. You've certainly flown over it.
Laugh all you want, Wisconsinites are now a leading force in right wing politics and, maybe more so than any other state's residents, are responsible for our messed-up national state of affairs. Here are nine Cheeseheads who are working hard at this very moment to mess up your life.
Sen. Ron Johnson, Oshkosh, WI
A self-made Objectivist who is neither self-made nor very objective. Railing against government handouts and the bank bailout, Johnson was proven, before his election, to have taken money from both. During the campaign, he refused to debate, until at the end agreeing to an absolute minimum number. No matter, he defeated longtime Senator Russ Feingold, who, in another paradox, had far more in common with the state's Tea Party values than Johnson. In Washington only six months, and largely powerless as a minority in the Senate, Johnson began boisterously grandstanding about the debt ceiling, threatening to obstruct attempts to lift it. Johnson represents the very worst of what the Tea Party has to offer America: millionaire businessmen who have nothing to lose as politicians because they genuinely don't give a damn and will soon retire back to their suburban manses after mucking up the system and polarizing everyone as much as humanly possible.
Rep. Paul Ryan, Janesville, WI
The Congressional balance to Sen. Johnson, Ryan is a career politician who runs against being a career politician. After voting for every spending increase that ever came out of the George Bush administration, Ryan drew the blueprints for every other Bush lackey to reinvent him or herself as a common sense Midwestern Tea Partying aw-shucks fiscal hawk, which basically means he reinvented himself as Russ Feingold, with whom he shares a hometown. Ryan's ever-present crap-eating golden-boy grin accompanies his every appearance as he defends his Randian budget plan that will never pass but in turn makes liberals so scared they'll capitulate to the first "moderate" Republican cuts that come along. Respectable Republicans hate this smug scumbag too, but understand how powerful and necessary he's become.
Scott Walker, Governor's Mansion, Madison, WI
Creating the mold that other states can use to turn their social safety nets in Jell-O, Walker is the ultimate stooge. The son of a Baptist minister, Walker was the consummate Republican lifer until he jumped on the Tea Party fiscal conservative train in 2010, promising to cut spending at the state level even though he increased spending 35 percent during his time as Milwaukee County Executive. The result of his tenure? The Greater Milwaukee Committee recommend the state allow it to declare bankruptcy. Phooey! says Walker: a new breed of "forget my past" Republican who understands that if he does his job, he'll be punished in the short term but eventually rewarded. He's a new form of local G. Gordon Liddy state-level "plumber" for corporate money.
Eric O'Keefe, Spring Green, WI
O'Keefe headed the group Americans for Limited Terms, one of the first of a new breed of conservative groups that used "voter-education" campaigns to influence the anti-Clinton 1994 elections. (They helped create a 54-seat swing that favored Republicans in the House.) They also advocated for limit terms in more than 20 states. Since then, O'Keefe has slowly climbed to be a major player in the grass-roots screwing-things-up movement. Going all the way back to the early 1980s, when he was the National Director of the Libertarian Party, O'Keefe is connected to the steady flow of money from Howard Rich to the Koch brothers. O'Keefe is a small-government, pro-business board whore, his resume including, but not limited to, service at the Club for Growth, Americans for Limited Terms, Americans for Limited Government, Citizens in Charge, the Legislation Education Action Drive, the Institute for Humane Studies and the Center for Competitive Politics. Most recently, O'Keefe has helped launch the Healthcare Compact Alliance, which attempts an end-run around "Obamacare" using state sovereignty arguments. He was most recently at the Americans for Prosperity-sponsored RightOnline in Minneapolis where he co-chaired an anti-Obamacare panel with Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
Currently CEO of the Tea Party-championing Sam Adams Alliance, O'Keefe helped create the now-independent Tea Party-candidate training organization American Majority. In his own bio on his personal website (which has been taken down in the last three months), O'Keefe took credit for being an architect of everything about the Tea Party that has screwed both the American political process and the Republican Party: "In 2008, Eric, working to advance limitations on the size and power of government, began advocating that Americans should adopt approaches to achieving accountability and limits on government by being involved in the primary process."
Wherever this master of the dark arts of CIA-like information espionage can be found, so can the latest underground strategies of America's corporate political maneuvering. Not that you will have an easy time finding O'Keefe, in part, because of….
Leslie Graves, Madison/Spring Green, WI
Graves is the executive editor of Ballotpedia and the president of the Madison-based Lucy Burns Institute, that sponsors Ballotpedia, Judgepedia and WikiFOIA. All three of these are Wikipedia-like databases of political information. For example, Ballotpedia aims to create a "thriving citizenship through the free and open sharing of information." Do a web search on a political issue of some kind and there's a good chance you'll find a legitimate-ish, Wikipedia-looking answer from one of these sites. How honest is Graves? In 2010 she described the Tea Party movement as "mostly non-partisan." At the time, Graves had taken a special interest in Tea Party candidates because, after the election, those 2010 candidates would be presented the opportunity to have "a heavy impact" on the once-a-decade redistricting process. (Originally an anti-abortion activist, Graves' dealings have gone way beyond editing websites, such as her involvement in the petition collecting mill Renewal Voter Outreach.)
Ballotpedia and Judgepedia were originally created by O'Keefe's Sam Adams Alliance. Coincidentally, O'Keefe has a Ballotpedia page; coincidentally, it's less than comprehensive. And that lack of information is bizarre considering executive editor Graves has better access to the source material than anyone as she is O'Keefe's wife. (Even though you'll find almost no record of them together, on her Facebook page Graves "Likes" all of her hubby's little projects like Healthcare Compact and Sam Adams Alliance. How adorable. )
Marcus Bachmann, Buffalo County, Wis
A dairy farmer and one time enrollee of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, it has long been rumored that Marcus directs his wife's political career more than anyone knows. Not that she wouldn't be okay with this. As Rep. Bachmann said in 2006, "The Lord says, 'Be submissive, wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.'" Bachmann calls Marcus her closest adviser and one of Bachmann's 435 former chiefs of staff called him "the only person she talks to as an insider." Michele Bachmann doing something that drives you nuts? There's a good chance she ran it by Wisconsin farmboy Marcus first.
Arthur Thompson, the John Birch Society, Grand Chute, WI
The lives of Madison Avenue ad execs aren't the only thing from the early 1960s that are seeing a comeback. With the Tea Party movement, the John Birch Society has gone from historical footnote to major player. Your daddy's rich, well-armed anti-civil rights organization, the John Birch Society was founded in 1958. Named after an intelligence specialist with the US Army who was killed by Chinese Communists in 1945, became the brain trust for anti-Communist "research" and paranoia about the New World Order—or what CEO Arthur Thompson calls "a Satanic conspiracy." Ever notice how the Tea Party bangs the founding fathers Constitution drum incessantly? Well, John Birch's mission is "Less Government, More Responsibility, and — With God's Help — a Better World." Sound familiar? The society's membership doubled in the last couple years and recently, a society spokesman admits, it is training the Tea Party. In 2010, John Birch was a sponsor of the influential Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), publicly cementing its return to influence.
A founding member of John Birch? Fred Koch, the father of everyone's favorite brothers, for whom the term "meddling" was invented.
Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus
Reinhold Reince Priebus, a constituent of Ryan's, was rewarded with the top GOP job after engineering the compete Republican takeover of his state, including the preposterous upset of Russ Feingold by dimwitted plastic maker Ron Johnson. Preibus is a new breed of Reagan-adoring Republican leader who was still picking his nose in 7th grade civics class when Ronald Reagan was actually president. With his youthful political smelting done during the divisive Clinton era, Priebus sees politics as a zero-sum game where anything goes as long as it results in a win. In 2004, Priebus ran and lost against incumbent state Senator Robert Wirch (D-22). Seven years later, the GOP-controlled legislature Priebus helped create hired Priebus' law firm to redistrict Wirch out of his own seat.
State Senator Ima McRecalled
Not technically a person, but a tactic. After Iowa showed us the way, Wisconsin set records by recalling nine of its 33 state senators and in the process mainstreamed the political tactic of the permanent election cycle. It's already spread to Michigan, where recalls are moving against both Democrats and Republicans. The next dominoes to fall? Arizona and South Carolina. And no office is too petty. That's right: it's a recall election for a parks district board.
So, rest of America, I speak for Wisconsin when I say: You're welcome.