"Oh, my name is Ron Johnson and I come from Wisconsin..."
Today while puttering around the house I overheard a blurb on Milwaukee Public Radio's WUWM-FM from Milwaukee Magazine. Be sure, we were told, to check out the magazine's new story on Sen. Ron Johnson and his -- I swear to god -- "meteoric" rise to prominence in the US Senate.
Well, the lady of the house is always telling me my hearing isn't so good these days, so I traipsed over to the magazine's web site to see if I'd gotten that right. The good news is that the actual article doesn't use the word "meteoric," but it still fawns over Johnson, in the way other publications (maybe we should call them Republications) previously fawned over other GOP ultraconservatives who supposedly got religion and converted themselves into reasonable, compromising people.
Just to take one of many examples, remember Chuck Colson from the Nixon administration? He evolved from presidential special counsel to Watergate perpetrator to federal convict to "noted Evangelical Christian leader and cultural commentator" (as Wikipedia puts it). Colson "found Jesus" while in prison, which implies that earlier, Colson had been looking for his savior in all the wrong places. See, it's OK if you're Republican; you just have to declare you've changed. Hence the "new" Nixon, and the "compassionate conservative" George W. Bush and the ever-thoughtful, open-minded Scott Walker.
Wisconsin's current Republican US senator hasn't, so far as I can tell, had any religious conversion. Nor is there real evidence he has changed his position on actual issues. He's still far, far right of center on basic policy matters like climate change (it's just a hoax; and, er ... sunspots!), the federal debt (it's going to ruin us, like it's been going to ruin us for many decades, now, except of course when Republicans were in charge of running up debt) and "Obamacare" (even worse than the deficit -- and an existential threat, in Johnson's view, to, um, "freedom!").
But Johnson has made one change. Now he has changed into pretending to be a guy interested in compromise with the other side -- just so long as he really doesn't have to compromise in meaningful ways.
Now, true, if he's not walking the walk, he is trying to talk the talk. Why, just last January, the magazine noted, RoJo voted for the latest “fiscal cliff” agreement, which tweaked slightly tax hikes and delayed some spending cuts imposed by the 2011 debt deal (i.e., the agreement rearranged the fiscal deck chairs on the USS Titanic). But Johnson supposedly did more than just vote for it. We are left to infer that Johnson brokered the deal. Then again, the magazine's reporting to that effect relies heavily on Johnson's own version of events.
"After those spending cuts took effect in March," the magazine reported, Johnson "was in the first group of 12 Republican senators invited to discuss fiscal issues over dinner with President Barack Obama. "Then, Johnson says, he took over “`leading the effort to define the problem,' trying to come up with numbers that all sides could agree to use as the basis of a long-term budget deal."
And trying. And still trying. But it's a fool's errand, because "leading the effort to define the problem" is teahadist code for blaming minorities and out of work or underemployed Americans for their misfortune in getting hosed by careless, greedy, crooked financiers and businesses. Because capitalism is great and government is bad, and you just have to try. Try! Try! Really, really hard! Hey, RoJo himself says so, thus it must be true.
The magazine reports that "other" Republican lawmakers respect Johnson because of his business experience. Then again, as we well know, GOP respect for business people is entirely situational. Scott Walker, for instance, speaks nothing but bad about Mary Burke, former Trek Bicycle CEO who led a successful, profitable and well-respected Wisconsin business. You see, Burke might run against Walker and she's (pinky to your lip) a Democrat! So how could she possibly be a good business leader? Meanwhile, RoJo's own, far greater business acumen extended to repaying himself $9 million for self-funding his campaign by collecting -- surprise! -- $10 million in deferred income from the privately held corporation that he took over after marrying into the firm. Now that's clever, profitable businessing.
One needn't lay awake nights worrying whether Johnson has made a real conversion to the art of getting along or is just posturing because his poll numbers are continuing to decline as his re-election campaign nears. All you need to know is that he's lately been on a charm offensive, after more than two years of just being plain offensive. Old Nixon, New Nixon; Old Johnson; New Johnson.
How else do we know that Johnson is truly transformed into that rare breed: a modern Republican lawmaker who is actually willing to compromise with Democrats to get things done? Why, because one of the great GOP un-compromisers says so! From the article:
“Ron is one of the most important people in the Senate right now,” says Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican who gave up his Senate seat to become president of the conservative Heritage Foundation. “In a lot of ways, he has a lot more power than the elected leadership.”
Yes, because GOP leadership now has nearly zero power! Tea party obstructionists like RoJo have amassed influence in the GOP caucus, but only because they threaten to force everyone into nonaction unless they get exactly what they want. Also, RoJo -- he's an accountant, dontcha know -- has spent much energy portraying himself as an expert on budget and fiscal policies, to the point that he tried lecturing incoming Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who actually studied the subject in college. DeMint's endorsement of Johnson is, in consequence, equivalent to Machiavelli endorsing that Nixon guy.
Indeed, Johnson's transformation into a supposed bipartisan team player would ring a lot truer if Milwaukee Magazine or anyone else could come up with a similar endorsement from a progressive Democrat. Or any Democrat. Or even a moderate Republican (there are two or three left, after all).
The magazine also recounts how Johnson spends hours working up spreadsheets on the US budget. Remember, he is an accountant! So far, apparently, all that Johnson has concluded is what he already thought he knew: Namely, that we've got to cut more programs that aid actual working Americans and those in need. You know, optional, wasteful stuff like Social Security and Medicare and loans to lower income college kids. And Obamacare. Because: If we don't immediately cut such aid, then years or decades from now we'll be forced to cut such aid!
To paraphrase the old lawyer joke: He in the GOP's tea party wing who represents himself as a thoughtful senator has a fool for a client. The corollary is that only fools and sensationalist news outlets could possibly believe that trowels of political pancake makeup mean Johnson really has changed into someone more reasonable. Like that Palin person used to say, it's all lipstick on a pig. Oh, and also: Meteors don't rise; they destroy themselves in fiery plunges to earth.