There are supposedly 22,000 dairy farms in Wisconsin. Reading the biographies of political candidates in Badger State, however, would lead you to believe Sconnies do little else besides milk the hell out of cows.
Take Julie Lassa's first TV ad. "Growing up on a dairy farm, my dad taught me not to take any bull, and how to milk a dollar for all it's worth," she begins.
From Dana Schultz's site: "Growing up on the farm, we worked for every allowance." Schultz is unique in that she also discusses the loss of her family's dairy farm in advocating support for small farmers.
Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, another Democrat in a close contest in the Northwest: "Prior to being elected to the Senate, Kathleen was the primary operator of the family's 50 cow dairy farm near Alma in Buffalo County."
Even RoJo gets in on the cow fun: "He delivered papers, caddied at the local golf course, and he even helped bale hay on his uncle's dairy farm." This is not the only ambiguous item on Johnson's resume. The candidate has been evasive to comical effect about his business history and personal life, including the fact that he grew up in Minnesota (not that we don't love Sodies here!).
There are definitely many more. And to their credit, there were many more dairy farms back when most of these candidates were growing up. The industry has consolidated and is now largely dependent on the labor of immigrant workers, as discussed in an interesting Isthmus cover story a while ago.
Then again, dairy farms aren't just a matter of dollars and cents to Wisconsinites they're a source of collective nostalgia and pride. Lassa's ad puts this on full display. Like most other political ads this season, the spot has nothing to do with important issues and everything to do with appeals to gut reactions, most notably the sense of virtue and discipline we associate with rural life.
Lassa's ad is not quite as absurd as Scott Walker's ham sandwich spot or Tom Barrett's "put Madison on a diet," but it is remarkably similar and seeks the same effect in the viewer. Like the other two, it blends the themes of personal discipline and fiscal discipline. And just like Barrett and Walker, Lassa proposes an absolutely negligible cut in government spending (congressional salaries) to illustrate her commitment to responsible budgeting.
I look forward to Dean Robbins analysis of the Lassa ad! Check out his most recent analysis of the Neumann ad.