Over the last few weeks, I've had occasion to travel to conferences in Rochester, New York, Washington, D.C., and Chattanooga, Tennessee. In each city, I have had the chance to see people from all over the country, and all they wanted to talk about was our current "troubles." My insights on land use, cities and transportation policy? Yeah, whatever. What they really wanted to know is if the recalls would be successful.
The typical conversation starter goes something like, "What in the heck is going on in Wisconsin these days?" Then they ask questions that reveal that they've been following us closely. What are the chances the Dems can take back the Senate? How many signatures does it take to recall the governor? Did that one justice really try to strangle that other justice?
Wisconsin is replacing those afternoon soap operas that are getting cancelled right and left. We're better than anything on reality TV. And now that the Blago saga in Illinois is wrapping up, our ratings should soar even higher.
The Department of Tourism will be pleased to know that I put the best possible spin on all this. I tell those folks from across the nation how there were 100,000 people on the Capitol Square -- twice -- with no serious incidents, nary an arrest. I recount how the protestors inside the Capitol used painters tape for their signs to make sure they didn't damage the marble. I explain how a new progressive movement may have come together as a result of all this. I encourage them to come to Madison to see for themselves... and spend some money as long as they're here.
And when it comes to defending our progressive tradition, which is really at the heart of their questions, I point out that Wisconsin is a progressive state that also elected Joe McCarthy. What we really are is an independent state, and independent voters are like water. When they slosh to one side we get Fighting Bob La Follette, Victor Berger, Gaylord Nelson, David Obey, Russ Feingold. They slosh the other way, and we get Tail Gunner Joe. But if you add it all up, Wisconsin has contributed a heck of a lot more people and ideas on the progressive side then on the other.
Despite our current reputation for being on the cutting edge of nuts, I assure anybody who asks that we are going to come back to our senses real soon. This is a helpful, almost therapeutic exercise for me, because by the time I'm done explaining us to the rest of the world, I almost believe my own rhetoric.