If Scott Walker's first few weeks in office show anything, it is that the days of congenial, Tommy Thompson, country-club Republicanism are over.
Wisconsin is now on the leading edge of the right-wing revolution.
No one could be happier about that than Barbara Lyons, head of Wisconsin Right to Life. "These are very exciting times," she told me in a recent phone interview.
After years of being thwarted by Gov. Doyle and Democrats in the state Legislature, right-to-lifers are looking forward to working with a government that is entirely friendly to their agenda.
Wisconsin already has some of the nation's most restrictive abortion laws, including a 24-hour waiting period, state-directed counseling, mandatory parental consent and no public funding for abortion or related services. But under Doyle we got rid of abstinence-only sex education, instituted a requirement that pharmacies keep someone on staff who is willing to dispense birth control, made emergency contraception available through the Compassionate Care for Rape Victims law, and mandated that insurance companies cover birth control.
Lyons's group wants to undo all of those things, starting with bringing back abstinence-only sex ed. It also wants Wisconsin to opt out of the federal health care law. Above all, she says, it is focusing on "getting the taxpayer out of the abortion business."
Or, as her colleagues at Americans United for Life put it in a fundraising letter, "Planned Parenthood must be defunded and it must be defunded now!"
It is already illegal for Planned Parenthood to use taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions, which account for less than 3% of the group's services in Wisconsin. So defunding means cutting cancer screening, STD treatment and birth control.
I asked Lyons what she would say to the 73,000 Wisconsin women Planned Parenthood serves, especially since 60% of them report that Planned Parenthood is their primary health care provider.
"They can go somewhere else," she told me. "There are plenty of places that provide health care."
In other words: Too bad for you. It's not her group's concern how or whether women get health care.
But what about preventing unintended pregnancies? Don't anti-abortion activists have a strong interest in that?
"There is no proof," Lyons told me, "that making birth control more accessible reduces the abortion rate."
In fact, she added, "the jury is out" on whether birth control reduces unintended pregnancies.
Are you kidding me?
It's hard to imagine a worldview more in conflict with the direct life experience of most women. And yet this is the kind of thinking that is shaping women's health policy in our state.
We know that birth control prevents pregnancy. We know we need good health care. Yet at the national level, we see Republicans' first priority is targeting women's health care.
The House Appropriations Committee has recommended cutting all funding from Title X, the Nixon-era program that provides birth control - not abortion - to millions of low-income Americans. They are trying to make it illegal for private insurance companies to cover abortion under the federal health care law. And they are still, apparently, pursuing their dreadful effort to redefine rape so only "forcible rape" victims can get abortions.
Talk about being out of touch.
On the bright side, the sleazy attack on Planned Parenthood by the anti-abortion group LiveAction appears to have fizzled.
LiveAction videos featuring actors posing as a pimp and prostitute going into Planned Parenthood gave a boost to pro-lifers and their parallel-universe vision of Planned Parenthood as a nefarious organization out to make billions by murdering babies and exploiting young girls. But it didn't take much to puncture that storyline with a majority of American women and their representatives in Congress.
After all, one in four American women have relied on Planned Parenthood for birth control, Pap smears, cancer screening and other basic health services at some point in their lives.
Still, talking to Barbara Lyons, I couldn't help but be struck by the contrast between the boldness of the right and the defensive posture of the left. A fringe group of right-wingers have managed to take control of the Republican Party and enact policy on a state and national level. Meanwhile, Democrats abandoned the public option in the national health care debate as if it were some crazy wing-nut plan - despite polls like the New York Times/CBS survey that showed big majorities of Democrats and independents and half of Republicans favored it.
The result: Blue Dog Democrats who opposed the public option - and otherwise failed to establish themselves as distinct from Republicans - took the biggest hit in November, losing half their seats in Congress.
Democrats should learn a lesson from the energized right and take a principled stand on issues like health care and women's rights. And everyone who believes in good reproductive health care, sex ed and the notion that birth control prevents unintended pregnancies should talk to all their friends, neighbors and colleagues - including, especially, those congenial country-club Republicans who are not ready to march off the cliff with Scott Walker and Barbara Lyons.
Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive.