Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Shows Why Ideologues Can't Govern

Ideologues make lousy politicians, even worse office holders.

By + More

Ideologues make lousy politicians, even worse office holders. The ideological straight jacket does just what you would expect--it constricts movement. Everything is nice and neat and tight but not conducive to serious efforts to move forward. Politicians such as Scott Walker, who put themselves in ideological straight jackets, either live to regret it or are thrown out on their ear, or both.

Intellectuals sometimes make good ideologues, cultural commentators make very thought provoking arguments, philosophers have the luxury of being way out on the edge at times, but those who go into office find that they are rejected very quickly by the public when all they have is their ideology.

Scott Walker is the latest example of an ideologue--combined with a self righteous, bullying approach, not backed up by intellectual rigor.

My guess is that the events of the last month will not only harm him politically in the short run but will result in a serious problem for those who follow in his footsteps.

First and foremost, his approach to governing won’t work. Cutting taxes for ideological reasons, rather than pragmatic ones, prohibiting local governments from paying for education with their own decisions on local taxes, cutting services to the bone, breaking collective bargaining with unions, making them a scapegoat, just won’t wash. [Read the U.S. News debate: Should public sector workers keep collective bargaining rights?]

Look at the governors who are putting forth a balanced, reasonable approach to focusing on the dual realities of too much spending and too little revenue. They are not engaging in a hard and fast ideological battle. They are pragmatic. They do not focus only on slash and burn cuts but, rather, are flexible enough to include tax and fee increases.

What was Walker thinking, cutting taxes by $117.2 million as his first act when his state faced a deficit of $137 million? I guess I get the million dollars he included to encourage businesses to move to Wisconsin but I sure as heck don’t understand a $49 million tax cut for health savings accounts. The rich will take advantage of that boondoggle and it won’t create jobs.

[Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the federal budget and deficit.]

That was ideology, not pragmatism.

Look at Gov. Jerry Brown in California, or Mark Dayton in Minnesota, or John Kitzhaber of Oregon, John Lynch of New Hampshire, Pat Quinn in Illinois, or Andrew Cuomo in New York. These are governors, many of whom have a lot tougher problem than Wisconsin, who are struggling and succeeding, not resorting to hard ideology, not refusing to look at the revenue side of the equation.

If members of Congress take lessons from the states, they should learn a whopper from Wisconsin. Don’t follow in Walker’s footsteps, look to the governors listed above. [See a slide show of photos from the protests in Wisconsin.]

In fact, they can even look to Ronald Reagan who as governor way back in 1967 raised taxes by $1 billion in California as well as cut the budget. As president, he raised taxes in every year but one, when it was necessary. He learned very quickly about “never saying never.” He didn’t put himself in the ideological straight jacket that many now fantasize about. I am not a Reagan fan, but I do recognize he was pragmatic.

Walker is in way over his head. Sadly, he has been a train wreck for his state. Let’s not let his style and approach be a train wreck for the nation.

  • Read the U.S. News Debate: Collective bargaining rights for public sector workers?
  • Check out a slide show of photos from the protests in Wisconsin
  • See a slide show of the best cities to find a job.