The Corner

Desperate Times Call for Desperate TV Ads

Remember the time when the Wisconsin recall election was about union rights, and solidarity, and how Governor Scott Walker’s eradication of public-sector collective bargaining was something Hitler might have done? Remember that? Yeah, that was fun.

But those days are well behind us. Walker’s opponent, Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, is trying his hand at a noxious cocktail of different issues; first, he failed to convince Wisconsinites that Walker was at war with women. Then, Barrett’s claim that Walker’s policies led to massive job losses was pulled out from under him when Walker’s administration released more accurate numbers that showed the state gaining 23,000 jobs. (Although Barrett still clings to that talking point as if he were a three-year-old on a Time magazine cover.)

Now, Barrett has taken the most predictable route possible; he has begun running an ad slathered in innuendo citing an ongoing John Doe investigation of several of Walker’s former county executive staffers:


(Ironically, the ad features a still shot of Madison reporter Jessica Arp, who regularly hosts a feature in which she fact-checks campaign ads. Undoubtedly, if she were to fact-check an ad featuring herself, it would cause a tear in the time-space continuum.)

The story of the John Doe investigation is thus: Walker’s former deputy chief of staff, Timothy Russell, has been charged with stealing $60,000 in contributions meant for Operation Freedom, a picnic that honors veterans. Russell’s domestic partner, Brian Pierick, was also charged with two felony counts of child enticement. Two former Walker aides have also been charged with doing campaign work on government time (although just last week it was discovered that Kris Barrett, Tom Barrett’s wife and a public school teacher, sent political e-mails from her government-hosted e-mail account as well.)

#more#It was actually Walker himself who requested the John Doe investigation when he got word of wrongdoing by his staff. But he has also set up a legal-defense fund, which has given his opponents plenty of fodder for accusations. They say that the defense fund is proof Walker himself is being investigated; but state law clearly allows creation of a defense fund merely if a candidate’s “agent” is being investigated. In this case, Walker’s “agents” would be his former employees. So while the creation of the fund itself means little, “Scott Walker has a criminal defense fund!” has become the “9-9-9” of the recall election cycle — a non-sequitur meant to serve as the final answer to any and all questions.

But if the polls are to be believed, the John Doe issue is already baked into the electoral cake; people know about it, and have disregarded it. It seems there are very few issues, real or imagined, that can alter public opinion at this point.

The John Doe calumny has been taken to a clownish extreme by Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokesman (and former flag-burner) Graeme Zielinski, whose foray into politics so far has been slightly less successful than Travis Bickle’s. During Zielinski’s tenure, Democrats lost both houses of the legislature and the governorship in 2010, lost a hotly contested statewide Wisconsin supreme court race in 2011, and failed to pick up control of the state senate following the recall elections in August of last year. A Walker win would be the fourth straight humiliating defeat in the Zielinski era.

And Zielinski’s unhinged buffoonery might be part of the reason for these defeats. When the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel endorsed Walker over the weekend, Zielinski compared their decision to opposing the Civil Rights movement and endorsing Senator Joe McCarthy. Zielinski, who used to be a reporter for the Journal Sentinel, said that in endorsing Walker, the paper “has made yet another backward stand against history.” On his Twitter feed, Zielinski said Walker is bankrolling the defense fund of men accused of “boy rape,” an accusation that’s earned him nearly unanimous rebuke. (These examples are merely the tip of the iceberg; it’s almost as if Zielinski is playing an Andy Kaufman–style prank on the public to see how comically unlikeable one person can be.)

But the lack of adult supervision at the state Democratic party isn’t the only reason Walker is now solidly favored to win. (Intrade now has him as a 94 percent chance of victory.) Barrett’s constant switching of strategies appears to be sending a message to the public that Barrett’s really got nothing. Presumably, if Walker had done something so horrifying as to warrant a recall, it might be worth mentioning during the course of the campaign.

— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and writes the Yankee Review Blog.

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