Opinion

Scott Walker's warped view of his own party

Governor, you're better than this

When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) told a reporter that he did not know whether President Obama is a Christian, he revealed himself to have a pretty jaded view of his own party's base voters — that they they are populist resentment collectors who can only make sense of the Obama presidency by attributing its genesis to conspiracies and malevolence.

Just as when he refused to say whether he believed in evolution, Walker's answer took the form of two parts: He said he didn't know, and questioned the reasons why the media would ask him about these subjects in the first place. (His spokesman later said that, in fact, Walker did know: "Of course the governor thinks the president is a Christian." Walker was supposedly just criticizing the premise that he should have had to answer the question itself.)

But Walker and the GOP's "pandering to (and flattering the prejudices of) right-wing cultural populists," as Damon Linker puts it, is as transparent as it is cynical.

The issue is not simply that Walker's non-response response endorsed a falsehood. It's that Walker knew the allegation was false and pretended that it wasn't.

Walker knows better, as does (let's hope) any sentient politician. So he was lying. He does know whether Obama is a Christian. His lie was pure bait; a lure he put together to show he shares a sensibility with a particularly rapacious part of the Republican primary voting base. So far as bait goes, it's cheap, unimaginative, and unworthy of a smarter politician.

If Walker feels he needs to go after the hungry carp in the GOP, he's not as steady and confident as he seems. His word choices diminish his character. The GOP is ready for an adult. Adult politicians aren't passive-aggressive.

Compare Walker's lie to the lie told by Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic Kentucky secretary of State who ran against Mitch McConnell for Senate last year. She was asked whether she voted for President Obama. She said that she would not tell, that because of her day job, she had a duty to uphold the principle of a secret ballot. This is rather like a grocer refusing to tell you that he's selling day-old bakery items because he doesn't want to offend the employee whose items didn't sell.

Her claim of principle was a lie in service to political pandering, which is the most egregious, most common, and most basic (in the modern slang sense of the word) type of campaign lie there is.

Walker's response also suggests that his skills as a political candidate are rusty; that he's about as ready for prime time as those bit SNL writer-performers who only last a season. Groundlings this ain't.

Candidates will always pander, and Walker missed the chance to effectively pander. As weird it was, the question gave Walker the chance to talk about how bad a president Obama has been. Instead, Walker reflexively pandered to the base biases of the party he thinks he's running to lead.

What are his advisers saying to him? "Every chance you get, just try to get in there somehow that Obama isn't one of us, and the media is hopelessly biased against conservatives. That's the best way to prove you're one of them. Because that's all they really care about at their core."

Rudy Giuliani doesn't know better. The world no longer makes sense to him. But Scott Walker is a successful sitting Republican governor, an adroit leader and, by all accounts, a reasonably intelligent man. It's a shame to seem him infected with a virus he could easily avoid.

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