The journalist, musician, and Madison native shares his new book, The Fall of Wisconsin. Info
Republican Governor Scott Walker and his allies in the state legislature have so profoundly altered Wisconsin's political fabric, and at such an aggressive pace, that Wisconsinites have had little chance to really step back and consider what it all will mean in the long run. Dan Kaufman helps readers do just that in his newly released book The Fall Of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest Of A Progressive Bastion And The Future Of American Politics. Kaufman, who grew up in Madison and leads the New York City band Barbez, has covered different facets of Wisconsin's political shift for The New Yorker and The New York Times. He combines deep reportage with an unapologetically left-wing perspective—on Walker's ruthless gutting of labor unions, on the rollback of Wisconsin's environmental protections, and on the growth of corporate influence over state politics—but this book is no polemic. The Fall Of Wisconsin places the political battles of this decade in context, detailing both Wisconsin's role in shaping contemporary liberalism (from Fighting Bob to Aldo Leopold to the UW-Madison academics who first conceived of many New Deal programs to the first Republicans, who were abolitionists) and its susceptibility to extremist right-wing politicians (Wisconsin elected the Red Scare-stoking Joe McCarthy to the Senate twice, is the home of the John Birch Society, and provided a launchpad for segregationist George Wallace's 1964 presidential campaign).
Kaufman tells this story mainly through the eyes of people on the front lines, and generally the ones who've had to fight to be heard at all. As a journalist and author, he's been following the union activism of ironworker Randy Bryce, for instance, long before Bryce launched his campaign for Paul Ryan's House seat and touched off "IronStache" mania on the national political scene. Bryce plays a prominent role in the book, as do Native American leaders like Mike Wiggins of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. That's refreshing, because indigenous activists around the state and the country are leading voices on environmental issues, but often get overshadowed in the press by white activists and candidates. Kaufman peers into the halls of power, investigating how think tanks and the American Legislative Exchange Council (where legislators and corporate members work together to draft model bills) have turned Wisconsin into a living laboratory for a host of far-right policy priorities. Read more this week in our interview with Kaufman. —Scott Gordon