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I grew up in Wisconsin, before being seduced by the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains and their lesser cousins in the coastal Western states.
As a teenager, I was woefully ignorant of politics. Schools back then didn’t seem to think that a socialist or communist indoctrination was an appropriate curriculum requirement. The teachers at that time seemed to think we should learn reading, writing and arithmetic. Later, it became chemistry, calculus and classics. All a poor precursor to a communist indoctrination.
If the teachers talked about politics, they did it in the teachers’ lounge, out of earshot of their young charges. (Yes, it was a public school.)
I suppose I grew up in a union household, of sorts. My grandmother, who helped to raise us, was a big advocate of my getting a job with the railroad when I grew up. She didn’t know what to make of my fascination with chemistry and my basement experiments that sometimes resulted in foul odors and occasional popping noises when beakers broke. A chemist back then could look forward to the princely salary of $12,000 per year. But as with much of childhood, neither of those careers ever happened.
My dad worked at a factory, doing work that small computers now easily do, but it was quite involved when done with slide rule, pencil and paper as he did. The factory was unionized, but he was what we call today “exempt.” I don’t ever recall he and my grandmother arguing about politics. I have the suspicion they both voted Republican, at least for presidents.
There were indications, as I look back, that Madison, the state capital and home to the state university, had fallen into the communist camp. I noticed this as I entered college in the West. I seem to remember the Weathermen (not the meteorologists) tried to blow up a math building on the Madison campus, so at least the campus part of Madison was plenty politicized.
Overall, though, my memories of Wisconsin are of endless green fields of growing food, sweltering August afternoons, and more dairy cows than one could count as they whizzed by on a weekend drive. And the road signs … they gave you miles of notice before a highway exit (something I miss as I get older).
Towns and villages back then were populated with hard-headed Germans whose families had immigrated generations ago. And the Swedes. Which is why I was surprised, as my political awareness grew, to learn that Wisconsin had been in the socialist camp for so many years.
Perhaps it was the budget. Socialism seems innocuous enough when budgets are small. But like all those cute calves we saw in the spring, socialist budgets have a way of growing much, much bigger as time goes on.
And I think that’s the problem Wisconsin voters addressed on Tuesday. The hard-headed German and Swede stock that populated the state looked at Greece, Spain, Italy and the rest of Euroland – and had second thoughts about all those public-sector union cows munching everyone else’s retirements. They decided that things had gotten out of control.
Socialism only works as long as somebody else pays the bill. The politicians always tell us it will be “the rich” who get stiffed with the tab. Funny thing, though. When the waiter finally drops the check on your table, “the rich” are long gone and the bar looks pretty empty.