Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Hitler, Dahmer, and the Politics of Hate in Wisconsin

For those of you reading this blog who are not following politics in Wisconsin – and believe me, I pay as little attention as I can  - this great state which once had the reputation of being the epicenter of clean and open government has become an open sewer of filth, characterized by vile name-calling and narrow-minded “me first” politics.
On both sides.


The most recent incident was late last week, when it was announced that the John Doe probe into activities surrounding Scott Walker’s office when he was Milwaukee County Executive has been closed, and that no additional charges will be filed.  Apparently the Democrats had been hoping that Walker would be indicted on criminal charges, and they were deflated to learn that those conducting the probe closed up shop after catching a handful of Walker’s top lieutenants in a variety of moderately serious charges, leaving Walker unscathed, save for the perception that for the CEO of Milwaukee County, he apparently had no clue what kind of shenanigans his senior staff was up to. (Wink wink nudge nudge.)


But, as my lawyer said to me many times in my legal battles with my former employer five years ago, “there’s no law against being stupid”.  Apparently the guv is OK with leaving that perception.


Shortly after the John Doe probe was shut down late last week, Graeme Zielinski, the (former) official spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, let out a blast of Tweets, three of them comparing Governor Walker with Jeffrey Dahmer.


If you don’t know who Jeffrey Dahmer was, you can stop reading now. 


Shortly after Zielinski’s blast of Tweets hit the internet, a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter called my former colleague Mark Belling –who was vacationing in Hawaii – and asked for reaction.  Belling, the host of the highly rated right-wing talk show on WISN-AM and frequent filler-inner for Rush Limbaugh on his nationwide radio show, said “and they accuse my side of hate speech?  What’s the difference between Graeme Zielinski and Jeffrey Dahmer? Only one was found to be insane.”


Of course, my long-time friend and colleague Mr. Belling was trying to make a clever remark to the newspaper (a remark which got a good deal of play), but Mark apparently forgot that in 1991 a jury found Dahmer was NOT mentally ill (I know, I know---the worst murderer and cannibal in Wisconsin since Ed Gein) – a point which, while factually accurate, is probably not really well-remembered by us ‘sconnies.


But this time, Zielinski’s hateful Tweets did NOT get massive re-Tweeting.  Apparently, even the hardest of the hard-core left realized that Zielinski was in outer space.  In fact, several lefty friends whose Twitter feed and Facebook posts I follow began to ask their fellow Democrats to call the party headquarters (listing the phone number with their Tweets and Facebook status updates) and say “it’s time for Zielinski to go”.


And, indeed, Monday we learned that the DPW took action.  They docked Zielinski a week’s pay – about a thousand bucks - banned him from Tweeting - and removed him as party spokesman, although plenty of Dems are still calling for his outright dismissal, saying this latest flap is far from an isolated incident and should be regarded as the straw that broke the camel’s back.


Although I doubt it, this public woodshedding of Zielinski could be a start toward toning down the hateful rhetoric.  The Republicans and their young turk, Jeff Waksman, the mouthpiece for the Dane County Republicans whose acerbic partisan rants (“press releases”) have caused the Party to issue formal apologies, could take a hint and tone down their messaging, too.


Governor Walker is not Hitler, despite the signs and placards saying that during the protests against Act 10, and he’s not Dahmer.  He may not be that popular in the bluest of the blue counties in the state, but he is the duly elected (and reaffirmed through recall) Governor of all Wisconsin.  The Democrats can change that at the polls next time around, but comparing him to a serial-killer cannibal is not going to win them many friends.


  1. Thanks, Rob. And thanks for the share on FB.

  2. This piece is fine as far as it goes, but utterly ignores the outrageous statements of Republican Party apparatchiks and lawmakers, who have on many occasions over many years felt no compunction themselves about using Jeffrey Dahmer as an analogy (Scott Walker did it himself in 1992, and Russ Feingold was the object of a Dahmer slur from then-Sen. Bob Kasten during the '93 campaign).

    Furthermore, some pundits and lawmakers on the right have been increasingly comfortable bringing up the Hitler analogy. When a few on the left finally had their fill of this treatment and responded in kind, they deserved censure, but not without the context of nasty speech on the political right that opened the doors.

    1. Thanks, anony. The piece DELIBERATLY ignores the past. We must live in the present and move forward, not dwell on the wrongs of the past. There's plenty of crap to go around, as you pointed out, but it's counterproductive to focus on past wrongs if your mission is to move FORWARD.

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  4. Hi Tim: I can't help but think we're disgusted with the symptoms rather than the cause of the problem. My simplistic diagnosis is that we, particularly Dems, don't have any real leaders with a coherent vision. Therefore, given no defined future state for which we can advocate, we're reduced to being against things and demonizing opponents. And I argue that the reason demonizing works well for Repubs is because of the weak so called leaders the Dems parade out in so many elections. So to me, the answer is better candidates, but these types of people are not nutured within the WI Dem party. I fear the Dems party infrastructure will have to collapse before party democracy can be restored.

  5. Couldn't have said it better myself. Weak, weak candidates; nothing to be "for"; just "against". Interesting that the state Dems seem to be in the same situation as the national Repubs - nothing but angry old white-man candidates and crazies like Palin; no programs to advocate (except don't tax me or anything I do or buy).

  6. Zielinski should have been fired. This sort of light wrist slap does nothing to say that this sort of remark is wrong.

    Sigh, just keep on, keeping on.

  7. It’s unfortunate that Graeme Zielinski’s usually well-tuned ear for wit and irony deserted him. Alas, I doubt his departure from the spotlight will do anything whatsoever to improve the tone of political bombast in Wisconsin or the nation. You’ll sooner drain the silt out of Lake Poygan.

    I’ve never met Mr. Zielinski, but he strikes me as a Leinenkugel and cheese curds sort of guy who would never seriously believe that a light beer and cheese doodles dork like Scott Walker would really have the culinary proclivities of a cannibal.

    It would have been better, and more defensible, if Mr. Zielinski had called Mr. Walker a ring-tailed polecat or referenced his simian ancestry. But it’s too late for that, I suppose.

    Anyone who struggles to believe that the political ranting (please do not call it rhetoric, which is an honorable form of discourse) has suddenly headed for higher ground need only look at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s deliberate and provocative sloshing of verbal gasoline on this minor (in the scheme of things) flare-up.

    The newsies turned, purportedly for sage counterpoint and balance, to that estimable voice of reason, Mark Belling, a microphone-wielding blowhard who refers to Hispanics as “wetbacks.” A man who, with a broad brush, portrays people who live at 35th Street and North Avenue in Milwaukee (mostly they are black) as “thugs,” and who equates breast-feeding with defecation.

    Of course Mr. Belling, who always likes you to know he’s the smartest guy in the room, took the opportunity to sanctimoniously pose as the sole occupant of the moral high ground.

    It would have been funny if it wasn’t such a perfect example of what has gone wrong with our culture.

    The trajectory of political discourse is bent, in part, by business decisions. The newspaper plays agent provocateur to drive page views on its website. Boring won’t cut it. You can forget about finding intelligent and reasoned discussion anywhere in the popular media, anytime soon. That stuff is from Snore City.

    1. As usual, your comment is the best part of this whole string. Never dawned on me - though it should have - the for the Journal-Sentinal to ask BELLING for reaction is calculated to do nothing other than drive clicks.

      Abandon hope.

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