The failed recall attempt of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker comes as no surprise to most of us liberals in the Midwest, though it still stings. It hurts not only because we failed to boot a corrupt and ruthless governor from the state capitol, but also because it underscores a more troubling phenomenon: A new kind of class warfare is emerging in the Heartland, and it is one the Republicans have been so good at orchestrating in order to win elections.
In the Bible Belt, Republicans have long been able to divide working people (by that I mean anyone who depends on an earned paycheck to stay afloat) on social issues — gay rights and abortion. In the Rust Belt and Grain Belt, that’s been a bit harder, as there is a strong “live and let live” ethic in the Midwest. We like our neighbors and tend to accept, if not value, our differences. We also like our pulpits free of politics; we prefer preachers to be soft-spoken and potlucks are often more important than politics. The overwhelming support for President Obama in Wisconsin in 2008 (he won some very conservative rural counties) proved all that.
What the deep pockets and political might of Scott Walker — and other Midwestern Republican governors — signal is a troubling new trend: There is now a new way for the rich, ruling class to use fear and envy to divide the American middle class, a strategy that doesn’t even need to use the traditional wedge issue of religion.