My friend Paul Buhle, the great historian of the American left, has edited, with his wife Mari Jo Buhle, It Started in Wisconsin: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Labor Protest (http://www.versobooks.com/books/1076-it-started-in-wisconsin), just out from Verso. The best pieces in this collection of eighteen essays on the recent uprising in Wisconsin place the spirited pro-union and anti-Governor Walker rallies in the context of Wisconsin’s democratic populist history: in other words, as rooted expressions of a still vital La Follette tradition. Paul Buhle—who coauthored an outstanding biography of the Iowa patriot and New Left historian William Appleman Williams—notes that a “fresh, fascinating” aspect of the Wisconsin movement was its “localist or regionalist” character. “Reference to the distinctive features of Wisconsin pop culture,” he writes, “situated the resistance to Walker within the vernacular of Midwestern democracy.” Never underestimate the iconography of brats and cheddar and the Green Bay Packers.

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Bill Kauffman
Bill Kauffman was born on November 15 (also the birthday of Bobby Dandridge) in the otherwise forgettable year of 1959. He was an all-star Little League shortstop for the Lions Club Cubs but soon thereafter his talents eroded. After an idyllic childhood in his ancestral home of Batavia, New York, birthplace of Anti-Masonry, he was graduated from Batavia High School in 1977. He earned, more or less, a B.A. from the University of Rochester in 1981 and went therefrom to the staff of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the only dairy farmer in the U.S. Senate. Two and a half years later he left Moynihan’s staff a bohemian Main Street anarchist who loved the Beats, the New England transcendentalists, early 20th century local colorists (Sarah Orne Jewett his Maine gal), cowpunk music, and the crazy old America. Neil Diamond and Karen Carpenter, too, but don’t tell anyone. He bummed around out west for a while, sleeping in bus stations and writing derivative poetry in Salt Lake City flophouses (nah, he’s not a Mormon, just a BYU fan) before an ill-starred year in graduate school at the UR. He took a seminar with Christopher Lasch and thought on it. In the spring of 1985 he flew west to become an assistant editor with Reason magazine. He had great fun in Santa Barbara with that crew of congenial editors drinking far into the night at Eddie Van Cleeve’s Sportsman’s Lounge, but in ’86 he flew east to become the magazine’s Washington editor. Always homesick, Kauffman persuaded his lovely and talented wife Lucine, a Los Angelena, to move back to Batavia in 1988 in what he called a “one-year experiment”—the year to be measured, apparently, in Old Testament terms. They’re still there—or, more accurately, five miles north in Elba (apt name for an exile!), where Lucine is Town Supervisor. She may well be the highest-ranking Armenian-American elected official in the country, at least until the voters of California send Cher to the U.S. Senate. Take that, Turks! Lucine and Bill have a daughter, Gretel, 17, who writes and acts and plays piano and French horn. Their lab mutt, Victoria, whose tail graces the accompanying photo, is now departed, to their sorrow, but a cat, Duffy, darts in and out of the house when the mood strikes. Bill is the author of nine books: Every Man a King (Soho Press/1989), a novel, which was recently rescued from the remainder bin by a New York Sun article proclaiming it the best political satire of the last century (the Sun thereupon set); Country Towns of New York (McGraw-Hill/1994), a travel book about God’s country; America First! Its History, Culture and Politics (Prometheus/1995), a cultural history of isolationism which Benjamin Schwarz in the Atlantic called the best introduction to the American anti-imperialist tradition; With Good Intentions? Reflections on the Myth of Progress in America (Praeger/1998), his worst-seller, a sympathetic account of critics of highways, school consolidation, a standing army, and the Siren Progress; Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette: A Mostly Affectionate Account of a Small Town’s Fight to Survive (Henry Holt/2003; Picador ppb. 2004), a memoirish book about his hometown which won the 2003 national “Sense of Place” award from Writers & Books; Look Homeward, America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchists (ISI/2006), which the American Library Association named one of the best books of 2006 and which won the Andrew Eiseman Writers Award; Ain’t My America: The Long Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle American Anti-Imperialism (Henry Holt/ Metropolitan/2008), which Barnes & Noble named one of the best books of 2008; Forgotten Founder: Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin (ISI/2008), a biography of a brilliant dipsomaniacal Anti-Federalist who warned us this was gonna happen; and Bye Bye, Miss American Empire (Chelsea Green/2010), a cheerful account of dissolution. Bill is a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and a columnist for The American Conservative. He has written for numerous publications, including The American Scholar, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Nation, Chronicles, the Independent and The Spectator of London, Counterpunch, Orion, University Bookman, and Utne Reader. He is vice president of the Genesee County Baseball Club, which owns the Batavia Muckdogs of the New York-Penn Baseball League. Come summertime, he can be found in the 3rd base bleachers at Dwyer Stadium. He is also active in the officerless (of course) John Gardner Society. Bill is more handsome than the photo on this site would suggest. See books written by Bill Kauffman.

3 COMMENTS

  1. [A] “fresh, fascinating” aspect of the Wisconsin movement was its “localist or regionalist” character…[which] situated the resistance to Walker within the vernacular of Midwestern democracy.”

    As we’ve argued before! Thanks for the heads-up, Bill; I’ll have to check this book out.

  2. Recent Wisconsinite here, and someone who visited the protests (for purposes of observation more than anything else; I’m ambivalent regarding Walker).

    At the very least–based on the excerpts available–it appears that the authors are valorizing both the protesters and their cause. Of the protesters who are actually from Wisconsin, most are statists of one sort or another, and the State, I would argue, is one of the biggest enemies of the porch. Furthermore, the unions themselves are rather thin gruel if we’re trying to bolster/recover Burke’s “little platoons” in any meaningful way.

  3. I’m no fan of Burke, who betrayed the American Revolution in the end, and misdirected what could have been a valid criticism of the French Revolution by degenerating into a defense of monarchy, but I too am currently still in Wisconsin, and have no use at all for Walker.

    It is of no great significance that those who did not support Walker in the first place want him recalled. It means a great deal that people who voted for him have circulated recall petitions. I haven’t seen Buhle’s book, but I hardly think he could have missed the signs around the capitol “I voted for Walker — and he spit on me,” or “I voted for Walker and I’m sorry.”

    A fair number of public employees who earn decent incomes and own their own homes are prepared to vote for low taxes… until they find out how that is to be financed. Voters tired of unquestionably venal Democratic leadership were taken in by a fresh face talking about his brown bag lunch and the need for 250,000 new jobs.

    Democrats could easily snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, if they take the recall as a mandate for the tired old politics and tired old candidates they have previously offered. Nominating Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett again would be a great way to secure Walker’s continuation in office. What is needed is someone who can deal with a genuine shortage of funds in new ways… which might even meet some version of a porcher seal of approval. There is nothing more statist than Walker, who took office with an agenda of centralizing unprecedented power in the hands of the governor, giving away massive quantities of public money to favored insiders, and slashing needed resources, such as mass transit, without offering any basis on which local communities could have the resources to take matters into their own hands in any creative way.

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