Gov. Walker as Captain Ahab

The Wisconsin conservative spin machine (call it the whitewashing machine) has been rotating wildly today, making itself dizzier than normal, after yesterday’s release of some damaging email records that seem to confirm that Walker, as Milwaukee County Executive, had at least some knowledge of a secret email system that allowed secret and illegal communication between his county office and his gubernatorial campaign staff. Charlie Sykes, for example, of WTMJ radio, writing on his blog, didn’t wait long to dismiss the email evidence as really no evidence at all.

Sykes in his post makes use of a blogger Rick Esenberg trope which sees Walker as the hounded white whale of Herman Melville’s novel, Moby Dick.  Milwaukee County prosecutors are thus, in Esenberg’s mind, the maniacal and obsessed Captain Ahab, a whaler whose lust for revenge against the white whale leads to a tragic end for Ahab and his ship. But the metaphor is flawed because the first John Doe investigation was launched before Walker was elected governor, and the Democratic DA showed remarkable restraint towards Walker in light of what the released emails reveal.  I’d like to suggest that the real Captain Ahab in this story is Scott Walker himself, an ambitious politician whose choice of comrades and methods of governance display an uncharitable ideology.

Moby Dick p510 illustration

In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s account of the contents of the emails, three paragraphs stand out:

“It is against state law in Wisconsin for public employees to work for political parties and campaigns while being paid by taxpayers to provide government services.

Throughout the secret investigation, Walker said he had zero tolerance for government employees doing campaign work while on the clock. But the newly released records detail almost daily interactions between his top county and campaign staffers.

Walker used his campaign email to communicate with his county aides, who frequently used their own private email accounts when interacting with Walker or his campaign — all of which would shield their discussions from the public.”

This analysis does seem to implicate Walker in the secret email scheme, as even the Wisconsin State Journal, not known for having a liberal bias, also concludes. The WSJ tried to contact the Milwaukee County DA’s office but got no response.

But what is undeniable now is that the first Wisconsin John Doe investigation was not a “fishing expedition” or some partisan “witch hunt” out to take down Walker. Laws were broken, some charged and found guilty. Why Gov. Walker was not charged only DA John Chisholm can explain. And it is also quite likely that the second John Doe, which some involved in are trying mightily to force an end to, is not a fabricated political attack, especially as it is being led by some Republicans as well as Democrats.

The true white whale is not Walker or the Milwaukee County DA; Melville’s whale is a symbol of nature ultimately uncontrollable, and for Walker and other state conservatives it is also the ghostly vision, slowly reviving, of Wisconsin’s Progressive tradition, which conservatives prefer to see as Communism or Soviet-style Socialism rather than as a corruption-fighting, special-interest fighting defender of populist democracy. So be it. But Walker and his fellow state Republicans would do well to read (or read again) Moby Dick and other works of literature to recall what hubris is and how to avoid it. For that matter, we could all dip again into the Bible. Here is 1 Corinthians 13:4-13:6 from the King James Version:

“Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

Doth not behave itself unseemly, seekth not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

Rejoiceth not in inequity, but rejoiceth in the truth.”

Such biblical charity is not specific, as in giving to charity, but related to caritas, the Christian ideal whereby the love of others is the supreme virtue. Democracy is, at heart, caritas or charity. Democracy depends on kindness, on trust and telling the truth and the restraint of power. Democracy does not favor any one race or religion; it cares only about securing equal rights, human rights and a fair, sustainable economy.

So let’s rejoice in the truth, not deny it. Denying the truth never ends well, sayeth the great whale.

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