Where did Wisconsin go wrong?

The United States Capitol
Photo by Logan Rude

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin was once such a good state.

We had cheese, and butter, and great roads, and, mostly, admirable politicians.

Not all the politicians were statesmen, but we could look at Tony Earle or Tommy Thompson, at Scott Klug or Russ Feingold.

We, of course, also elected Joseph McCarthy and, more recently, Ron Johnson, who will keep us humble about our greatness.

But it wasn’t until this week, when Rep. Ron Kind, who has represented Western Wisconsin since 1997, said he will retire at the end of his term, that I began to despair about what we are becoming.

Derrek Van Orden, the Republican Kind defeated two years ago, is making a spirited run for the office again and has the full backing of the national Republican Party.

Ordinarily, that would not come as a surprise.

But here’s what’s depressing: Van Orden is under fire because of his presence in Washington, D.C. and at the nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6 when rioters broke into the building and attempted to overturn the presidential election.

What!

Van Orden says he wasn’t in a Capitol “restricted area” and that he left when violence started.

I don’t think he should have been there at all and I think participating in an insurrection against the United States of America ought to be disqualifying for someone who seeks to join Congress.

I mean, don’t we have any standards?

I’m beginning to think the answer to that question is we don’t.

We do what it takes to win, even if that means betraying every single value we’ve held should such betrayal become necessary.

Why anyone wants to do that is beyond me. Being a Congressman can’t be much fun; these men and women spend much of their time begging rich donors for money. Most politicians end their days in relative obscurity.

It is even worse for Republican politicians who, if the last decade is any example, spend their time in office trying to find ways to take health insurance away from the poor and to demonize immigrants.

What do they get out of this?

Again, I have nostalgia for the days – not all that far in the past – when reasonable people could disagree vigorously about policies but, at a minimum, concede that their opponents were patriots.

Now we’re trying to justify insurrection.

Wisconsin was once such a good state.