NEW BOOK: The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker by Katherine Cramer

Katherine Cramer’s forthcoming (April) book is excerpted in the Capitol Times today. If you’ve never heard of her, she’s a political science professor at the UW, a lifelong Wisconsin resident, and an interviewee in our film.

Cramer’s research is unique: where most political scientists rely heavily on polling, Cramer actually spent years visiting rural communities in Wisconsin, getting to know the people, and coming to a deep understanding of their interests and values. Because she took the time go through that process, she is able to present a nuanced and sensitive assessment of their political leanings.

Her work is critical for understanding the political divisions in Wisconsin that allowed the rise of Scott Walker and his agenda. It’s easy (and common among lefties) to dismiss rural and other disadvantaged citizens who vote Republican as ignorantly voting against their self-interest. This is a gross oversimplification. Cramer came to realize that rural people

understand public issues through a lens of rural consciousness. This is a perspective that encompasses a strong identity as a rural resident, resentment toward the cities, and a belief that rural communities are not given their fair share of resources or respect (CapTimes, 3/16/16).

The issue of unfair distribution of resources and respect was ripe for exploitation when Governor Walker infamously announced that he would “divide and conquer” to defeat public sector unions. Walker used “haves and have nots” rhetoric to achieve his goals, but the division preceded him. Apparently, rural Wisconsinites have long felt that “Madison sucks in all of our taxpayer dollars, spends it on itself or Milwaukee, and we never see it in return” (interview, Divided We Fall).

This sounds very like what we used to hear from rural communities when we lived in Nebraska: that Omaha “threw its weight around” to exert its will in the state. That’s one reason I think Cramer’s work is so important – Wisconsin is not the only state with a rural/urban divide that is easily exploited by politicos.

It’s also why I intend to make our entire interview with Cramer a special feature on our Divided We Fall DVD. We can only include a short excerpt in the film, but the interview is rich with insight and therefore crucial for understanding a divide that must be bridged if we ever hope to defeat the divide and conquer tactic.