It's a good gag, but all too real to be funny

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When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker precipitated the crisis that now engulfs his state, he gazed into the funhouse mirror of ideology and imagined himself the second coming of Ronald Reagan.

We know this because this is what Mr. Walker told Ian Murphy, the Democratic operative who "punked" him during a 20-minute phone conversation. Mr. Murphy pretended to be billionaire David Koch, calling to see how Mr. Walker's efforts to bust Wisconsin's public sector unions was proceeding.

Mr. Murphy posted the recording of their conversation on his website, the Buffalo Beast. Throughout the first 15 minutes, we can hear Gov. Walker sucking up to "David Koch," who grunts his approval about his supplicant's efforts to outfox the Democratic minority in Wisconsin's statehouse in order to gut the union.

During the last few minutes of the recording, Mr. Walker described his Cabinet meeting held the day after the Green Bay Packers' Super Bowl victory over the Steelers. The Wisconsin governor's Reagan fetish was on full display as he gave the inside scoop:

"Talked about what we were going to do, how we were going to do it," Mr. Walker said in the measured, bland cadence of a bureaucrat marking time in the service of his corporate masters. "We had already kind of doped plans up, but it was kind of a last hurrah before we dropped the bomb.

"And I stood up and I pulled out a picture of Ronald Reagan and I said, 'You know this may seem a little melodramatic, but 30 years ago Ronald Reagan, whose 100th birthday we just celebrated the day before, had one of the most defining moments of his political career, not just his presidency, when he fired the air traffic controllers.' "

Mr. Walker went on to say, "That was the first crack in the Berlin Wall and the fall of communism because from that point forward, the Soviets and the communists knew that Ronald Reagan wasn't a pushover."

Mr. Murphy later told The Huffington Post that he was tempted to end the charade early because he never imagined the governor would say such excruciatingly dumb things.

Mr. Walker further recalled from the Cabinet meeting: "I said, 'This is our moment; this is our time to change the course of history; and this is why it's so important that they were all there. ... I said for those who thought I was being melodramatic, you know it was purely putting it in the right context."

Barely able to control his contempt while still posing as the billionaire, Mr. Murphy upped the ante by laughing the way he imagined an evil billionaire puppet master would at that point:

"Well, I'll tell you what, Scott," Mr. Murphy said. "Once you crush these bastards, I'll fly you out to [California] and really show you a good time."

"All right," the governor said. "That would be outstanding. Thanks for all the support in helping us to move the cause forward. And we appreciate it and we're, uh, doing it, the just and right thing for the right reason and it's all about getting our freedoms back."

"Absolutely," the fake David Koch said. "And you know we have a little bit of vested interest as well. Hahahaha."

"Well, that's just it," Mr. Walker said, refusing to acknowledge the moral precariousness of his situation. "The bottom line is we're going to get the world moving here because it's the right thing to do."

When Gov. Scott Walker told the fake David Koch "Thanks a million" at the end of their conversation, it was one of the most ironic and unintentionally truthful sign-offs any politician has ever given to one of his party's financial backers. It is as devastating a portrait of what is wrong with modern politics as there has ever been.

The problem isn't that pranksters occasionally make it through layers of office personnel to get high-ranking politicians on the phone, only to mercilessly spoof them. The real problem is that the Koch brothers and people like them have no problem reaching their water carriers in governors' mansions or congressional offices every day. Those other conversations would be equally damning if we were ever privy to them.

Obviously, Democrats and Republicans are both susceptible to big-money interests, although I can't imagine a major Democrat falling for a "George Soros is on line one" gag. I could be wrong.

As embarrassed as Mr. Walker feels, the average American voter should feel even more embarrassed. We're the ones being "punked" out of our liberties by scoundrels with vested interests.


Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631.


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