April 18. 2012 10:49AM

Where have you gone, William Proxmire?

By Steve Jagler

For weeks now, geologists have tried to identify the causes of the loud cracks and booms that are rattling the city of Clintonville, Wis.

Their original conclusion was that it was a baby earthquake measuring 1.5 on the Richter Scale. But the whole-lotta-shakin' is still going on, debunking that assessment.

I would like to offer a figurative diagnosis. Perhaps the commotion is being caused by Wisconsin's political psyche being fractured into two. Again.

I mean, let's face it. When it comes to politics, Wisconsin is bipolar.

How can one state produce both Robert "Fighting Bob" La Follette and Joseph McCarthy? Russ Feingold and Ron Johnson? Paul Ryan and Tammy Baldwin? Frank Zeidler and Scott Walker? It's like we have two gene pools.

This year, it is entirely possible that Wisconsin will re-elect conservative Gov. Walker and help re-elect Democrat Barack Obama as president.

I will leave the merits of Walker's Act 10 for others to debate, but one thing is certain: It split Wisconsin into factions of us and them. I have seen families torn apart by the chasm. The seeds of the national "Occupy" movement were sown in the Madison protests.

As I walk the streets of my neighborhood, I see yard signs proclaiming "I stand with Walker" right next to neighbors' signs saying "Recall Walker."

As time goes by, I really miss the late Wisconsin Sen. William Proxmire. He was a fiscal conservative, the originator of the "Golden Fleece Awards" for government waste. And yet the man had a compassionate heart of gold and was the ultimate public servant for Wisconsin.

But politics aside, he did not need, nor did he seek, large campaign donations. He campaigned on his feet. You could not go to a Packer game, a Brewers game, Summerfest, the State Fair or a summer parade without running into Bill Proxmire.
People like the Koch brothers on the right or George Soros on the left would have no reason to call Proxmire. He would have none of that tomfoolery.

"Prox" was the first U.S. Senator I ever interviewed as a young journalist. He was a politician who responded to his constituents' needs, regardless of how they voted in the booth. He was honest. No one could buy his vote, because it was not for sale.
Contrast that to the way the political game is played today. The U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision has completely polluted America's democracy. The Super Political Action Committees (PACs) are spending more than the political parties and more than the candidates themselves.

The court's decision declared that companies and unions are people, and cash equals free speech.

I don't know about you, but our home's phone rang off the hook with calls from PACs in the weekend before the April 3 Wisconsin primary.

I don't get that. The only thing I can figure is there must be some large idiot voter bloc out there. Because what kind of idiot would give any consideration to a robocall from a PAC when deciding whom will get his or her vote?

We have reached a new low in which one political party is running "fake" candidates in the other party's primary, just to mess with the system.

I would venture a guess that you are as numb as I am to the campaign commercials on television and radio. I don't hear them anymore. I refuse to. They are disgusting and condescending.

We have descended into our own corners, and we only trust the media outlets that are echo chambers that amplify our own political beliefs. Any media outlets that challenge those pre-held beliefs are considered suspect.

We are at once us and them. Shame on them. And shame on us.

Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes.