April 10, 2019
Special Guest Perspective by Dan O’Donnell
In less than a week, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers will mark his hundredth day in office with far less fanfare than most heads of state. Since the famous First Hundred days of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the milestone has been something of a media obsession. What signature legislation can a new president get through Congress? What policy initiatives can the new governor spearhead?
In Governor Walker’s first hundred days, he stared down an angry mob to pass collective bargaining reforms that brought Wisconsin back from the brink of financial ruin and set the stage for the economic boom that continues to this day.
In Governor Evers’ first hundred days, he replaced a painting.
The highly publicized move to return “Wishes in the Wind” to the Governor’s Mansion serves as a perfect metaphor for the ultimately meaningless virtue signaling of the Evers Administration thus far. Devoid of any actual achievement during his first hundred days, Evers has instead settled for giving the appearance of diligence while doing absolutely nothing substantive.
Consider his very first executive actions, signed on the day of his inauguration. The first was to “recognize the valuable contributions of state employees, promote positive morale, and foster a collaborative work environment.”
How, exactly? That wasn’t Evers’ concern. His action merely let state employees know that he valued them. Unstated was the implied belief that they hadn’t been under the prior administration. Still, Evers’ action didn’t actually do anything; it only gave the appearance that he cares more than Scott Walker did.
A second order, signed the same day, required state agencies to “develop and implement policies preventing discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.”
This sounds noble enough, but such discrimination is already illegal under the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act. Evers’ executive action essentially amounts to a request that state agencies enact policies to…obey the law.
A month later, Evers ordered 23 “Open for Business” placards taken down from the “Welcome to Wisconsin” signs on the state’s borders and replaced them with boards reading “Tony Evers, Governor.”
Apparently anticipating questions about the wastefulness of this move, Evers’ Department of Administration assured taxpayers that “the old signs would be cut in half with no material wasted.”
Fittingly, they were turned into “Detour” signs since the move served no other purpose than to signal a detour from the Walker Administration.
Evers, though, hasn’t been content to merely virtue signal his opposition to Walker-era slogans; he also used his office to symbolically lash out at the Trump Administration. Just two weeks after removing the “Open for Business” signs, Evers signed an executive order pulling Wisconsin’s National Guard troops from America’s southern border.
“There is simply not ample evidence to support the president’s contention of a national security crisis at our southwestern border,” he tweeted.
The move had virtually no impact on President Trump’s mission at the southern border, as the 112 Wisconsin Guard members were simply replaced with the 3,750 active-duty troops the Pentagon had deployed in early February, but that didn’t matter: Evers had told Trump, hadn’t he?
A month later, just hours after Dane County Circuit Court Judge Richard Niess inexplicably ruled that the Wisconsin Legislature’s December extraordinary session was unconstitutional, Evers directed Attorney General Josh Kaul to file a motion allowing Wisconsin to withdraw from a federal lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act.
In the few days between Judge Niess’ laughably incorrect ruling and the Wisconsin Court of Appeals decision putting it on hold, Evers could have done anything. Instead, he did the one thing that had no practical effect whatsoever. Nearly 20 other states remain as plaintiffs in the case, which continues to make its way through the federal court system with or without Wisconsin’s involvement.
Again, though, Evers simply wanted to make a statement even if his action had no actual impact. This is the very definition of virtue signaling.
Nothing, however, could have possibly topped the pomp and circumstance with which Evers on Friday announced that he was…redecorating his living room.
Gone was the portrait of Old Abe—a Civil War painting put up as part of Walker’s 2011 commemoration the war’s 150th anniversary—and returned was a hyper-realistic picture of modern-day Milwaukee children playing with bubbles.
“Looking into their eyes should remind us of the responsibility we all share to work together to ensure a bright future for all kids in Wisconsin,” Evers said.
How exactly is the Governor working to ensure such a future? By holding a press conference to signal to Wisconsin that he cares more than Scott Walker ever did. You see, Walker even got rid of that painting so he wouldn’t have to look in those kids’ eyes. Well Evers is looking! See that, everybody? Evers is looking! Look at him looking and caring!
“Look-at-me” grandstanding is the last refuge of the ineffectual politician; a desperate attempt to pave the road to re-election with good intentions. With his shameless virtue signaling, Evers is signaling nothing except his own ineptitude.
He is incapable of using sheer force of will and hard work to ram through legislation over the objections of a hostile legislature. He is incapable of using the power of persuasion to reach a compromise. He is incapable of using charm and charisma to convince the people of Wisconsin of the wisdom of his agenda.
He seems to be capable only of telling Wisconsin how good and virtuous he is—so much more so than his predecessor and his political opponents.
That isn’t public policy, it’s a Facebook post. And just like a Facebook post, the Evers agenda—such as it is—has been surprisingly easy to see, give a quick eyeroll, and ignore.