Katherine Cramer Discusses Her New Book | Wisconsin Public Television

Katherine Cramer Discusses Her New Book

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Premiere Date: 
January 1, 2016

Katherine Cramer Discusses Her New Book

Cramer is the director of University of Wisconsin's Morgridge Center for Public Service. Her new book, "The Politics of Resentment," connects Scott Walker's political rise to a rural resentment against the "liberal elite." This resentment, she says, represents how one's place-based identities influence his or her understanding of politics.

Episode Transcript

THE NEW BOOK EXPLORES THE CITY-COUNTRY DIVIDE AMONG VOTERS IN THE STATE. "THE POLITICS OF RESENTMENT, RURAL CONSCIOUSNESS IN WISCONSIN AND THE RISE OF SCOTT WALKER" IS DUE OUT IN MARCH. EARLIER I SAT DOWN WITH ITS AUTHOR, UW-MADISON PROFESSOR KATHERINE CRAMER. I ASKED WHAT SHE FOUND OUT ABOUT HOW RURAL PEOPLE DIFFERENTIATE THEMSELVES FROM URBANITES.

KATHERINE CRAMER:

THE MAIN THING I FOUND WAS SURPRISINGLY TO ME MANY PEOPLE IN SMALL TOWN WISCONSIN OR RURAL WISCONSIN HAD THIS VERY STRONG RESENTMENT TOWARD THE CITIES, WHICH CAME IN MANY DIFFERENT WAYS. ONE WAS THEY FELT THEY HAD LESS POWER THAN PEOPLE IN THE CITIES. THAT THE DECISIONS WERE MADE IN MADISON AND MILWAUKEE AND COMMUNICATED OUT TO THEM, BUT NO ONE WAS REALLY LISTENING TO THEIR CONCERNS. THAT THEY DIDN'T HAVE ANY SAY IN IMPORTANT DECISIONS THAT WERE BEING MADE. THEY ALSO FELT LIKE THEY WERE ON THE SHORT END OF THE STICK IN TERMS OF WHERE PUBLIC DOLLARS GO AND WHERE TAXPAYER DOLLARS GO. A COMMON PHRASE I HEARD WAS MADISON SUCKS IN ALL OUR TAXPAYER DOLLARS, SPENDS IT ON MILWAUKEE OR ITSELF AND WE NEVER SEE IT IN RETURN. AND IN ANOTHER WAY PEOPLE IN SMALL TOWN WISCONSIN I OFTEN HEARD FELT DISRESPECTED. THAT PEOPLE IN THE CITIES DIDN'T UNDERSTAND THEIR WAY OF LIFE OR THE CHALLENGES THAT THEY FACE OR THEIR VALUES. THEY JUST DIDN'T GET WHAT SMALL TOWN WISCONSIN WAS ABOUT.

FREDERICA FREYBERG:

AND ON THAT THIRD ONE, I CAN IMAGINE THAT TO BE TRUE, BUT WHAT ABOUT ON THE FIRST TWO? IS THAT RESENTMENT REAL? I MEAN, ARE THE CAUSES REAL?

KATHERINE CRAMER:

WELL, IT'S NOT -- HONESTLY, IT'S NOT CLEAR. I MEAN, WHEN YOU LOOK AT WHERE DOLLARS ARE ALLOCATED, ESPECIALLY ON A PER CAPITA BASIS, IT'S NOT THE CASE THAT MORE RURAL COUNTIES ARE GETTING LESS IN TERMS OF STATE OR FEDERAL DOLLARS WITH RESPECT TO MOST POLICY AREAS. AND YET UNEMPLOYMENT IS REALLY HIGH IN RURAL COUNTIES IN WISCONSIN AND MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME IS MUCH LOWER IN RURAL COUNTIES. SO ALTHOUGH IT MAY BE THE CASE THAT THEY'RE NOT -- THAT THEY'RE ACTUALLY GETTING THEIR FAIR SHARE IN KIND OF THE TECHNICAL DEFINITION, THEY'RE IN A REALLY DIFFICULT ECONOMIC SITUATION. SO PEOPLE ARE HURTING AND THEY LOOK TO THE CITIES AND THEY SEE JOBS AND GROWTH. AND THEY LOOK AT THEIR OWN COMMUNITIES AND SEE THINGS SHUTTING DOWN AND PEOPLE NOT RETURNING TO THEIR HOMETOWN AFTER COLLEGE IF THEY GO AWAY TO COLLEGE. AND SO THERE'S THIS SENSE THAT SOMETHING IS HAPPENING TO THEIR COMMUNITIES. THERE'S THIS SENSE OF LOSS AND THE PERCEPTION IS THAT IT'S ALL GOING TO THE CITIES.

FREDERICA FREYBERG:

HOW DOES THIS TRANSLATE THEN TO POLITICS?

KATHERINE CRAMER:

WELL, IN MANY PLACES GOVERNMENT IS SEEN AS AN URBAN ENTITY, EVEN THOUGH ABOUT 10% OF THE WORK FORCE IN ANY COMMUNITY IN WISCONSIN IS EMPLOYED BY A GOVERNMENT, WHETHER THAT'S LOCAL OR COUNTY OR STATE OR FEDERAL. PEOPLE PERCEIVE THAT PEOPLE WHO ARE GOVERNMENT WORKERS ARE RUNNING ACCORDING TO URBAN DECISIONS. DECISIONS THAT ARE MADE IN CITIES. SO LIKE WITH THE DNR OR PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS, THERE'S A SENSE THAT EVEN THOUGH THOSE PEOPLE LIVE RIGHT THERE IN THE COMMUNITY, THE THINGS THAT DRIVE THE WAY THEY DO THEIR WORK ARE URBAN VALUES AND URBAN DECISIONS. AND SO WHEN PEOPLE IN SMALL TOWN WISCONSIN LOOK AROUND AND THINK, MY TAXES ARE GOING UP, THEY'RE GOING SOMEWHERE, AND CLEARLY THEY'RE NOT HELPING PEOPLE LIKE ME OR PEOPLE IN COMMUNITIES LIKE ME. THEN WHY WOULD I EVER AGREE TO PAY MORE TAXES OR HAVE LARGER GOVERNMENT WHEN CLEARLY GOVERNMENT'S NOT WORKING FOR ME. SO THE WAY IT'S WORKING CURRENTLY IS THAT THIS RESENTMENT AMONG RURAL PEOPLE TOWARDS URBAN AREAS HELPS TO UNDERPIN ARGUMENTS FOR SMALLER GOVERNMENT. PRIVATIZING GOVERNMENT, CUTTING BACK GOVERNMENT. CUTTING BACK ON PUBLIC EMPLOYEES - THE PENSIONS, HEALTHCARE BENEFITS, SALARIES. YOU CAN SEE THAT IN SO MANY RESPECTS IN WISCONSIN POLITICS IN THE LAST FEW YEARS.

FREDERICA FREYBERG:

SO DID SCOTT WALKER SUCCESSFULLY TRADE ON THIS? AND IF SO, HOW FORWARD-THINKING AND GENIUS WAS THAT?

KATHERINE CRAMER:

HE DEFINITELY TRADED ON IT. AND WHETHER IT WAS A CONSCIOUS CALCULATION TO TAP INTO THESE RESENTMENTS OR WHETHER IT'S SOMETHING THAT SCOTT WALKER HAS PERCEIVED HIMSELF FOR A LONG TIME, IT'S NOT CLEAR. BUT IT WAS GENIUS. I MEAN, IT WORKED VERY WELL. AND ONE EXAMPLE, YOU COULD SEE IT TO PLAY IT BACK A FEW YEARS, BACK IN THE 2010 GUBERNATORIAL RACE WHEN THERE WAS A BIG CONTROVERSY OVER THE HIGH-SPEED TRAIN. THE LANGUAGE SCOTT WALKER USED TO ARGUE AGAINST TAKING THE FEDERAL DOLLARS FOR THAT TRAIN BETWEEN MADISON AND MILWAUKEE WAS VERY MUCH ABOUT, LOOK, THIS MONEY, $810 MILLION, IS ONLY GOING TO GO TO A TRAIN THAT SERVES THOSE TWO AREAS. THAT MONEY IS NOT GOING TO FIX ROADS THAT GO UP TO BLACK RIVER FALLS OR TO LA CROSSE OR EAU CLAIRE. AND HE DEFINITELY PITTED IT AS THIS MONEY WILL GO TO THE MAJOR URBAN CENTERS OF THE STATE AND NOT TO THE REST OF THE STATE.

FREDERICA FREYBERG:

DO YOU FEEL AS THOUGH THE SO-CALLED POLITICS OF RESENTMENT WILL CONTINUE TO BE SUCCESSFUL?

KATHERINE CRAMER:

YES AND NO. YES, I THINK IN THE SHORT TERM BECAUSE PEOPLE ARE VERY MUCH STRUGGLING TO MAKE ENDS MEET. MANY PEOPLE ARE STRUGGLING TO MAKE ENDS MEET IN WISCONSIN. AND THEY'RE LOOKING FOR TARGETS OF BLAME. AND IN THAT KIND OF ECONOMIC UNCERTAINTY, IT'S VERY POWERFUL TO PRESENT PEOPLE WITH AN EXPLANATION FOR WHY THINGS ARE SO BAD. AND TO BE ABLE TO SAY TO PEOPLE THE CAUSE IS ANOTHER GROUP OF PEOPLE, TO RESENT THEM, IS A VERY POWERFUL MOBILIZING FORCE. AND I ALSO THINK IT'S WORKING QUITE WELL IN THE CURRENT PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN. I THINK IT'S NOT THE SORT OF ANTIURBAN SENTIMENT THAT DONALD TRUMP IS USING. BUT THE POLITICS OF RESENTMENT IN THE SENSE OF, YES, THERE'S SOMETHING WRONG HERE. AND THE WRONG IS AN ISSUE OF US AND THEM AND IT'S ABOUT SOMEBODY GETTING STUFF THAT, YES, YOU SHOULD HAVE AND IS RIGHTLY YOURS AND SORT OF MAKING THESE ARGUMENTS ABOUT UNJUST ALLOCATION OF RESOURCES OR RESPECT OR ATTENTION, IS VERY POWERFUL. AND YET ALTHOUGH I THINK IT'S GOING TO BE SUCCESSFUL IN THE SHORT TERM, I DON'T THINK IN THE LONG TERM BECAUSE I THINK ALMOST UNIVERSALLY PEOPLE IN THE UNITED STATES, AS IN WISCONSIN, ARE NOT HAPPY WITH THEIR POLITICS. I MEAN, YOU KNOW, 69% OF PEOPLE IN WISCONSIN ACCORDING TO THE LATEST MARQUETTE POLL BELIEVE THAT GOVERNMENT IS NOT WORKING IN THE INTEREST OF HARD-WORKING AMERICANS. AND SO PEOPLE KNOW THAT SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH THEIR GOVERNMENT. AND I THINK A POLITICS OF RESENTMENT ISN'T REALLY GOING TO MAKE PEOPLE FEEL BETTER ABOUT THEIR DEMOCRACY OR WANT TO TAKE PART IN IT. AND THAT'S NOT SUSTAINABLE.

FREDERICA FREYBERG:

KATHERINE CRAMER'S BOOK, "THE POLITICS OF RESENTMENT," WILL BE IN BOOKSTORES IN MARCH.

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