A Profile in Political Courage (Bizarro Bonehead Mix)

Undated, uncredited photo of Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin)

It would be difficult enough to construct an infraction scheme for our political discourse, but at some point Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) needs some time in the penalty box. After ducking obvious questions about evolution and the ravings of a madman, the Badger-in-chief has once again stared into the eyes of a straightforward question and buckled.

Dan Balz and Robert Costa of the Washington Post explain the latest fold:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a prospective Republican presidential contender, said Saturday he does not know whether President Obama is a Christian.

“I don’t know,” Walker said in an interview at the JW Marriott hotel in Washington, where he was attending the winter meeting of the National Governors Association.

Told that Obama has frequently spoken publicly about his Christian faith, Walker maintained that he was not aware of the president’s religion.

“I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that,” Walker said, his voice calm and firm. “I’ve never asked him that,” he added. “You’ve asked me to make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with about that. How [could] I say if I know either of you are a Christian?”

True, the proposition of “dog whistle” politics is always a sketchy one; we prefer to call it by its name, which is “bigoted” politics. But given an example of this basic function, it really is the proper indictment.

But here’s the thing. The governor responded that “this is a classic example of why people hate Washington and, increasingly, they dislike the press”, a point reiterated by spokeswoman Jocelyn Webster when she called the Washington Post to try to salvage the governor’s performance:

“Of course the governor thinks the president is a Christian,” she said. “He thinks these kinds of gotcha questions distract from what he’s doing as governor of Wisconsin to make the state better and make life better for people in his state.”

Mr. Walker and his staff, including Ms. Webster, need to recognize that they are asking to play at the highest valence of American politics, and cheap excuses are unproductive. To explain it as simply as possible for both their benefits: When the eventual answer is, “Of course he thinks ____”, it would behoove the candidate to say so in the first place.

And this is where the dog whistles come in.

Answer #1: “I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that. I’ve never asked him that. You’ve asked me to make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with about that. How [could] I say if I know either of you are a Christian?”

Answer #2: “Of course the governor thinks he’s a Christian.”

Why would anyone even try that first answer? Quite simply: Republicans are terrified of the racist crackpot wing of the Party. And they ought to be; they cultivated it very, very well. But now the rabble-rousers are rousing enough rabble that Republicans are finding themselves held to account. The problem with conservatives complaining about gotcha questions is that they set themselves up for it. In London, there was a reason Mr. Walker was asked about evolution; the host even hinted at it, noting that they asked all American politicians, especially Republicans. The reason they ask is because our European neighbors have a hard time believing such arguments still have an influential station in our public discourse; it astounds them that we’re still bickering about it.

In addition to the years of bigoted conspiracy theories about President Obama, we’ve even managed to witness a small eruption already this year, and Scott Walker found himself right next to it, and even then the Wisconsin governor did not have the easy political courage or basic political smarts to say and do the right thing.

That is to say, there is a reason Mr. Walker is being asked these questions; the press has every reason to probe his proximity to the edge of decent discourse, and in this test he once again failed.

Walker again declined Saturday to weigh in on Giuliani’s characterization of the president’s patriotism and background.

“I don’t know, I honestly don’t know, one way or the other,” Walker said. “I’ve said that 100 times, too.”

There is a reason the press is asking.

Which, in turn, presents a question of its own. And, no, we do not point an accusing finger at the media. Rather, it occurs that we might wonder: Really? This is what it comes to?

We have asked that question before, and we will ask that question again. Of course this is what it comes to.


Balz, Dan and Robert Costa. “Gov. Scott Walker: ‘I don’t know’ whether Obama is a Christian”. The Washington Post. 21 February 2015.

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