Ron Johnson's political ads, many of them paid for by the most right-wing financiers in the country, try to present him as your favorite uncle — you know, the guy who used to slip you quarters at family gatherings when you were a kid.
The truth is he's anything but.
Late in his campaign against Russ Feingold, he's returned to those "white board" ads that many credit for giving him an edge over Feingold in 2010 as he rode the wave of the so-called tea party revolt.
Standing beside the board that features a chart, he proclaims that back in 2010, the 100-member U.S. Senate was comprised of 57 lawyers, 0 manufacturers and "too many career politicians." Today, he continues, that of the 100 senators, 54 are lawyers and 1 is a manufacturer — "that would be me" — and still too many career politicians.
His figures are accurate, of course, except that it means absolutely nothing to most Wisconsin citizens, particularly since that one manufacturer, Johnson, has spent the past six years representing only the interests of corporations and big money. His voting record shows there isn't much he's done for the rest of his Wisconsin constituency.
He's been a reliable vote for everything from defending the oil giant British Petroleum from "government mistreatment" after the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (Johnson has admitted to owning BP stock himself) to siding with the financial industry giants who oppose allowing college grads to refinance their student loan debt like most Americans can do with their mortgages and car loans.
In fact, One Wisconsin Now, which has been a tireless advocate for student loan relief, has labeled Johnson the worst U.S. senator on the student loan crisis. And that's particularly a bad rap in a state that now ranks third in the nation for the percentage of college graduates with debt.
More than 800,000 of Ron Johnson's constituents have student loans totaling $19 billion in federal student loan debt alone, according to OWN.
But Johnson has not only voted against numerous reforms that have been advanced in Congress, he has made it clear he believes the real problem is that there is too much financial aid for college kids and the federal government should quit making money available.
He also opposes any increase in the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and in fact believes there shouldn't be a minimum wage at all. He doesn't believe there's such a thing as climate change (hence his support of fossil fuel giant BP) and he's been one of the leading Senate obstructionists to filling federal court vacancies, a stance that has left the so-called Wisconsin seat on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals vacant for more than 2,500 days.
And then, of course, there's his steadfast allegiance to Donald Trump, even in face of the tapes capturing a sexist Trump bragging about what he could do to women because he was a "star." Johnson insists that Feingold's support of Hillary Clinton is the real issue, not his relationship with Trump, a specious argument at best.
The real question is whether Johnson's "white board" ads and the thousands being spent by dark-money financiers will once again be able to hide Ron Johnson's true colors by claiming that somehow as a manufacturer he is a better senator.
Johnson was able to parlay that idea six years ago, including his contention that he was an "up by the bootstraps" kind of guy who built a thriving plastics factory in Oshkosh from the ground up. Truth was, it turns out, that he married into the business that was founded by his father-in-law. Nothing wrong with that, but it isn't the Horatio Alger story he would like Wisconsin voters to believe.
Bottom line is that Ron Johnson the manufacturer isn't a friend of Wisconsin's middle class. It's time to look behind the white board.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @DaveZweifel
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