Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has taken Ronald Reagan worship to a new level, goes to great lengths to associate himself with the president revered by Republicans. But Walker won't be able to fill the big screen of national politics like Reagan did.
I remember Reagan from his Hollywood days. There's a big difference between driving herds on rugged cattle trails under big skies in “Santa Fe Trail” and taking care of Wisconsin dairy cows. Does Walker, who spends more time on the campaign trail these days than in his own state, even realize that Wisconsin's huge dairy industry depends on large numbers of immigrant farmhands? Some studies indicate that 40 percent of Wisconsin’s dairy farm workers are Latino.
While Walker shares the “trickle-down” fallacy of Reagan economics and his anti-union stance, Scott Walker is no Ronald Reagan when it comes to immigration policy. They are remarkably different political actors. Before leaving office, Reagan fought for and signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which created a pathway to citizenship for about 3 million illegal immigrants, many of them farm workers. He pushed immigration reform not only because it was the right thing to do, but also, prudently, because he didn’t want to alienate the fastest-growing segment of our population: Latinos. Smart politicians know that most Latinos are citizens and that, increasingly, they’ll vote.
Contrast Reagan's stance to Walker's as our governor fires up paranoid fears of immigrants. Before he was running for president, Walker said that it made sense to create a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. But when he started campaigning, he flip-flopped, saying that his views had changed since he had learned more about the issue. Playing to the anti-immigrant Republican base, Walker not only spoke out against illegal immigration, he went so far as to say that he’d like to consider putting limits on “legal immigration.” Reagan, on the contrary, wanted to open doors to those who had the will and the heart to work hard to improve our economy.
Immigrants fill jobs, pay taxes, and add to economic and social growth. Walker and his tea party enthusiasts live in a hallucinatory realm, emulating the Reagan tough guy in 1950s Westerns like “The Last Outpost” and “Law and Order.” It’s a mindset that doesn’t fit the 21st century.
On another issue important for immigrants, Walker, the private college dropout, helped change the progressive course of Wisconsin’s future by ending in-state tuition in our public education system for undocumented students who had studied in Wisconsin’s high schools. Ask your neighbors who work in community service with undocumented youth and they’ll tell you that depriving young people of the opportunity to get jobs or go to college fuels the expansion of gangs in our neighborhoods.
We are a nation of immigrants. We can’t deny it. It makes us strong.
If our electorate really embraces charity and rewards hard work, which I believe it does, we’ll elect political leaders who stand up for the welfare of today’s and future generations. They’ll open doors, not close them.
Scott Walker is no Ronald Reagan. He’s whatever his puppet-masters want him to be.
Consuelo Lopez Springfield, of Madison, is an emerita assistant dean at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a retired senior lecturer on gender and women's studies and Chican@Latin@ studies.
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