Joe Walsh and the Politics of Fear and Anger

Imagine it’s Saturday morning and you decide to head out to your local coffee shop for a nice cup of coffee and great conversation with friends and neighbors. Your Congressman walks in and you strike up a conversation with him about the economy. But instead of engaging in congenial dialogue, you’re shouted down and insulted by your representative. You’re told to stop talking or leave. That’s what U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) did one morning in 2011. Walsh’s tirade was all over the airways. It got so bad that when Walsh said he needed more coffee, one person suggested to give him decaf.

I want to believe that this was an isolated incident and Walsh was just having a bad day. Not so. This is who Walsh is; bombastic and full of angry, mean-spirited discourse. Look at this video of a town hall meeting in Schaumburg Ill on May 26. Walsh uses fear, hate and bigotry to present a false picture of the economy in his district.

One would think that Walsh’s District is suffering from an overwhelming burden of economic drain brought on by a plethora of “government give-away programs” to African-Americans and Latinos. That might be a difficult sell since Walsh’s District’s ethnicity is 84.4% White, 10.8% Hispanic, 5.7% Asian, 4.5% other, 3.3% Black, and 0.2% Native American. [….] Granted, there’s a growing population of Hispanics in the District but most residents are White.

In addition, on May 24 the Illinois Department of Employment Security released a press statement that said, “April Unemployment Drops in Most Metros Across Illinois:”

“Local economies throughout the state continue a pattern of economic growth fueled by job creation,” IDES Director Jay Rowell said. “We expect that overall improvement to continue even though monthly economic progress could remain uneven.” [….]

Another and more in-depth report covers key demographic and economic data between 2006 and 2011, doesn’t fit Walsh’s rhetoric. The report gives a fair and accurate overview, noting where jobs were lost and gained. What industries were hit the hardest (manufacturing and construction) at the height of the recession and what industries are strong. Of note, the report says in its opening summary:

  • Fifteen Congressional District employers have 1,000 or more employees and account for 35,000 of the District’s jobs. These large employers represent five industry sectors – reflecting the diversity of the District’s workforce.
  • By 2016, this Congressional District is projected to create 43,766 new jobs with positions in education, training, and library occupations and business and financial operations occupations representing the largest numbers of new jobs.
  • Educational attainment in the 8th Congressional District overall is higher than the State’s. 64.9% of residents have some college or higher and 36.2% have a bachelor’s degree or higher, as compared to the State’s rates of 59.2% and 30.8% respectively.

Ironically, the report shows that the government programs Walsh vilifies at the town hall event represents part of the highest job growth in his District between 2006 and 2011, “healthcare and social assistance (6,957).” [….] Walsh is on record to revoke the benefits his constituents are enjoying from the Affordable Care Act.

So what’s the appeal of Tea Party-style rhetoric to a District whose citizens are experiencing job growth, have a higher rate of college and above education, a diverse workforce and a forecast of potentially adding 43,766 new jobs over the next four years? I wish I knew. Bluster, lies and such generally have a short shelf life, especially when the economy is getting better. Since Walsh doesn’t seem to be the kind of person to let go even when he’s wrong, his shelf life is equally short. And that’s a good thing – just keep that coffee coming.

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