The spring election, conducted during a pandemic, is now behind Wisconsin. There’s little question that statewide, it was a good night for Jill Karofsky and Lisa Neubauer. (I supported both candidates.)
Whitewater – the city proper – also supported these candidates. A majority of the city’s voters did, in fact, prefer these voters even while campus was out-of-session. There have been few elections where the campus is out-of-session, so it is notable that the city’s voters tended left without a full student population that old-timers feel is the source of left-of-center voting.
There is, however, a significant difference – key to understanding Whitewater’s local politics – between how the city votes for national or statewide candidates and how the city votes for local candidates.
It’s true that local races are non-partisan, but they are not – and by law need not be – non-ideological. There is a difference of kind between a partisan designation (e,g., Republican, Democrat, etc.) and an ideological one (left, center, right, libertarian, etc.).
At the local level, Whitewater’s preferred candidates are not anywhere so progressive ideologically as the candidates the city routinely selects for statewide or national offices.
At the local level, Whitewater mostly advances candidates who outwardly espouse a kind of boosterism.
Boosterism is an ideology that accentuates the positive regardless of actual conditions. It is close to a secular religion for (too) many local figures, and is very much the dominant ethos of Old Whitewater. It ignores the disabled and the disadvantaged for the sake of a happy tale. In this, it manifests sins of commission and omission.
Boosterism is an ideology narrow in thought and small of heart.
In Whitewater, this preference for happy talk has allowed smarmy rightwing development hucksters – landlords, bankers, a public relations man or two – to push their junk economics on the city.
The officeholders of the city are – almost to a person – servile in the face of these sort of men. Heads down, eyes averted, like children being scolded whenever a business-type with a head full of bad economics shows up.
So deep is this hold that these men look upon a public institution like the Community Development Authority as if their own private clubhouse.
Even after the Great Recession, most – but not all – of Whitewater’s officeholders have adhered to boosterism as a paradigm. There is the sadness of Whitewater – even in the worst times – the city’s leaders mostly held to this mendaciously ignorant depiction of the city.
What a shame, truly, that men and women who as children graduated from crawling to walking would so quickly, and so needlessly, resume their former means of locomotion in the presence of a few selfish schemers.
Left, center, and right do not matter locally in a community if boosterism is a faith, puffery is a liturgy, and public relations is a sacred tradition.
There will only be a New Whitewater – a prosperous and well-ordered community – when the city breaks locally, outwardly, and decisively from this false faith.