What We’re Debating In Paul Ryan’s Hometown: ‘Chainsville’ Offers Two Competing Visions of the American Future
Whatever results from the “golden” collaboration of which Lichtenstein spoke, Janesville embodies much of what has divided America in the early 21st century.
It is the hometown of ex-Senator Russ Feingold, famed for his attempts to limit the influence of big donors over regulatory policy and to slow American military adventures overseas. Feingold is the latest incarnation of Wisconsin Progressivism, rooted in the community-minded reform movements imported from Germany and Scandinavia. But Janesville is also hometown to Paul Ryan, who comes from a different tradition: that of the entrepreneur who starts a business (for example, Ryan Construction, founded by Paul’s forebears). The entrepreneur prefers to have as few taxes and regulations as possible.
The Wisconsin progressive yearns for the middle-class security once guaranteed by high-paying union jobs, often held by those with no more than a high school education. The entrepreneur envisions a more “dynamic” America, one fueled by the risk-taking of entrepreneurs, free of the demands imposed by collective bargaining.
These competing visions have come to a head in disputes such as that between Wisconsin’s conservative governor, Scott Walker, and his bitter foes, the public employee unions. They have also created a rift, after the closure of the GM plant, between those who believe prosperity is founded on protected jobs and those who are glad the United Auto Workers are gone. Janesville is a place where the profound dislocations of globalization and outsourcing are on painful display.
WATCH AS GOES JANESVILLE ON PBS’ SERIES INDEPENDENT LENS MONDAY OCT. 8TH, 10PM ET