Ron Johnson is not a familiar name to most Americans who are pondering the politics of the “fiscal cliff.” But Johnson’s reaction to the 2012 election results will tell folks everything they need to know about the challenge rational Democrats will face when it comes to negotiations with not-so-rational Republicans.
A senator from Wisconsin who announced his candidacy at a Tea Party rally and was elected—with help from a family fortune, Karl Rove and the US Chamber of Commerce’s political operations—Johnson has been a congressional absolutist when it comes to budget issues. He embraces House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan’s austerity agenda, perhaps even more than Ryan does himself. And he swears, against all economic evidence to the contrary, and against all political evidence of opposition on the part of the American people, that there is only one way to address the challenges facing America: tax cuts for rich people like him and benefit cuts for everyone else.
Johnson would be a laughable figure—he’s the subject of a Wisconsin website titled “Our Dumb Senator”—were it not for the fact that he takes himself so seriously. And he is part of a Republican caucus in the Senate that, like the parallel Republican caucus in the House, must deal with its Ron Johnsons before it can function legislatively.
Where Johnson and other absolutists like him take themselves most seriously is it comes to fiscal concerns.
So seriously, in fact, that Johnson greeted the news of Barack Obama’s re-election by suggesting that the president—whose ideas were backed by Nobel Prize–winning economists such as Michael Spence—won by securing the votes of “people who don’t fully understand the very ugly math we are facing in this country.”
That sparked a flurry of national commentary on Johnson in particular and the over-the-cliff wing of the GOP in general.
But the even more telling comment from Johnson was his response to the election of Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, to the US Senate by telling the Associated Press: “Hopefully I can sit down and lay out for her my best understanding of the federal budget because they’re simply the facts. Hopefully she’ll agree with what the facts are and work toward common sense solutions.”