Ron Johnson’s defenders are, for the most part, people who do not know the man.
His most powerful critics, on the other hand, are the people who know him best.
The millionaire candidate who is trying to buy a Wisconsin Senate seat without actually coming into contact with Wisconsinites keeps getting bad reviews from folks in Oshkosh.
His hometown newspaper summed things up in a profile of the candidate that ran Oct. 3.
“Little is known about the millionaire Oshkosh business owner outside of details released by a carefully scripted campaign and a small number of public comments and interviews granted by Johnson, whose campaign did not respond to multiple requests for interviews for this story,” observed the Oshkosh Northwestern.
The Northwestern is a fine paper that covers Oshkosh seriously and well.
So how can they say that “little is known” about Johnson, a man who has spent his adult life in the community? In truth, Johnson has taken it easy for most of that adult life.
A Minnesota native, he married into a wealthy family, which set him up in business and then provided him with the contracts that would keep his company afloat. People in Oshkosh know he didn’t build a business. He didn’t even pay attention; Johnson says he knew nothing of the federal government money that flowed into his company’s coffers -- despite the fact that his title at the time when the money was being spent was “accountant.”
The head of the Oshkosh Community Foundation describes Johnson as “privileged.”
And he is running for the Senate as a man of privilege.
No Wisconsin candidate in modern times has been so inaccessible to the press or to the voters of Wisconsin.
Who says? Johnson’s hometown paper.
In a column published Sunday, the Northwestern’s managing editor, Jim Fitzhenry, wrote: “Despite the millions spent on these precision strikes delivered over the airwaves, I’m struck by how little we know about Johnson and where he stands on dozens of issues he may be voting on over the next six years.”
Comparing Democrat Russ Feingold and Republican Ron Johnson, the managing editor wrote: “What’s the difference? I will be able to look Russ Feingold in the eye and hear his answer to those questions Monday afternoon when he visits the Northwestern’s editorial board. Can’t say the same for Johnson. His campaign turned down a request for a meeting with the board along with an invitation to debate Feingold at the (Oshkosh) Grand Opera House.”
Fitzhenry went on to note with regard to Johnson’s refusal to interact with Wisconsinites: “It’s not a phenomenon unique to this newspaper. Johnson’s campaign has been careful to keep him under tight wraps, limiting his availability, not releasing his schedule until the last moment, leaving news organizations scrambling to cover events. Most recently, he rejected an interview with Wisconsin Public Television’s ‘Here and Now,’ which offers thoughtful, if a bit dry, reporting on issues. Fewer interviews, fewer chances for a sunspot or creative destruction gaffe that could endanger the slight lead in the polls.”
Fitzhenry has a point. When Johnson does talk -- about how sunspots cause climate change or about how the “creative destruction” of Wisconsin’s manufacturing economy is a good thing -- he gets in trouble, just as when he tries to claim that he has worked well with folks in Oshkosh.
When he does speak to Wisconsin audiences, Johnson often claims in speeches and debates that he had a great working relationship with Oshkosh Education Association President Len Herricks.
Herricks said the other day that Johnson’s statements describing their work together are “untrue and unappreciated.”
Northwestern managing editor Fitzhenry says the problem is that “voters are not being allowed to see beyond the plastic packaging of Ron Johnson.”
That’s true enough.
But the bigger problem is that those who see beyond the plastic packaging are confronted with a candidate who preaches nonsense about sunspots and creative destruction and says things the people who know him describe as “untrue and unappreciated.”
John Nichols is the associate editor of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org