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SOGLIN (copy)

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin


Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker appeared in 2012 on the Chinese state television network, CCTV, wearing what the Daily Beast described as “a lapel pin on his dark blazer that depicted that country’s hammer-and-sickle flag.” Walker was welcomed onto the program by a host who announced: “Despite all the criticism on China from the Romney/Ryan campaign, Governor Walker has been an advocate of bringing more Chinese investment to his state and increasing trade with China.”

In fairness to Walker, it wasn’t a hammer-and-sickle pin; rather, the badge he wore featured the red star symbol of the Communist Party of China on a flag interwoven with the American flag. But it is true that the governor came off as a far more enthusiastic China booster than most American political figures. Walker downplayed talk of job losses and outsourcing and paid scant attention to concerns over trade deficits, currency manipulation and human rights abuses, choosing instead to celebrate the U.S.-China relationship as “a win-win” partnership and one in which “we’re putting in place something that’s a mutually beneficial scenario.”

While Walker was later described as “very pro-China” in a Huffington Post article and mocked by other publications — “Scott Walker’s Secret Love for Red China,” read the Daily Beast headline; “Scott Walker's Chinese Flag Pin,” read another on the conservative National Review’s website — no serious observer suggested that the governor was a stooge of the Chinese Communists. As Walker’s own presidential campaign revealed in 2015, the governor does not know enough about foreign policy to be any country’s stooge.

So the appearance simply served as comic relief — especially when Walker made a bumbling attempt in 2015 to mimic Donald Trump’s tough talk on China in the waning days of the Wisconsinite's miserably unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nod.

The only reason Walker’s China-friendly performance is worth noting now is that the governor — who appears to be deeply unsettled by the prospect of facing a challenge from Madison Mayor Paul Soglin — posted a tweet last week with a picture of Soglin visiting Cuba in the 1970s and the line: "Look how far Democrats have drifted to the left when one of their leading candidates for Governor in Wisconsin is a mayor who gave brutal Communist dictator Fidel Castro the keys to the city!"

If voters are supposed to be troubled that Soglin engaged in a diplomatic nicety long ago, won’t they be just as troubled that Walker has appeared on Chinese television sporting the contemporary symbol of a country Human Rights Watch describes as “a one-party authoritarian state that systemically curbs fundamental rights”?

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Of course not. It is silly to imagine that Wisconsinites would decide the gubernatorial race based on a key or a flag pin. While Soglin has a longer record than Walker of advocating for international human rights (and for smart diplomatic engagement), it would be absurd to claim the governor is an advocate for one-party authoritarianism — as absurd as it was for Walker to suggest that voters should reject Soglin because of a diplomatic gesture made four decades ago.

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. and @NicholsUprising. Nichols is the co-author, along with Dave Zweifel, of the new book "The Capital Times: A Proudly Radical Newspaper's Century Long Fight for Justice and Peace," published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. It's available on the Historical Society website, and at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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Associate Editor of the Cap Times