COMMENTARY: Moby Recall: The WI Recall as great American literature
By Kevin Binversie
“Moby Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou, that madly seekest him!”
— Starbuck, first mate of the whaling ship Pequod in Melville’s "Moby-Dick"
Writing a screenplay of the Walker recall? Look for inspiration in Herman Melville’s "Moby-Dick," the 1851 novel about Captain Ahab’s mad revenge quest against the white whale that sank his last ship and took his leg.
There’s a surfeit of Democrats who could play Starbuck, the crew member who openly questions Captain Ahab’s true intentions for the three-year voyage aboard the whaling vessel Pequod.
In the run-up to the recall, and in the days afterward, such prominent national Democrats as former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and retiring Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-4th District) have openly called the Walker recall “a mistake.”
Despite his skepticism, Starbuck’s sense of duty to captain and crew bind him to the Pequod. In the end, he too perishes. We’ll learn in November whether the Democrats share Starbuck’s fate.
Moby Dick, the titular great white whale, can be no other than Gov. Scott Walker. Like the white whale, Walker serves as the chief antagonist for the majority of the characters in the book, and his name symbolizes something different to each character.
Ahab is Wisconsin’s public employee unions. Having lost the 2010 election (Ahab’s ship prior to the Pequod) and then harpooned by Act 10 reforms (especially the ability to collect mandatory dues from members — like Ahab, a metaphorical leg), organized labor went full bore into destroying Walker, regardless of the cost.
Fedullah, the mercenary Ahab stows on board to serve as his personal harpooner (often regarded by scholars as a demon in disguise) could be represented by a number of people. Consider such professional political hatchet men as Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairman Mike Tate and spokesman Graeme Zielinski. Or political professionals like We Are Wisconsin’s Kelly Steele, who left the state between the 2011 and 2012 recalls to work in Ohio for labor’s successful efforts against Senate Bill 5, a law similar to Walker’s Act 10.
Those familiar with the novel know Fedullah’s fate: He disappears in the middle of the final hunt only to resurface on the morning of the third day (not the Christian reference): he is dead, his body strapped to Moby Dick by harpoon ropes. Does such a metaphoric resurrection await Tate, Zielinski or Steele?
If anything embodies the character of Pip, the joyful cabin boy whose madness foreshadows the psychological decline of the crew, it’s the protesters in Madison. The capitol demonstrations started as a single act of civil disobedience. It devolved into raving anarchists who dumped beer on state representatives, chained themselves to the state Senate gallery, and scores of other acts never publicly denounced by either labor or Democratic leaders. As in "Moby-Dick," the adults pretended not to notice the sociopathologies of the child.
There are many other characters in the book, but none as important as Ishmael, the novel’s narrator and the only survivor who lives to tell the cautionary tale. No one in this saga fits that role better than the voters of Wisconsin. Wisconsin voters not only watched it all from their front-row seat and their televisions, but if exit polls are to be believed, 60 percent of them want nothing to do with recalls like those we just completed.
I’ll receive objections from literary critics for this take on Melville’s classic tale. But can you find any other novel that draws such obvious parallels to what may go down in the history books as an unrepentant revenge tale as well a foolhardy adventure?
Until then, “Call me Ishmael.”
Veteran political blogger Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native. He served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, and has worked at the Heritage Foundation and on numerous state Republican campaigns, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.