Considering that Governor Walker has substantively removed kids of need from the state’s books by gutting funds from education, Medicaid, and the good lord knows what else, it’s not surprising then that he would do so symbolically as well. Perhaps with an “out of sight, out of mind” rationale, or chutzpah of spring cleaning, Walker removed from the governor’s mansion a commissioned painting depicting three such children on a street in Milwaukee. They are even based on real people — an African-American homeless girl, a Latina member of the Boys and Girls Club, and a Caucasian boy whose father and brother both were killed by a drunk driver.
Yes, this is a painting — entitled Wishes in the Wind. The artist is David Lenz, whose work has been shown in places like the National Portrait Gallery and the Milwaukee Art Museum. Originally commissioned by Richard and Suzanne Pieper, who in 2005 founded the Executive Residence Foundation, the purpose of which was to remind state leaders of the human beings they actually represent, the painting now is on loan to the Milwaukee Public Library. In a press release offered after Lenz decried Walker’s actions, the administration claimed that it was making room for memorabilia commemorating the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. Unamazingly brazen, given this administration, it added a common good cop-out that more people now will see the painting — over half a million at the library, compared to the skimpy 15,000 or so who ever see the Executive Residence.
But that misses the point remarkably. Who needs a better reminder of kids in need — the patrons of the Milwaukee Public Library (many of whom probably are already the peers of these three kids, or their siblings, using the internet or borrowing DVDs) or the actual law makers of this state who purposefully live beyond the pale of the rabble?
Moreover, how very Republican in the implicit psychology of letting a lionized nostalgia best a troubled present. Who needs substance when we’ve got symbolism? In this case, the symbolism of the bald eagle no less — a bird notorious for its heists of stolen food from other eagles and birds alike. (Even Benjamin Franklin was wary of choosing the bald eagle to be the national symbol on account of its kleptomania.) So it’s rather fitting for Walker to remove a reminder of real, living children who all have already learned how hard life is — kids who know a hell of a lot worse than Walker’s own two sons what it’s like when society has failed you — and replace it with some historical kitsch representing American greatness. Perhaps his conscience [sic] was getting to him: gutting social programs and investments in their futures, the faces of these three kids were too much. Or maybe the cognitive dissonance lied in the fact that such a painting represents real Wisconsin artists — which Walker is against also.
So there must be hope after all. Only an amoral monster could regularly see such a portrait and look past its implications — for the painting is political after all. By removing it, one can discern that it might have stirred something in the man’s heart. It may not be the come-clean confession of the character in “The Tell-Tale Heart” or Lady Macbeth’s climactic “out damned spot” moment, but perhaps there’s something symptomatic.
P.S. I have nothing against bald eagles.