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Tuesday, March 3, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 32.0° F  Overcast
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What the 2010 election results are really all about

Scott Walker showed us the brown bag. A brown bag. Perfectly telegraphic; no need to think. How far we've fallen.

Ron Johnson stood with his family in what looked like a home movie. The message? I am you. He tallied up the number of lawyers and accountants in the U.S. Senate, and he told us that being an accountant was somehow more virtuous. Family + accountant = I'll take care of your money. No need to think.

Russ Feingold swept a table clear of things that looked like they'd come from a garage sale. What? He said, "I work for you." Too late. Empowerment worked when we felt ... powerful. This is the age of paternalism. Put your arm around us and tell us everything will be all right. Our collective heads already hurt; don't make us think.

In an election that was all about fear, the electorate was running scared -- straight to the polls. Voters "seeing red" voted red. Blood red. Angry red.

But this anger has been building steam for 30 years. It took the recession to make it blow.

From 1980 to 2005, the richest 1% of U.S. citizens received $80 out of every $100 in income growth. Economist Paul Krugman called this phenomenon the Great Divergence.

Referencing Krugman's work, Slate's Tim Noah observes that "Incomes were more equal between 1929 and 1973," and have become "less equal since 1980."

Things have gotten even worse since. At least in 1980, women could head into the job market; adding a second income could make up the difference. Now there's no bullpen -- no reserves who can be called in to help make ends meet.

In 1980 Visa and Master Card were new and credit limits were low. Now credit limits are high and cards are maxed out. In 1980 interest rates were high. Now, lower interest rates mean second mortgages are a stealth-version of the national debt -- carried by taxpayers, not the government.

People are afraid. Anti-depressants are the most-prescribed drugs; insomnia is rampant. You have to pick your battles. Or vote for someone who will fight your battles for you.

So Scott Walker moves into the Governor's Mansion, and Ron Johnson heads to Washington. Make no mistake: We're all going to see red as the battle they have been tapped to fight begins.

Pam Murtaugh is a Madison-based consultant to global corporations, whose work is based on behavioral models.

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