Community Journal

2013 Volume VI, Edition III

An explanation from the winner

By Peter Weinschenk

I have always been a smart ass.

My first words, I am sure, were not babble. They were sass.

In writing an editorial, “Coolsville II,” I used my innate talent for sarcasm to lampoon a proposal funded by the Marathon County Board, here in central Wisconsin, to boost our flagging economy by importing young professionals to our communities with bike paths, kayak races, internet availability and slick marketing.

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors has named my editorial as the 2013 winner of the Golden Quill Award. I am grateful for the honor and recognition. But mostly I am overjoyed that my talents as a wisenheimer have finally received not just national, but international recognition.

It is a lifetime vindication.

I have a pretty simple philosophy of writing editorials. I don’t write an editorial until I am certain that a unit of government is hopelessly lost in the swamp. Several approaches can be taken. One can daintily hold the hand of the elected officials and lead them out of the muck. One can apply a swift boot to the rear. Thirdly, one can employ ridicule.

The editorial, “Coolsville II,” uses the third technique. It was so incredibly appropriate.

County board members dropped six figures in tax money in a silly attempt to replace a closed major paper mill and insulated window manufacturer with companies in pursuit of latte-sipping, skateboard-riding Ph.D.’s looking for the next indie rock fest.

The wacky investment followed up on a marketing effort emphasizing that Marathon County’s greatest strength is its “centrality.” The marketing slogan is that our residents uniquely enjoy something called “central time.”

Needless to say, Marathon County’s unemployment is still stuck in the middling 8 percent range, despite being, if you can believe the advertising, a baseball toss away from the center of the universe.

Who would have thought the center of the universe would have a sucky economy?

There are, of course, some serious, simple questions behind all of this levity. How much must we change as people, as communities, to keep current with the economy? A little bit? Or must we completely reinvent ourselves?

We find ourselves in a strange political environment. It was Thomas Hobbes in his masterwork, The Leviathan, who argued back in the 17th century that the basis of government was for men to rally behind an autocrat to protect themselves and their possessions from the calamities that might befall what was then a short and brutish life. This is not fully enlightened political science, but it is a theory I, at least, can understand.

Now, the question is flipped upside down. It becomes how we, the people, must change to protect the government and other major institutions from budget shortfalls and other structural failure.

The people used to come first, but not in our brave new world of economic development. For some people, this may be enough to make them cry and wring their hands.

I am sympathetic, but, frankly, I am more prone to laugh.

That’s just the way I am.

Peter Weinschenk can be contacted at
peterweinschenk@gmail.com