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Giving credit where it’s not due

Fred Risser

Fred Risser

Politicians are often faulted for taking credit for things they cannot possibly control.

Every time the unemployment rate goes down by a smidge or a factory hires a few workers, they can be found pointing to some policy or decision of theirs as the ultimate cause. (Although, curiously, they are usually the first ones to note how little control they exert over the economy when things don’t go their way.)

It was left to state Sen. Fred Risser, though, to show exactly how far a politician can be carried by the temptation to give himself credit where credit is perhaps not due. Speaking on the Senate floor against a bill that he and his fellow Democrats contend would harm veterans who had become sick as a result of asbestos exposure, Risser recounted his own experience in World War II.

Several days after he was sworn into the service, he said, the Germans surrendered. And it was only a short time after he left boot camp, he said, that the Japanese followed suit.

There was nothing at all coincidental, he more than implied, about this sequence of events.

The tale, obviously meant to amuse, succeeded in drawing a few chuckles from Risser’s colleagues. No one should have been surprised, though.

If the temptation to take credit for accomplishments beyond one’s control is common to all politicians, then it’s easy to understand why those who have been in the game the longest might be the worst offenders. Through long experience, they have found that the advantages to making outlandish claims far outweigh whatever punishment the public might inflict.

And, as anyone can surmise from the fact that Risser is old enough to have served (barely) in World War II, few have been at it longer than the senator from Madison. He’s not simply the longest-serving state legislator in Wisconsin history; he’s the longest-serving in U.S. history.

But to give him the credit he does deserve, he was joking about his war record. His intention became even more apparent when his fellow Democrat, Senator Tim Cullen, asked in an equally lighthearted manner if Risser would be willing to bring his long-esteemed martial talents to bear in Syria and the Crimean peninsula.

To this, Risser responded by throwing up his arms and saying, “I’m available, I’m available.”

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