Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook

Friday, June 15, 2012

Wisconsin: After the Dust Has Settled -- Part I

Talk about a shellacking! No matter how the spin is spun, the little people in Wisconsin got whupped.

As soon as the dust began to settle after the Walker recall debacle, the chorus of whys and wherefores chimed in with several variations on a theme, but one refrain has remained constant: the obscene amount of money that poured into Scott Walker's war chest, much of it from out of state. No matter how the lyrics are sung, whether Walker outspent Tom Barrett by a 7-point margin or by "a ratio of roughly 1 to 2.27" (also HERE), 45.6 million smackeroos is a "big fucking deal."

An even bigger "fucking deal," if you recall, was the 2010 California governor's race. Meg Whitman spent a record breaking $177 million with $144 of it from her own Gucci purse to campaign against Jerry Brown. Keep in mind, however, that Meg got shellacked, receiving only 41.2 percentage points to Brown's 53.8. Barrett lost to Walker by 46 to 53.

While I find these expenditures to be grossly obscene -- this kind of money has no place in political campaigns -- maybe we should look at some of the other verses that have been written for this mournful ballad.

One verse might go something like the one I found in "Walker's victory, un-sugarcoated." Doug Henwood agrees that money mattered, but "lingering on the money explanation is too easy." There are several other issues that "need to be stared down."
One is the horrible mistake of channelling a popular uprising into electoral politics. As I wrote almost a year ago (Wisconsin: game over?) [. . . .]
Suppose instead that the unions had supported a popular campaign—media, door knocking, phone calling—to agitate, educate, and organize on the importance of the labor movement to the maintenance of living standards? If they’d made an argument, broadly and repeatedly, that Walker’s agenda was an attack on the wages and benefits of the majority of the population? [. . . .]
Henwood further addresses the hard cold fact, a painful one, that labor unions just aren't very popular these days. Citing Gallup polls, approval of unions is close to an all-time low. "A major reason for this is that twice as many people (68%) think that unions help mostly their members as think they help the broader population (34%)." The reason for this, says Henwood, is that it's true.

Also, according to Henwood, Barrett was an extremely weak candidate who had already lost once to Walker. Russ Feingold might have been a stronger candidate but he refused to run, "probably out of fear of these results."
And the bar was very high for a recall. Only 19 states have recall provisions, and Walker was just the third governor to face one. Well over half of Wisconsin voters think that recalls should be reserved only for misconduct—and less than a third approve of recalls for any reason other than misconduct (Wisconsin recall: Should there be a recall at all?).
Matthew Rothschild, writing for The Progressive, laments the disintegration "of the most historic and exciting citizens' uprising" that he had ever been involved in, a movement that "began to disintegrate the moment the leaders (and who were they, exactly?) decided to pour everything into the Democratic Party channels rather than explore the full potential of the power that was latent but present in the streets back in February and March of 2011."

The "100,000 people storming the square were not included in any meaningful -- or even symbolic -- decision-making process." And then "the decision was made (by whom?) to stop marching and essentially to go back to our home districts and throw all our energies into recalling state senators."

This, according to Rothschild had four detrimental effects: 1) It diffused the protesters physically and emotionally; 2) It "destroyed the lesson that you can exercise power outside the electoral arena;" 3) It "fed the assumption that the Democratic Party was the be all and end all;" 4) It "took the mass power off the streets."

Rothschild writes that there was a failure of imagination, nerve and process. One major tactical blunder was the failure of the AFL-CIO to finance commercials during the lead up to the election to counter Walker who was running one ad after another.
This was the biggest pitched battle against workers, and the AFL-CIO barely showed up. Where was the Democratic Governors Association? Where was the DNC?
Then the union leadership handpicked Kathleen Falk, even though there was no groundswell of support for her whatsoever, a choice that embittered much of the movement’s base and proved unpopular on primary day.
And finally, Barack Obama never deigned to make an appearance, literally mailing it in with an Election Day tweet. 
The final verse comes from a professional Obama hater, who no doubt would blame the rain in Spain on the president.

At first I was disappointed that Obama didn't offer more support to the recall effort, but I've withdrawn that criticism for a couple of reasons. In the first place, due to the money that poured into Walker's war chest and to what looks like a disorganized mess from the get-go, I question if his presence would have had that big of an impact. Maybe he, along with Feingold, read the tea leaves better than many of us. Secondly, maybe he agreed with those union workers who believed an elected official should not be recalled for a difference in political philosophy but only for misconduct. No doubt he's fairly sensitive to this issue, if only because of all the impeachment efforts those on the right have tried to initiate.

Finally, I'm not sure it's wise for any president, Republican or Democrat, to get involved in what amounts to a state's political civil war unless there is irrefutable evidence of illegal behavior such as the kind we witnessed during the civil rights era. In those cases, federal law was clearly broken.

Nonetheless, the loss was a bitter pill, especially for those who literally gave up their lives to work in the trenches day in and day out. In Part II, we will hear from one of those foot soldiers. She offers up an entirely different perspective, and probably a far more accurate and insightful one, than anything we have read in the mainstream media or heard from political pundits and armchair critics -- like me.


  1. Clearly California is either smarter or dumber than Wisconsin, depending on which side of the aisle you stand.

    1. Hah. But of course. Yet, I've always wondered if the amount of money Whitman spent was so over the top that it actually turned off a lot of voters.

  2. whoa....fabulous post. how does walker sleep at night? my ex is from wisconsin, and my oldest daughter was born there, about six weeks shy of 50 years ago. would i recognize the place now?

    1. Have never set foot in the state. You might not recognize it now but I think WI is probably just like anywhere else - some good, some bad.