Top Ten Silver Linings for Democrats in Wisconsin Outcome

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s victory in the recall gubernatorial election campaign over his Democratic Party rival is being read like tea leaves with regard to the national presidential campaign. This argument from the local to the national is always an error, and there are many reasons to believe that the results in Wisconsin tell us very little about the national mood. The telling exit poll is here So here are the reasons otherwise disheartened Democrats might take heart.

1. 51% of voters in the recall support Barack Obama, only 44% support Mitt Romney.

2. Democrat Tom Barrett’s loss and the damage done the labor union movement may scare and therefore mobilize Democratic voters in the fall.

3. While the Democratic Party and labor suffered a defeat, the radical Republican agenda promoted by the Koch brothers through Walker energized crowd politics and made a link between Wisconsin and Egypt’s Tahrir Square protesters, boding well for activism on the left going forward.

4. Too much should not be read into Walker’s victory. About 10% of Wisconsin voters do not believe in recalls. In addition, some 60% of Wisconsin voters said in exit polls that they did not believe a recall should be used against a governor for anything less than criminal misconduct. No one alleged that Walker is corrupt in a criminal way, despite his clear dependence on Koch brother campaign monies. That is, the recall effort, being based on politics rather than corruption, offended the state political culture.

5. 51% of voters in the recall support labor unions in general, but a majority of the voters approved of the end of collective bargaining rights for state employees in particular. The vote wasn’t about labor, but about the relationship of Wisonsins to their government workers, including teachers, etc.

6. Only 35% of the voters in the recall identified themselves as conservatives

7. Walker and co. spent $45.6 million on his campaign by May 21, whereas challenger Tom Barrett and his supporters only spent $17.9 million. And 2/3s of Walker’s money came from outside the state. There won’t be that kind of disparity in campaign financing in the national election.

8. Barrett had already lost big to Walker in 2010, getting only 36% of the vote. He just isn’t that popular on a statewide basis and the Dems were foolish to have him lead the recall effort.

9. It may be that John Lehman won his race for the Wisconsin Senate, in which case the recall election cost the Republicans control of that body, putting an impediment in Walker’s ability to push through any further radical rightwing policies.

10. Walker was forced to face a recall election and may have lost his state senate, which will give other right wing politicians pause in pursuing radical agendas at the instigation of the Koch brothers.

34 Responses

  1. I sincerely appreciate the effort, Dr. Cole.

    But there is no joy in Mudville today. (Actually, one guy came into the coffee shop we frequent in the very most liberal corner of Madison, hooting. He sat down with a photo of Scott Walker on his iPad and looked around to see if he could catch any danged lib’rulls noticing. So *he* was pretty happy.)

    #2: If the Budget Repair bill and subsequent outrages didn’t galvanize the electorate, then nothing short of daily hippie executions on the Capitol Plaza will. Although I think you’re right about point #4, people are pretty demoralized. I mean, if over half the state really wants a DNR in bed with polluting businesses, an eviscerated institution that was once a world-class university, failed schools, and a Christian fundie social agenda, I’m rather inclined to let them have it. My work entails, among other things, keeping animal excrement out of our waters; my wife’s, keeping pesticides out of groundwater. Mmm, that’s tasty stuff — enjoy your free-market carcinogens, fellas!

    #5: Expect right-to-work legislation shortly.

    #8: Who, then? “Madison leftist” Kathleen Falk? The wonderful-but-unknown Kathleen Vinehout? Russ wasn’t runnin’, man.

    #10: Sorry, but you are just dreaming here. These are Lombardi fans — the winning is all that counts to them. They will trumpet the recall as a vindication and a victory, further enhancing the most powerful people in the world’s status as poor put-upon victims. This will energize them — depend on it.

    Wish I could agree with you; I do, so often. But as much as my heart wants to, I know better. I live here.

  2. #9 doesn’t too much I’m afraid. The state senate is out of session until January after which the senators elected in November will be seated. They’ll be elected under the new redistrcting which gives the republicans the advantage.

  3. If Walker is convicted of corruption charges (as well might happen) wouldn’t that remove him from office?

    So even if the explicit recall failed he might still be gone.

    I’d hate to be a Wisconsin voter who reaffirmed his office, only to discover their guy is going to prison…

  4. Nice try and good points. Unfortunately the blog birchers are in no mood for consolation or perspective, as you can see from the comments. Good points to ponder, however.

  5. There is a bit of looking for the silver-lining shown here. Reality is that it was a battle testing the ability of two entities to mobilize and apply their assets, and the GOP won. It presages an ability, if nothing changes, for them to run over traditional demo strengths in the fall. So, as you in effect say, one of the best things is how this might serve as a wake-up call.

    There’s a great website for prognostication of the Nov horserace in the electoral college at link to realclearpolitics.com

    Wisconsin will be pivotal to whomever’s win.

  6. I really appreciate the effort.

    But, the fact that the #1 thing on this list is “hey! at least people still like Obama!” just adds insult to injury for this Wisconsin girl. Obama has turned his back on this state time and time again, from February 2011 when he was asked about the labor movement and said “everyone has to tighten their belts,” to August 2011, when Jay Carney said he didn’t believe the President was aware of the recall of state senators, from the summer of 2011 when he rearranged his travel schedule to visit Minnesota instead of Wisconsin, to spring of summer 2012 when he did the exact same thing. The day before this election, he had a staffer send a tweet saying he supports Tom Barrett; that’s just flat-out pathetic. Meanwhile, I received non-stop calls from his campaign asking for money and help setting up his Milwaukee office. I’ll vote for Obama, but I’ll be damned if I’ll lift a finger to support his campaign; that’s the general consensus of nearly everyone I know, mainstream Democrats to grassroots progressives alike.

    • Elizabeth, you gave numerous reasons not to support Obama, yet you will still give him your vote. You should vote third party to send the DNC chiefs a message. I will.

  7. The sad truth is that with Citizens United decision democratic elections are a thing of the past and the U.S.A. is hell bent for 20th century style European fascism.

    • Well, I’m sure the rich would be just fine with a coast-to-coast return of good old fashioned Southern plantation oligarchy, a tyranny of state-controlling oligarchs, co-opted churches, lynch mobs, and the KKK as ultimate enforcer, none of which required tax money. Conservatives, especially those with a drawl, keep screaming that their ancestors ran a better America than we have now; what else could they be referring to? Fascism is hard work, and it requires keeping the mob involved yet deceived. It’s what they will impose on us only if we resist the neo-Confederate model, until they break our will.

      All the pieces are in place: lots of ordinary folks in debt, conversion of prisons into for-profit sweatshops, privatization of the military/co-optation of militia extremists, and of course the enthronement of the “entrepreneur” as apex of business, government and Christianity. The passive deference of Wal-Mart employees is an easier path to power than rallying 4 million crazy Brownshirts as Hitler had to do.

      • IF you boil off some of the polemics I think you really have a good point. I’d call it neo-feudalism instead, and to make a more persuasive case and way to see this as a true trend, point to specifics. Think of the slow and incremental hollowing-out of the middle-class, and the communities which for the moment only have a simple punch-code at the gate. Think of MC folks who went to college and whose children will not, unless they are uniquely capable, in which case they will be identified and co-opted…plucked, as it were, so they will not make trouble and the rich can get richer. The Red and The Black, redux.

        That stuff about a non-zero sum world is a con: you may have matches and I may have an ax to chop some wood, but what about the poor wolf goes hungry? I’m not going to sleep until I’ve used that ax to cover my exposed flank with matches….there’s a wolf out there whose only getting hungrier.

      • Super390, you are ill informed, ignorant, or a flat out liar.

        First, you don’t know that Plantations owners were democrats and the KKK was a militant arm of the Democrat party?

        Second, you don’t know what the definition of Fascism is.

        You should head to wal-mart to get more tin foil.

  8. Watch everyone blame Obama, never thinking that a President can’t afford to associate himself with a vendetta against one of the people he has to try to work with, no matter how odious that person might be. If anything, this fiasco has been proof that Obama continues to be the only adult in the room. His critics have been mewling and howling for him to take “strong, decisive action.” Now we can see what “strong, decisive,” otherwise known as “reckless, dumb” action gets you — a humiliating and unnecessary defeat. A substantial number of people just hate recalls for anything less than certified criminality. The irony is that Wisconsin may be on the verge of getting such proof, but the “I’m much smarter than that wimp Obama” crowd have blown their opportunity.

  9. It doesn’t matter if the voters say they don’t have a problem with unions, only public-sector unions. Once you gut the wages of government workers, that deforms the entire labor market. Anyone with the slightest understanding of markets should be able to figure that out. Either they don’t care because they hate government workers so much, or they hate the people whom they perceive as receiving government services so much.

    We still have a country where close to half the population believes it can save itself by returning to the 19th century, and it’s willing to demonize, imprison, outlaw, downsize, outsource, water-cannon, tear-gas, and disenfranchise the other half to get there. It’s a civil war being fought by only one side because the other side can’t believe that Americanism stands for such evils.

    • @SUPER390 You’ve got it backwards. It’s the overcompensation of the government workers that deforms the entire labor market, and that’s what this conflict is all about.

      • Exactly what logic or evidence do you have leading to the conclusion that government sector workers are overcompensated? I don’t suppose you make the same argument about financial capitalists.

        • Of course, this is all about any group which gets some leverage and pushes to “capitalize” on it. We hope people won’t get greedy, but they always do. The real hope is that the power never swings so far in one direction that it cannot be offset so as to swing back to a sane and viable equilibrium.

      • PRS, you are correct, sir.

        @Super390, if it is illegal for businesses to band together to set prices, why is it legal for employees to band together to set wages?

        • @Michael Alan, sorry, you’ll not find me on the side that generally bashes trade unions. The rise of the power of trade unions was one of the most important and necessary developments of the 20th C.. Public unions, on the other hand, are an entirely different situation because of the source of the income and the nature of the service, and the idea that we should allow the sleight-of-hand of simply transferring the employer/employee relationships of the private sector to the public sector is an egregious violation of the public trust. I’ve got a high spirit from the Left with a like mind on the subject:
          link to presidency.ucsb.edu

          As for “illegal for businesses to band together to set prices,” as you probably know, there are many who argue that anti-trust laws do not work, do not actually benefit the consumer, and on the contrary, are used by the large to crush the small. I still sit on the fence on that one, but all these questions could be neither here nor there as we live in an age of such great crimes, games, and absurdities that are so far from free-market Capitalism and have so many violations on personal liberty that both Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson have for a long time been generating enough electricity from all their rotations in their graves to light bright red stoplights across the whole nation.

      • @PRS Bullshit. If government workers are overcompensated, then that would make labor markets more competitive, and drive wages in the private sector up, while “unfairly” driving down earnings of salaried executives and shareholders. In fact, during 30 years of Republican economic war against unions, wages have been going down, while executive and shareholder earnings have swollen grotesquely. Which also demolishes your next bullshit riposte that “globalization” requires the wage cuts to get down to Chinese/Indian levels; why don’t our executives and shareholders have to endure the same race to the bottom with their Chinese counterparts?

        • I feel like I’ve entered the Bizarro world. Suddenly I’m giving ripostes arguing for globalization and diminishing wages to the depths of those in robust economies. Globalization is the greatest threat to freedom in the modern age. If you crave it, heaven help you. Executives and shareholders have to endure the same race to the bottom with their Chinese counterparts? Are you aware that more than 10% of the world’s billionaires are in the People’s Republic of China? There may be more free market Capitalism in communist China now than there is in the USA. Your other nonsensical statements lead me to believe that you do not understand how a business enterprise works.

  10. WI allowed the True to Vote folks to come in from TX to interrogate voters while they were waiting to vote. These folks are not residents of WI. Why are they allowed in. These are the creatures of the Koch Brothers. Something needs to be done about them

  11. You can say Obama was “acting like an adult” and that all those Wisconsin workers were beneath him, but the bottom line is Obama thought he was too hip to show up in Wisconsin and that he was above all of this. He just better hope all the young people who helped elect him in 2008 don’t think they’re too hip to show up on election day this time around…

  12. @PRS: Seriously? This again? Both the statistics and anecdotal evidence refute this. Take me for example; adding the full cost of my benefits to my cash comp (yes, I in fact know what they are worth, I have to budget them), my package is a fraction of that of people I used to work with on the private side. See, I’m actually smart enough to do fine out there, thanks. But I do environmental software for the state because unlike the Masters of the Universe, I happen to think water without pig crap and pesticides in it is a little more important than a pile of cash I can swim in like Scrooge McDuck. Government employees tend to be better educated professionals on average, compared to equivalent samples in the private sector, something else to keep in mind.

    I’m afraid that to Walker and his Randian backers, all it takes to be an “overcompensated” state worker is to have a job with the state. You think I’m paid too much? That’s fine, I can leave state employ and double my money or better. Enjoy the pig poop in the lakes and rivers when I do.

    • Nope, you’re absolutely correct. The majority of states are grappling with large, debilitating budget shortfalls and are responding to the crisis by making deep cuts in projects and services–typically affecting the most needy of all–and by raising taxes, fees, fines, and penalties–which have no deforming affect on the entire labor market–and are banking on a fantasy-land of projected sustained private growth in order to get back to pre-crisis status quo levels in some vague sustained marvelous recovery future, and this shortfall problem has nothing to do with state public employee compensation and collective bargaining.

      • PS: Thank you for keeping it rational — sorry for my whiny, personal tone. It was a long, hard day in Wisconsin.

    • Mr. Wayne,

      You have the values of a true citizen, which cannot exist under capitalism taken to its logical end. In other words, to the Tea Partiers and libertarians, the very fact that you care about the welfare of others marks you as an inferior, a race traitor, an Ayn Rand villain, who deserves to live in poverty and misery until you accept your proper role of making the rich richer, which is the only source of American power.

      Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” mentions a naive Mississippi politician who recoiled at the idea of putting slaves in the Confederate Army by innocently bleating, “But if the Negro makes a good soldier, our entire system is wrong.”

      In the same way, if a person with your values has any worth, their entire system is wrong.

  13. Wishful thinking here. I see very little to be optimistic about. As Isiah Berlin once observed in a different context, history shows that people have proven to be unalterably stupid. Yes, the system is corrupt and Big Money has turned the republic into a joke. But were voters in Wisconsin so thick headed that they couldn’t see a vote for Walker was a vote against their – and the country’s larger – interests? Yet they were snookered. And if they’re so gullible as to be led by the nose due to TV spots, I’m not at all looking forward to November’s election, which will make the Swift boaters look like rank amateurs.

    It’s bad news, dude. Bad news.

  14. Two cities in California voted to cut their employees pensions. This will be coming to a city near you. Someone said that since so many in the private sector got screwed out of their pensions, it’s not fair for public employees to have good pensions. In other words, let’s pull down the middle class, so that we’re all screwed, except for the very rich. This is a strange idea of fairness.

  15. This is denial and it too (after the loss itself) bodes terrifyingly for November.

    Political parties that become cultish echo chambers are always on their way to defeat.

  16. I can’t believe all the pessimism here.

    The net outcome of the fight in Wisconsin – all the outside money, all the organizing, all of the recall votes – is a 3 seat swing to the pro-labor Democrats, giving them control of the state senate.

    The Koch money was fighting a defensive battle in Wisconsin – try not to lose seats. They lost, and the only question is how much they lost. Scott Walker won his recall election. Hey, look, there’s a seat the Republicans didn’t lose. That’s nice.

  17. For me, both Juan’s comments and those that follow are beside the point, as is most analysis I’m seeing. Truth is, the recall effort was blown out of the water by money, overwhelming Rightwing money that saturated the state’s media for several months. Yes, Walker far outspent Barrett, but the SuperPAC money was in even greater disproportion.

    At the national level this fall, add 3-5 million suppressed votes in swing states to what I’m convinced will be an equivalent influx of billionaire dollars, and holding any of the three branches is going to be a daunting task for the Democrats.

  18. Will we be seeing a rush of Republican Governors to follow Walker’s example and outlaw collective bargaining for public employee unions? Will Chris Christie be following suit? I doubt it.

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