Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues., or Wed., July 9, 10 or 11
It’s been a month since Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin defeated Democrat Tom Barrett and retained his office, as did Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and three of four GOP state senators there.
The results were similar to 2010, when Walker beat Barrett 52-46 percent. Handing Walker a 53-46 victory, voters apparently “concluded it is not best to swap horses while crossing the river,” as Lincoln said after winning reelection in 1864.
True, Racine Democrat John Lehman defeated incumbent Republican Van Wanggaard for a Senate seat, wresting control from the GOP and stopping Walker’s onslaught against working people. True, union members supported Walker’s recall by a 75-25 percent margin, Hart Research says. And, true, exit polls there showed that Obama leads Mitt Romney by almost the same margins as Walker beat Barrett. But that’s it for “good news,” and most post-mortems say that a combination of big money and a flawed strategy spelled doom for the effort to oust the anti-labor strongman.
It’s not “blaming the victim” to say that more grassroots education and involvement were needed.
“It is clear from Wisconsin that a good percentage of that 99% is voting for politicians with policies that are economically injurious to a majority of them,” wrote Mark Karlin, editor of BuzzFlash. “A few weeks back, a video of Scott Walker showed him promising to use a strategy of divide and conquer to break up the unions.”
He did, and he is.
Walker took the public’s frustration with the economy and twisted it against public workers – whether teachers, firefighters or government office workers – who he painted as pampered, not unlike conservatives for decades have blamed “welfare queens” for all kinds of problems.
“Conservatives vilify plain old working people as elitist fat cats,” wrote Dean Bakopoulos for Salon.com “Librarians, public employees and union laborers – basically, people who earn health insurance and decent wages – have suddenly become the things that stagnate an economy and raise taxes. In truth they, and those wages they enjoy, have been the lifeblood of a struggling post-industrial economy. It’s a lie that these middle class workers have it easy, and it’s a lie that they are the reason behind stagnant wages and dwindling job prospects in Wisconsin. Ironically, it’s the end of a union workforce and the collapse of public oversight of corporate interests that is most to blame for the woes of the working class.”
Walker blamed workers for his gutting health, education and equal-pay rights – while getting money to corporate supporters, thank you very much.
“Walker's tax cuts for private business appear to be underwritten by cuts in public sector benefits,” wrote Diablo Valley College professor Adam Bessie. “The money will literally be handed from the pockets of public servants to private business owners.”
Money made a difference in the campaign, too. Barrett, Milwaukee’s mayor, raised about $4 million while Walker had $30 million to spend, according to the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity, which also shows that two-thirds of Walker’s 7-1 advantage came from out of state. Corporations may be so cheap they’ll break the law or outsource work to cut labor costs, but they’ll spend on ads. [A digression: Advertising works. Aspirin is aspirin, bleach is bleach, but ads sell “brand-name” aspirins and bleach – and candidates.]
But besides Walker’s big ad budget, the loss may have stemmed from the switch from a movement struggling against an anti-worker agenda to merely campaigning and voting. After all, the Wisconsin Uprising was a mass insurgency, with carpenters and teamsters joining public workers and students on the streets and in the Capitol.
“Whereas the recall began as a democratic, populist revolt, by the end, the politics were dictated by consultants, pollsters and advertising campaigns,” wrote Occupied Wall Street Journal writers Arun Gupta and Steve Horn. “All the energy was spent on futile campaigns for Democrats who support austerity-lite policies.”
So the uprising was de-mobilized and diverted to electoral politics: a recall.
And take the Democrats.
In 2007, candidate Barack Obama pledged, “If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I'm in the White House ... I'll walk on that picket line with you,” but the White House and the Democratic Party weren’t part of the fight in a meaningful way.
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka tried to be positive, saying, “The work we did together was about much more than just this one election. Working people are making history every day through their courage and resolve to work together for a better world. For you, it may have begun with Wisconsin, but it should not stop there.”
Maybe some things should stop there, it seems a month later, like telling thousands of people to go home and regard the ballot box as the only answer to serious crises; like repeating history.