In The News
Falk or Barrett? Worried GOP simply attacks both
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
Posted March 27, 2012
Wisconsin is beginning to confuse Republicans. While Scott Walker is clearly the recall prize for Democrats, the Republican Governors Association – a third party political funding machine not to be mistaken for the public service national governors group – is unsure whether Walker’s big opposition is the yet unannounced Tom Barrett or the already hard-charging Kathleen Falk (the front runners in a field of Democrats riding the public enthusiasm to replace the governor).
So RGA is spending its first $1.5 million of an expected $5 million (the amount it invested in 2010 to put Walker in office) to attack BOTH Barrett and Falk in a statewide TV ad blaming them for policies during the recession era, before the current recovery.
Given the RGA’s ability to raise (and source-disguise) unlimited contributions from corporations – and to work in close tangent with the unlimited money Walker can raise as a recall target -- the GOP is acting confident that money and a boilerplate marketing ploy will allow it to talk old school politics, no salient details in the recent elevator ad, just blame Democrats for unemployment, taxes and everything wrong with the country. Woe upon liking them!
So far all that money hasn’t made a dent in the public passion, according to polls that reveal how all that Walker money is simply bouncing off a wall of hostility. It suggests again that while money preoccupies, the mainstream media continues to underplay the truly remarkable story: How, from being dismissed in the press as a longshot effort a few months ago, recall Walker fever now controls the highway of public activism. The odds have changed from underdog to likely.
Yet there is a perverse if rather creaky logic in jointly attacking Barrett and Falk before a recall date is formally set and the inevitable Democratic primary takes place (probably May 8). It’s early days; public opinion may shift back to Walker, so maybe there is yet a conservative audience out there for a hoary attack on all Democrats as “tax and spend liberals.”
The obvious truth? It has been Republicans in office and in private behavior who have been spending money like expense account drunkards at the Macau brothels and casinos funded by Gingrich’s money man (Sheldon Addison). There are few left even in business circles who still believe any sensible tax policy (which is what Falk and Barrett worked hard to engage in) is somehow destructive.
The ad blitz has left Falk in particular highly amused since before she announced against Walker both business and labor had praised her leadership of Dane County to spur record economic growth by retaining high services. Admittedly she had a strong UW and legislative employee base to start with, but the steady addition of tech companies, corporate headquarters and better living standards is also the result of her county executive policy.
“You have to chuckle,” she said about the ads, “because under my watch for 14 years the Madison area grew more jobs than any other part of the state."
Barrett, who can’t respond because he hasn’t yet announced (though he may March 30), must be equally amused. Unintentionally the Republican ad is re-establishing his credentials among liberals, who have complained that as Milwaukee mayor he has been too supportive of the business community and refused to go progressive enough in tax and service policies to notably reduce the 45% black male unemployment entrenched during the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush national manufacturing downturn. Yet even these skeptics regard him as infinitely better than Walkergate.
The RGA had to put Barrett into the attack ads. They could hardly waste all that extensive opposition research from the 2010 campaign when he was the Democratic candidate for governor --- or ignore internal polls today that mark him still better known statewide than Falk. Since they have chapter and verse on every political deal or property tax increase he ever made, they are prepared to face him, but they may not yet be prepared for the tidal wave against Walker rising in the state electorate.
That brings out another unusual element in the RGA ad – no mention of any Walker achievement. Not even a hunt for one. The RGA avoided any reference to his abysmal track record on jobs, nor how he has raided government funds targeted for other purposes (taking away one of his strongest campaign charges against his predecessor), nor how he has actually raised taxes (though admittedly on the lowest incomes and bottom of the middle class rankings who probably weren’t voting for him in the first place).
It’s smart politics to duck how much of the GOP faith in Walker is like the Las Vegas gambler betting “on the come” -- that policies of astringency for the working class and rewards for the wealthy class, while they may not have worked in the past, will eventually come through for Wisconsin. When you don’t have the beef or the grill, Madison Avenue tells us, just sell the sizzle.
But the RGA does have something else going for it, it seems: A sympathetic mainstream media more responsive to their faxes and phone calls than to those of the opposition. The RGA may spend more money but there have already been more stories about how “Wisconsin for Falk” is spending $1.6 million in a statewide ad blitz on her behalf. The articles camouflage that Wisconsin for Falk is being quite transparent about relying on local and national union money (promising even further detailed disclosure) than what either Walker or the RGA is doing.
Frankly, the unions can’t match the GOP funding machine, but national statistics confirm they are the only opposition conduit left to counter-attack. Everyone knows that, yet the news stories are reporting as “revelation” that WEAC, AFSCME and national unions are funding Falk’s ads. It’s something like that moment in “Casablanca” when Captain Renault, pocketing winnings, claims he is “shocked, shocked” to discover there is gambling at Rick’s.
I couldn’t find a citizen surprised that organized labor cares about Wisconsin politics. I found several taken aback by the tortured reasoning that a third party effort from the working class is somehow more intrusive on Wisconsin politics than the blatant outside fund-raising from Koch industrialists and energy corporations by both Walker and RGA.
Stranger is trying to make the unions sound like the alien invaders by enumerating the cell phones from outside Wisconsin employed by their political operatives. It’s actually no different than any survey of similar money operations on all sides – presidential, congressional and recall.
Political operatives of every stripe have been flooding to help Wisconsin or take up residence here regardless of where they worked before. The spending vitality surrounding Wisconsin politics has been a salvation in hard advertising times for the mainstream media. The local economy should be welcoming it all, rather than forcing a way to insult one side as being less responsible when it is actually being more open and forthcoming.
What apparently surprised the media bosses is how effective the Falk ads have been in personalizing the Reclaim Wisconsin effort – no hired actors here. That success seems to have stirred an effort to attack. But the strength of the anti-Walker sentiments stems from the simple power to explore the real pain, the real injury, how people feel ignored. It has to worry the media, because this campaign requires far more legwork to report than relying on fax machines, generalities and editor preferences about which side of the partisan divide is more likely to get printed.