In The News
Sad how June 5 repeated 2010
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
Posted June 6, 2012
While I had to admire the graciousness in defeat and the resolve to not lose a beat in continuing the fight– reflected late Tuesday in the remarks of Tom Barrett, union leaders and the progressive coalitions – I must admit that emotionally June 6 I am not there yet. I concede these folks are more mature than I am, but I am still dismayed and shocked.
And emotionally conflicted -- anger and lament at the stubborn Midwest mentality that cannot look around the corner at the impending freight train. We laugh at the younger generation’s penchant for instant gratification. It turns out that June 5 embodied the unwillingness of an older, settled electorate representing a fast fading demographic and self-absorbed isolationism. While nearly half the state saw a need to change course rapidly, the thin majority flat resisted. A people’s revolution may have founded this country, but it terms of dynamic unshackling from entrenched powers, it seems to have lost its appeal.
But this is the long-standing, occasionally admirable stubbornness of the American electorate -- refusing to admit the possibility of having made an error and then finding the resolve to rectify it. It produced without talk about Tea Party fever and Democratic homebodies (the traditional excuse for what happened in 2010) a clear replication of 2010, something most of the national TV public didn’t realize because they didn’t examine the final numbers.
Too bad Scott Walker wasn’t privy to the exit polls that indicated most of the voters June 5 had made up their minds months ago – it would have saved him and his supporters nearly $49 million in campaign money endlessly blitzing the state. The sizeable money advantage clearly had an impact in deflecting arguments about his administrative ability and his fact fudging. It let him further myths – such as fighting off an outside horde of money that never showed up (his advantage was 8 to 1 at the end and started 10-1). But all that spending was in this regard unnecessary because the electorate was stiff-necked in letting him run his course.
So huge money can prop up bad leaders, but stubbornness in the electorate is even a bigger factor. Americans are great at reacting to the aftermath of floods, but not so good at moving to higher ground when they have built their houses on mud.
Unlike the curious unfolding of Tuesday night – when NBC and other networks called the race for Walker within minutes even while long lines in Milwaukee were still voting and the victory margin was rapidly subsiding from 19% at the time of the call -- the final outcome was remarkably similar to 2010 despite all the hoopla on the ground. About as close and about the same divisiveness.
The turnout was not of presidential proportions, perhaps 57% while Barrett clearly needed 65% turnout to close the gap – and clearly his side thought he had it. As it was he barely won counties he should have walked home in, such as Portage, and lost counties he should have dominated such as Racine and Eau Claire (though Racine at the last minute seems to have added a Democrat to the state senate in John Lehman over incumbent Van Wanggaard, though a mandated recount is likely with only about a 780 vote margin).
In 2010, Walker drew 1,128,941 votes to Barrett’s 1,004,303. Both picked up considerably in 2012 – 1,352,192 to 1,160,215. The 2010 percentage of 52-46 changed not much to 53-46, barely a hiccup given the incredible ferocity on the ground. Actually the numbers still mystify observers who saw the remarkably high turnout on both sides, which simply doesn’t translate into the final numbers. All that confirmed a close division in the state and a likelihood of a continuing battle despite the GOP crowing. No wonder both pundits and political insiders in both parties expressed disbelief. Neither had made a convincing case.
But here’s what came through clearly. A statewide recall -- never popular on either side – was the reluctance hardest to overcome for Barrett, who didn’t even enter the contest (he had a mayoral race to win first) until the voters had decided they would oppose the recall he was leading. The exit polls suggest they had decided before he could possibly have mounted evidence about Walker’s policies, job numbers and other much publicized claims. The main thing the money game accomplished was to prevent any contrary messaging to charge through, knock decided heads together and change minds.
The John Doe probe also had little impact – the caution in the American electorate to not condemn someone before they are charged still ruled, a good thing certainly in picking juries but not so hot in looking around corners. The public was already bollixed trying to figure out the impact of Walker’s legislative policies – Do they work? Should we give them time? Is he courageous or just smoking something? So it simply decided not to change horses in midstream. While it seemed obvious that the electorate should have been able to add two plus two, they were indeed swept up in a mathematical tsunami. Even the simply clarity of attacking teachers didn’t move them enough, though it likely will in August and November legislative races, which have smaller more attentive audiences.
Credit the prosecutors as well for refusing to play politics. There is a code to not make charges within 30 or 60 days of a political race for fear of being accused of playing politics, so they didn’t. It’s quite a stretch to say they didn’t because they didn’t have anything, as the GOP kept insisting, but it is also a stretch to say they have something but abided by the rule. Whatever, while others see Nixon lurking inside Walker, the voters didn’t even bother to look.
More tragic to me was how the exit polls showed nonunion households embracing a myth disproven by economists on every side. That is the attack on unions as the cause of the state’s financial problems – a charge that allowed Walker to upend education, health and pay rights while siphoning money to corporate backers. I think it just demonstrated that ordinary taxpayers can be the harshest bosses around when they think their money is being wasted, forgetting that teachers are taxpayers, too.
Somehow too much of the public clung to the idea that unions were passé and represented a past economic times and were so bloated today that Walker was right. They didn’t even flinch when he went further than depressing wages and benefits of pubic unions but illegally took away their basic rights
Here’s something unnoticed in this election because the progressives wanted to make Walker’s larger damages more a focus than Act 10 union emasculation. Federal courts have already ruled unconstitutional Walker’s broader attempt as vindictive, not economic, to eliminate paycheck dues and force yearly recertification votes. The GOP still hopes that down the road a conservative US Supreme Court will reverse that, but not a single union ad or candidate pointed this out as clear evidence that Walker was simply looking to punish political opponents.
Given the mixed feelings about unions, I think the political insiders were fearful that the public would cheer vindictiveness rather than be appalled.
I am disturbed, too, that it was unseemly, if not immoral, to watch so much outside wealth come in to protect an unproven governor and an unproven ideology, which the real conservatives I know still object to being called conservatism (just as the Christians I know squirm at Walker’s constant public embrace of his faith). Somewhere the voters know these outside financiers expect a reward either from the Wisconsin taxpayers or in creating a beachhead to influence elections around the US. But it was too much of a stretch, apparently, to think the majority would get agitated about that.
What has to give the right-wing wealth pause, though, is another curious factor in the exit polls – that President Obama over Mitt Romney dominated the electorate in nearly the same winning margins as Walker. It is a reminder that the voters may not like being told they made a mistake in the governor’s race – at least to the point of interrupting his reign, sort of saying he won the right to inflict what damage he will over the next two years. But they are obviously not married to his extremism and still admire a more conciliatory approach to problem-solving.
Despite my lament, it may have been the very heat of the battle that made so many withdraw from joining in what would have indeed been a revolution.