To all of my friends in Wisconsin who didn’t vote yesterday, I hate you.
OK, maybe I’m overstating things a bit. I’m sure the conference will be just fine. I suspect, however, that, had Walker been recalled last night, the conference would have been incredible, with progressives, such as myself, celebrating the fact that, at long last, the tide in American politics was shifting, and that our fellow citizens were finally waking up to the fact that our nation had been hijacked by the likes of ALEC and the Koch brothers. Instead, though, it’s like there’s a giant black cloud hanging over Providence today, as we all huddle in corners, discussing what yesterday’s 54% to 46% victory by Scott Walker means. While quite a few folks seem to feel as though it can be attributed, at least in part, to the fact that his opponent in the recall election wasn’t someone with national name recognition, like Russ Feingold, who could pull in big money from out-of-state, but Milwaukee’s Democratic mayor, Tom Barrett, most seem to think that, in the end, it came down to money, and the fact that Walker could outspend his Democratic rival 9-to-1. With more on that, here’s a clip from Greg Sargent’s post last night on the Washington Post’s website.
Scott Walker’s victory in tonight’s recall battle is a major wake-up call for the left, Democrats, and unions about the true nature of the new, post-Citizens United political landscape, and it should force a major reckoning among liberals and Democrats about what this means for the future.
There’s no sugarcoating what this loss means for organized labor. Unions invested heavily in this battle in order to make an example of Walker. The goal was to show that Republican governors who attempt to roll back organizing rights will pay the ultimate political price. That effort failed, and the failure will have major repercussions for labor groups as they gear up for future fights over bargaining rights in states.
But Walker’s win also has major implications for Democratic elected officials across the country. It shows with crystal clarity that Republicans may very well be able to successfully use the new, post-Citizens United landscape to weaken the opposition in a structural way, and to eliminate major sources of support for that opposition.
“This has enormous implications for Democratic elected officials everywhere,” Andy Stern, the former president of SEIU and now a senior fellow at Columbia University, tells me. “Under the guise of acting to restore balance, [the right] is dramatically decreasing the amount of resources public unions have to participate in the political process.”
Indeed, one way of thinking about tonight’s results is that they say at least as much about Citizens United, and the ways it has empowered opponents of organized labor, as they do about the very real decline of union power. An analysis by the Center for Public Integrity found that Walker outraised his vanquished opponent Tom Barrett by nearly eight to one, and that outside groups supporting Walker vastly outspent unions, thanks to Citizens United.
Unions and Dems had hoped that grassroots organizing would be enough to offset that spending advantage, and they did in fact mount a huge effort along those lines. The labor-backed We Are Wisconsin signed up 50,000 volunteers in the last 96 hours, a volunteer army that knocked on 1.5 million doors throughout the state. It wasn’t nearly enough…
The Republicans, for what it’s worth, are downplaying the fact that tens of millions of dollars came rolling in from Super PACs across the country to support Walker, who has been at the forefront of the conservative effort to break unions, slash public spending, and privatize state services. Sarah Palin, for instance, had the following to say.
“I think Wisconsin voters are sick and tired of the division that’s been caused by the radical left, saying it’s big-government growth that’s going to be the answer to economic challenges.”
She also said, I believe, that the vote was less about Walker, and more about the refutation of union “thuggery.” Personally, I suspect it probably had a bit more to do with deceptive advertising, and robocalls telling registered Democrats that they didn’t have to go to their polling places, as their votes had already been counted. But, the election is over now, and, dirty tricks or not, the right has won, and now we’re all left wondering what it means. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus, clearly relishing what happened in Wisconsin, thinks it bodes well for their side. Here’s what he had to say last night.
“Wisconsin Democrats now head into November dispirited and in disarray, while Republicans remain strong and organized, with momentum on our side.”
And, the sad thing is, he’s right.
My hope is that the left rebounds, with people contributing to progressive political campaigns in epic amounts, and fighting back against Citizens United with newfound strength. I worry, however, that a lot of us will just shut down, and resign ourselves to defeat at the hands of a much better funded, and exponentially more ruthless, foe.