Lessons Not Learned

Quite a few people are asking what lessons have been learned from the failure of the recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on Tuesday. If the interviews I’ve heard with Wisconsin public employees’ union officials are any gauge, like the House of Bourbon they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. Charles Lane muses:

I would like to ask Gerald McEntee, the leader of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, if it was a bit excessive to call Walker’s budget reforms “an attack on the freedoms of every Wisconsin citizen”?

Now that Walker has been freely and peacefully elected — again — does Harold Meyerson regret writing that Walker’s policies represented “a throwback to 19th-century America, when strikes were suppressed by force of arms. Or, come to think of it, to Mubarak’s Egypt or communist Poland and East Germany.” How about Katrina vanden Heuvel? She, too, pushed the Cairo analogy, asserting that the fight in Wisconsin was “about basic democratic rights and the balance of power in America.”

This rhetoric wasn’t just hyperbolic. It was strategically suicidal. The unions and their various apologists whipped progressive Wisconsin into such a frenzy — falsely claiming, for example, that Walker was about to unleash the National Guard — that the anti-Walker forces could no longer perceive political reality.

Michael Gerson makes a point similar to the one I made yesterday:

In flush economic times, public workers’ unions and progressive advocates of spending get along just fine. There is plenty of money to go around for both the system and the services. In lean times, however, the interests of union Democrats and progressive Democrats have diverged, forcing politicians to choose.

E. J. Dionne does not seem to understand this:

There was a sense of focus on the right that did not exist on the left. It was foolish for progressives not to work much harder to avoid a gubernatorial primary that wasted resources they couldn’t spare. This was not an ordinary election. The right knew this. The left seemed to forget.

It is not that the right was more focused or that the left forgot. It was that Wisconsin voters hadn’t changed their minds in two years—Walker was reaffirmed by roughly the same percentage with roughly the same demographics as elected him in 2010—and that the Democratic Party is not a monolithic “the left” but a coalition of people with differing objectives and some of them disagreed with the public employees’ unions.

8 comments… add one
  • Maxwell James Link

    I’ll only add that the recall effort was more successful than has been portrayed in the media – not with Walker, but with turning over the state senate. So regardless of whether they were in the right, the people who supported it realize it was a fairly effective tactic.

  • Thin gruel, indeed. The Wisconsin Senate doesn’t meet again until next year and by then there will have been another election with redrawn districts.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I’ve read that the Republicans were high-minded and fair in drawing the districts.

  • Politicians always are.

  • Maxwell James Link

    A more honest reckoning would probably be good for them. But people are inclined to pay more heed to their successes – however thin.

  • Is the referent of “them” in that sentence Democrats? If so, I honestly have no idea. I also wonder whether “honest reckoning” is in the eye of the beholder.

    It reminds of something that American baseball players playing in Japan used to say: that the Japanese believed that the Japanese players should be able to out-run, out-hit, and out-field anybody else and that if that didn’t happen it was proof of some sort of cheating.

  • Well, this reaction is very predictable. It’s a very rare day when confirmation bias doesn’t prioritize the list of potential reasons for political failure. Partisans are especially prone to this kind of rationalization.

  • Maxwell James Link

    Is the referent of “them” in that sentence Democrats?

    More specific – Democratic & union activists who thought a recall strategy in WI was a good idea.

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