Everybody Loses In Wisconsin

Yesterday the good people of Wisconsin went to the voting booths and struck a blow for liberty, bravely ushering in a brand new era of prosperity while sending a powerful message to Washington and its anti-colonial Kenyan usurper. Or maybe not. Maybe yesterday the poor saps in Wisconsin were duped by powerful lobbying groups to vote against their interests, and have thus paved the way for the dismantling of the very democratic system we love and cherish, as the long Winter slowly approaches. Being an Oregonian, I can’t say as I care much.

I will say, however, that I ‘m glad about the results of the election in Wisconsin (State Motto: See? Every Now & Then We Can Make You Remember We Exist). Which is not to say that I support Gov. Walker. I don’t really know him. My only real experience with getting to know him (as opposed to having other people tell me what I should think about him, which was invariably either Christ-like Savior or Machiavellian Anti-Christ) was an interview I watched over the weekend. He seemed like a nice and reasonable guy, but then again he was sharing the screen with Sean Hannity – I’m pretty sure the Unabomber would have seemed the same in comparison. But there is no doubt in my mind we dodged a bullet in Walker’s failed recall.

The blogs and cable news networks will all be furiously spinning this story over the next 48 hours. (After that, this Most Important News Story of The Century will be largely discarded so that we can make room for the next Most Important News Story of The Century.) But the truth of the matter is that there was never any “there” there. The state of Wisconsin voted in a GOP governor over a DNC mayor, and when given the choice between the same two guys they voted for him again. He’d been accused of no crime; he’d not been caught using public funds to fly his mistress to Rio for a summer-wear shopping spree; he hadn’t been caught cooking the State books. No, he was put through the recall process because the people that lost to him the first time didn’t like the fact that they’d lost.

Liberals and Conservatives are each going to scream bloody murder for me writing this, but when I see what the Wisconsin Democrats have done with this recall I am reminded of the shameful, self-serving way the GOP has acted since Obama has been elected. It’s somehow not enough to realize you were unable to make your case and you lost an election – your loss somehow gives you the mandate to shut down the government and turn your state or country into a giant, life-sized talk radio program. Exit polls, in fact, suggested that only 28% of those that voted believed that recall elections should be used for anything other than misconduct (which I hasten to say is exactly why they were put there in the first place).

To conservatives reading this, let me submit to you that this failed recall is not the National Mandate From America you are telling yourselves it is this morning. No, this failed recall is more like an acknowledgement from the people of Wisconsin that their governor wasn’t really born in Kenya, no matter how much the other people want to believe he is.

To liberals, I’d like to suggest that you dodged a huge bullet; had this recall worked, I think your day-to-day political lives would have just gotten exponentially harder. Let me explain:

Let’s say you live in a state that, like most, has a liberal-leaning metropolitan area and a conservative-leaning urban area. Let’s say you live in a state where, like most states, conservatives look at the map rather than the population statistics and decide that they are being cheated because the tiny blue areas of the map they see on the news sometimes beat the much larger red areas on the map, and the red parts are bigger, dammit! Let’s say you live in a state that, like most, has both a healthy conservative talk radio station or two that features local or regional blowhards. Now let me ask you: If the Democrats had been successful in yesterday’s recall, how long do think it would take before any elected Democrat would become the target of a constant, steady, talk-radio fueled effort to have them removed from office?

Come to think of it, maybe that recall genie left the bottle even in last night’s failure. My initial reaction when asking myself who really won is to say “nobody;” after all, a tremendous amount of money and effort was wasted in a primal scream that succeeded in nothing but making things worse for Wisconsinites. But the truth is there was a winner: cable news and talk radio programs. Their ratings benefited mightily from this clusterf**k. Why on Earth should I think they won’t be happy to push for this kind of drama over and over and over?

This recall was a terrible, terrible idea, born of nothing but the anger of not being the gal picked to go to the ball – in the same way that the great GOP freakout about Obama has been since November, 2008. My advice to everyone, right or left, that is asked to sign the inevitable petitions to recall the man or woman you didn’t vote for because they had the audacity to win is to say “No thanks” and move on to the next election.

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105 thoughts on “Everybody Loses In Wisconsin

  1. Governor Walker is a damn fool.
    When Palin fell for the same trick, we called her dumb. Which is fair — she’s mean, but not especially smart.

    Walker didn’t bother to close the door, and he wonders why the horses got loose? When his neighbor Palin down the road had hers get loose the year before?

    That’s the definition of a dang fool.

    It is a shame in this country it is legal to rob your citizens, to cheat them, so long as it goes to a donor and not to yourself.

    This recall election brings us one step closer to civil war. Not a big step, it is true, but it’s there.

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  2. I think the recall was born more from the idea that Walker was trying to cut off a key Dem Party constituency at the knees. I don’t think it was necessary to do it, really, but I also don’t think it was simply a matter of disagreeing over policy. If Obama had passed a bill that banned members of churches from raising money for political candidates, that would be more of an equivalent. (I’m sure someone can think of a better example.) The line between policy and politics is always rather thin, though, so I could be persuaded that Walker’s attack on unions isn’t necessarily so different from liberals who want to ban corporate speech.

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    • If Obama had passed a bill that banned members of churches from raising money for political candidates, that would be more of an equivalent.

      If LBJ had passed a bill that threatened loss of tax exempt status for churches that preached on ending segregation?

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    • To be clear on this, the teachers unions and public employee unions are the key Democratic constituency. Between them, they account for slightly over 50% of the AFL-CIO membership.
      Meanwhile, the trade unions (and the machinists) have signed a letter back in November boycotting the Democratic Convention, but no one seems to have noticed.

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    • EI & TK –

      It was not at all about the simple fact that that was what Walker did, i.e. about responding to policy they don’t like with a recall. It was about the fact that he hid the ball on this plan during the campaign, AND that once in office proceeded with it in concert with the partisan leadership of the legislature with such haste that it prevented what a critical part of the state considered the least even conceivable appropriate amount of time for deliberation on such steps either in the legislature or in the state at large. They perceived the state to have been denied essentially any reasonable debate over this action, which in the context of Wisconsin politics was a substantial and fundamental break with about a third of its political history, and considered that a breach of the bond of trust between the governor and enough of the governed to satisfy the requirements of the recall law that was on the books.

      Take it or leave it as sufficient justification for recall, but let’s be clear that that’s what the justification was.

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  3. This recall was a terrible, terrible idea, born of nothing but the anger of not being the gal picked to go to the ball – in the same way that the great GOP freakout about Obama has been since November, 2008. My advice to everyone, right or left, that is asked to sign the inevitable petitions to recall the man or woman you didn’t vote for because they had the audacity to win is to say “No thanks” and move on to the next election.

    I’m not so sure, Tod. I am far from expert on the political currents of Wisconson (living in California and all), but I don’t believe the the central issue of the recall was simple relitigation of an undesired election outcome. Walker was trying to implement a political agenda that he kept hidden from voters during his first election, and in the process destroyed Wisconson’s civic culture of amiable moderation and compromise in the process.

    I strongly recommend this episode of This American Life about the destruction of that culture (which I would consider Walker’s greatest sin).

    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/439/a-house-divided

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  4. My in-laws live in Green Bay, and one is a county employee, so I have followed this with more then the usual interest of a politically inclined outsider. For my Republican mother in law, her desire to see Gov. Walker recalled came down to two things – 1) he didn’t run on the platform he enacted, so there was a bait and switch aspect she couldn’t stomach; and 2) the legislation stripping the collective bargaining clauses was enacted in a way that prevented debate, foreclosed amendment and opposition, and basically reeked of “I won, so I’m doing it my way – the electorate be damned.” From that perspective, it wasn’t just sour grapes.

    So the recall is done, and I agree the pundits will have about 48 hours to look this over before moving on. What I hope is that you, and others, come back in a couple of years and ask if Gov. Walker’s policies actually worked – or were they the usual Republican Trickle Down Flim Flam we have seen for 4 decades.

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    • Do not think that my belief that recalls are a terrible way to overturn elected officials you do not agree with is an argument that you just sit back and live with whatever an elected official ever does without question.

      It’s not a fun fact, but democratically elected governments make decisions every day that people don’t like and effect people adversely, and on most days they vote on things that they never campaigned on. And sometimes those things are unpopular; if so, then you usually have an opportunity to change the direction immediately (if you have enough support to make people fear for re-election before they pass legislation), soon after (by replacing enough of the legislators to reverse it) of a bit longer than that (by replacing most of the legislators and the executive administration).

      What will be interesting to see to me isn’t what happens in ten years, it will be what happens in two: either everything Walker does will be overturned in which case the argument that the people really didn’t want any of this will be proven (and the state of Wisconsin corrected). Or everyone will move on to other things and let Walker’s changes stand, in which case it will not have been the mad power grab against the will of the people some claim.

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  5. A couple people have mentioned that Walker enacted a platform drastically different than the one he campaigned on. It is not particularly uncommon for a politician to fail to live up to his campaign promises. However, just reading the descriptions here, it seems that Walker did far more than is usual, and actually engaged in an apparent “bait and switch”, as one commenter called it.

    Here’s my question: Could a politician ever be guilty of fraud based on misrepresenting himself during a campaign? Is this currently a legal (or civil) possibility? If not, should it be, in cases that warrant it? I’m not talking about a guy who campaigns with a promise to work to lower taxes whose efforts are in vain; I’m talking about making explicit promises and then doing exactly the opposite. Thoughts?

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    • I’m certain the courts would be quite hesitant to weigh in on this.
      For one thing, imagine the situation changing dramatically (9-11, Lehman Brothers) — isn’t there a reason he might be breaking every single campaign promise?

      OTOH, if you were able to show clear and deliberate fraud — “I said one thing to these super seekret foreign people” and “I said something different to my voters” — and then I did the super seekret thing…

      Yeah, then you’d at least have a case.

      Most contemp example is Arafat.

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    • There may be an argument for going down this road, but one should be aware it is a very academic road.

      Clinton, if I recall correctly, campaigned on many progressive civil rights issues (among other stuff, obviously). When elected though, he did not lift the ban on gays serving openly in the military, and he actually reversed affirmative action. Leaving aside whether or not those were good things, was he guilty of fraud? Should he have been removed from office?

      I’d argue that people are funny about how they perceive things, and that in such a system everyone would thing anything someone on the other side did was fraud and everything someone on their side did was justifiable if you took the time to go through this particular string of things they said/

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      • Tod-

        As in any other fraud case, I think it would be important that the aggrieved could demonstrate damages. This would be a high burden in most cases. As a straight man, there certain are ways in which I might be negatively impacted by a continuance of the ban on gays in the military, but I’d be hard pressed to prove that in a court of law. A gay man who was dishonorably discharged might. A big donor who felt his money was swindled for him probably has an even stronger case. It would almost certainly have to come from supporters of the politician, in-and-of-itself a problem, since voting records are private. It might only be an option for donors than. As I imagine it, it would need to be a rare occurrence, in which the politician in question could be demonstrated to have knowingly mislead the public. Folks, even politicians, can and should be able to change their mind. But if a guy said, “I’m going to vote against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but need your financial support to get elected so I can do that,” all the while knowing and communicating to others that he never had any intention of voting against it… there *might* be a case.

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        • My guess is that what you would end up with is not a system where people are honest and do what they say, but that you’d get more Mitt Romneys that would have a record of saying multiple things to multiple audiences.

          (“Of course I said I’d try to end unions! Here look at this speech at the Heritage Foundation…”)

          I think the current way is best: You interview the person, you give them the job, and then at review time you decide if you’re going to keep them on or if you’re going to terminate their contract. Everything else gets too muddled, and as a general rule of thumb the more muddled things get where power is concerned the more little levers there are where a small coup of people really make the decisions.

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          • Good points. I’m not necessarily saying that politicians should be pursuable for fraud… I was wondering IF they were and, if not, SHOULD they be? I’m sure there exists a case where it might be a legitimate approach, but the evidence and degree of fraud would need to be overwhelming.

            Hell, Seattle couldn’t even keep the Sonics despite point-blank evidence that the new buyer had no intention to hold up his end of the deal! (I sure hope to God Anne doesn’t see this…)

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            • I tend to think of campaigning politicians the way I do TV ads. I might like them, or I might hate them, but I kind of assume they’re focusing far more on what they think I want to hear than reality. (See: Every McDonalds commercial that links McDonalds with athletes and healthy lifestyles.) And my assumption is that’s what everyone else does too, and that if there are these times where we all get carried away with the WHHHHHAAAAATTTZZZZ UUUUUPPPPP!!!! ad campaign then we invariably have a “learning moment” we have to deal with after the election.

              That’s why I think looking at the record of a candidate’s competency is a better bet to good government than a “where I stand on the issues” scorecard. It’s why I’m convinced that despite his pandering to the far right to get the nomination and get the base out in November that in the highly unlikely event Romney were elected we’d find he was a moderate, and that what he did in MA would be a pretty good precursor for what he’d do in the White House.

              Now, in terms of where Scott Walker’s history would have put him when he was elected, I couldn’t really tell you. Should WI have known what they are getting, or was he really a stealth candidate that bamboozled everyone? Dunno, but come November when the state puts have of its upper house and all of its lower house up for reelection we’ll have a pretty good idea.

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              • Wow, I have a totally different approach. I think you can tell almost exactly how someone will govern by the letter next to his or her name. The parties are pretty well-sorted at this point, and they have defined platforms that are agreed upon by virtually all of their members and candidates.

                This, incidentally, is why all of the new Republican governors – Walker, Kasich, Snyder, Scott – have governed fairly similarly, despite some of them (Snyder in particular) running as moderates.

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                • There certainly is some variance, at least in terms of what their pet projects are. Obama was focused on Health Care. While other Dems might have felt similarly about reform, they wouldn’t necessarily have made it the lynchpin of their administration. I don’t know that every GOPer would have gotten us into Iraq as Bush did.

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                    • This seems like kind of a trick question. In policy terms, they governed like a Democrat and a Republican. Blago supported increased funding for education and infrastructure, gun control, etc. Bush slashed public spending and signed Terri’s Law. My policy preferences are closer to Blago’s, if that’s what you’re asking.

                      As for the rest, obviously Blago was corrupt and an altogether crappy person, but that didn’t change the fact that the letter next to his name told you everything you needed to know about his policy positions.

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                    • You won’t agree with me of course, but I think you’re wrong. If this is true, than all government is is sexy FOX/MSNBC, Sunday morning talk show, bloggy debating. But I’d argue that that’s just the most tiny part of government. While we talk about what Mitt Romney is or isn’t going to say next week, government is getting shit done – really, really, important, tedious shit. To say that it doesn’t matter if people who do it are competent or corrupt, just so long as they agree with you on the sexy-sexy issues, is to greatly devalue what it is that government does.

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                    • I suppose that’s fair, and it might matter to someone more centrally located like Tod, but I’m not that interested in the difference between a congenial Republican and one who’s an asshole. They both want to create a world I don’t want to live in. In fact, the congenial one might be worse overall if he can get people to play along with his plans.

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                    • Also, while we’re on the subject, it’s worth pointing out that Blago didn’t sign any laws violating the basic dignity of any human beings other than himself. I’m glad he’s in prison, but Terri’s Law is an abomination. Maybe you think that’s just too “sexy” to give a shit about, but I can’t say I do.

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                    • Dude, how different do you think the government becomes when a different party takes power? Take something relatively simple, like making sure impoverished people have something to eat. Debating theatrics aside, you know how much Carter/Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush/Obama changes that? Not a whit. You know what does create problems in making sure budgeted money of food for the impoverished actually becomes food that’s deliver to the impoverished? Corruption and incompetence.

                      Yeah, yeah, every GOP candidate that runs for president or governor says in some debate that they are going to cut state or federal NPR, or eliminate public schools, or take away support programs for the poor. You know who actually does it? Nobody.

                      Jeb Bush and I agree on not many of the Big Sexy issues of the day, but if I have a state to run, with food to get to people, and checks to get to people, and services to get to people, I will take him over Blagojevich any day of the year.

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                    • I had an argument with my step-dad after the 2000 election. He said that America’s grand respect for the rule-of-law is what separated us from so many other countries, and this was evidenced by the fact that despite a disputed election that many felt was a sham, there weren’t violent riots or armed militias or all of that stuff you often see in other countries. My argument was that this had a lot more to do with the fact that there wasn’t nearly as much difference between the parties to justify any of that. For most folks, life goes on as normal despite who is in power. This isn’t true for everyone (one need only look at the prospects for gay soldiers before and after DADT to see how drastic a difference it can make), but for the majority of folks, losing an election is not something worth rioting over.

                      Losing a basketball game… well… that’s a different story…

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                • ” I think you can tell almost exactly how someone will govern by the letter next to his or her name.”

                  Whis is why the prison at Guantanamo Bay is empty and nobody’s being killed in Pakistan by aircraft flown from Idaho.

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  6. You might wish to revisit that bit about “accused of no crime”. Governor Walker has been accused. He hasn’t yet been indicted. Enough of his subordinates have been convicted, enough people are now seeking (and being granted) immunity. As of May 10, David Halbrooks, a Milwaukee attorney and formed Milwaukee assistant city attorney and municipal judge, has been granted immunity.

    This does not look good for Walker. This is exactly how the governor of Illinois went down: picking off subordinates.

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