I should make clear that I rooted for the recall of Scott Walker and victory for the progressive forces in the Wisconsin recall elections this past Tuesday. The right wing Tea party radical Republicans were victorious in their efforts to keep their Governor and Lt Governor and they won convincingly. There are lessons to be learned from this effort by both sides. I am mostly concerned that the progressive liberal forces in the country learn the right lessons. What are some of those?
First, it’s hard to defeat an incumbent. Voters need to feel either great anger or great despair when voting a party out. And, today it appears they need to dislike the candidates they are being asked to vote against.
Second, we need to realize that most voters just don’t understand the details of the political system. They probably can’t see why there wasn’t a simple yes/no vote on Walker since he was the person they petitioned to recall. And I would contend that in such a yes/no referendum recall would be favored to win. The Wisconsin system in effect allows you to petition for a new election and that is what occurred.
Third, the weakest candidate to defeat an incumbent is the person that incumbent beat previously. You are asking the voters to concede that, in this case only 16 months ago, they made two mistakes. They voted for the wrong person and they voted against the right person. To defeat an incumbent it has to be about him and the best way to do that is to run a blank slate candidate so the only issue before the voters is the continuation in office of the incumbent.
Fourth, Mayors of the largest city in the state are the poorest candidates for Governor. Ed Rendell notwithstanding the Mayors of New York City, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Columbus and Chicago are not the Governors of their states and almost never have been since the nineteenth century. The large cities are seen as different by the rural residents and the place they left by the suburban voters.
Fifth, money is now all there is in politics. This is not the seventies when door to door campaigning turned a nation against the Vietnam War (with the help of TV coverage of that gruesome war). Now campaigns are fought out on the TV screens with Ads. And, today's generation wants quick and easy to remember Advertising not detailed brochures. Today’s electorate feels about candidates and issues they don’t study about them.
Sixth, we are now in a time when the majority of the population is concerned about itself. They want to know what and who is going to do for them. Talk about the future, about everyone having access to the American dream does not resonate with a population that has begun to believe that that dream may be a nightmare. No one cares about the Wars we fight unless they are among the small percentage of people who have relatives who are part of the now professional armed forces. No one cares about the unemployed unless they have a relative who is among that 8 %. I would argue that the reason that reproductive rights and gay rights are still meeting with majority support is because a majority of Americans know or are related to someone who is a woman who might need birth control and/or an abortion and a majority of Americans know or are related to someone who is openly Gay.
Seventh, the radical right Tea Party Republicans have succeeded in making government appear to be the problem instead of the problem solver and to demonize the public service. They have convinced Americans that we are in dire economic straits because teachers and firefighters and policemen and other public employees fought for decent wages and health benefits and retirement benefits. They will not admit that our economic problems are due to the greed and selfishness of the corporate CEO’s, and those who use money to make money-- the very Bain capitalists whose poster boy now stands as their candidate for the highest office in the land.
Eight, the radical right wing attempts to undue two hundred years of franchise expansion by adopting legislation that can only be characterized as voter suppressive is working. It is convincing the 50% of Americans who are not registered that they shouldn’t even bother. And quite frankly this isn’t 1965 and the only people who care about these voter suppression tactics are those whose vote will be suppressed.
Ninth, the radical right wing Supreme Court Citizens United ruling has turned our political system into a corporate oligarchy - a potentially neo-fascist state in which the richest of the rich will decide the result of elections by spending unmatchable sums in support of their candidates and at the same time will manipulate the economy to create a large class of poorly educated (hence the war on public education) poorly paid (hence the war on unions) workers who won’t even care about voting since the rich will own the candidates and the determine the results.
One volunteer who spent months working on the Wisconsin recall said quite emotionally on TV last night that democracy dies in America on Tuesday and it died in Wisconsin. He may have been right. As the next decades unfold we will see no strong labor unions fighting for the wage and hour and health care laws that they spent the twentieth century fighting for. We will see no large middle class as a buffer between the haves and have nots. We will hear no politicians - no FDRs or Eisenhowers or even Clintons suggesting that the richest should pay more in to the system and that the system should help the middle and the poor.
America has always been a violent country. 600,000 men had to die in order to free a race from slavery in this country. When the inevitable battle between the 99% and 1% (maybe it will be 90/10 by then) comes how many will have to die in order to restore this country to the path it was so successfully on in the twentieth century - an America with liberty and justice for All and one in which All shared in an American dream of peace, freedom and the pursuit of happiness.
6 June 2012