By Ernest Corea
Republicans must have something of a spring in their walk, a glint in their eyes, and a feeling, real or imagined, of the wind moving strongly at their backs, while they celebrate Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s successful pushback against union-led efforts to replace him.
Republican Walker prevailed over Milwaukee’s Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett in the recall election held on June 5 by close to a 7 percentage point margin, 53.2 to 46.3. This is along the lines of the voting spread predicted by some pre-recall election polls, although much wider than the “narrow margin” estimated by others.
Walker’s victory made history. Of three governors who have faced recall votes, he is the only one to have pulled through, remaining firmly entrenched in office. Governor Lynn Frazier of North Dakota was recalled from office in 1921 as was Governor Gray Davis of California in 2003. So Walker not only keeps his position, his discriminatory laws, and his anti-union ideology. He also walks right on to the pages of the record books.
Walker is among Republicans who favour austerity against growth as a priority. It is the kind of austerity that some economists and several politicians endorse, but which others consider a basis for economic distress and social upheaval. Nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz view the “austerity approach” as a way forward to disaster.
Wisconsin’s brand of austerity includes new laws that compelled most employees of the state “to pay more for health insurance and pensions, limited their pay raises, made payment of union dues voluntary and forced unions to be recertified every year”. It was this aspect of Walker’s policies that enraged unions in Wisconsin and led to a recall petition which sparked the recall election.
President John F. Kennedy said that “victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” The blame game will be played vigorously in Wisconsin over the next few weeks, with the charge being tossed around that the unions’ hunger for revenge was stronger than their political acumen.
On the winning side, everybody from tea party goers to the godfathers of political largesse will savour their moment of triumph. This is only to be expected. There is nothing unusual about financiers rejoicing over investments that pay off.
At least $60 million was spent on the recall election – the final tally could be closer to $75 million – with Walker’s camp outspending the unions almost eight to one.
Although an avalanche of money from a variety of external sources deluged Wisconsin, the recall election was essentially a local phenomenon which retained the status quo in place. Despite the handwringing among Democrats in the federal capital, there is no automatic co-relation between Walker’s victory-in-place and the approaching presidential election in November. Credit: Office of the Governor
Thus, while exit polls found that President Barack Obama maintains his statewide lead over Governor Mitt Romney, some 16 percent of Obama supporters voted against recall.
As for union households which stand to lose most from Walker’s union-busting moves, voters in 36 percent of those households voted against recall. Maybe all those voters did not like Barrett as a candidate. Or perhaps they accepted the widely held view that only transgressions such as corruption, fraud, or other forms of malfeasance deserve a governor’s recall.
Despite the local character of the contest in Wisconsin, Republicans elsewhere in the country have been quick to embrace Walker’s victory as their own, too. Romney was among the first to phone in a message of congratulations. A member of Romney staff dashed off a tweet urging unions to “give up.”
The triumphalism is partly due to the knee-jerk antipathy that sections of the Republican Party, and those who work in partnership with it, feel towards unions. It is also the inevitable result of the morale boost caused by a Republican governor’s survival. From that to assuming a trend has begun which will sweep Republicans to victory in November is not too big a step, however false that assumption might be.
But, warns Chuck Todd, NBC’s respected political analyst: “Don’t put a lot of stock into the folks who think they have November figured out after last night (in Wisconsin). If anything, Wisconsin still looks a lot more Pennsylvania (a state floating between Lean Dem and Toss-up) than Iowa (which is a battleground where Obama has some work to do).
“That said, Chicago (where Obama’s campaign headquarters is located) ought to realize – if they didn’t before – that this isn’t 2008. They are facing a Republican Party that is better financed and more organized than they’ve been since 2004.”
In some ways, the Wisconsin vote was yet another distraction – like Donald Trump’s birther obsession. (George F. Will, the dean of conservative commentators describes Trump as a “bloviating ignoramus.”) The recall election took a fair amount of attention away from the real “fight” – the presidential – and gobbled up resources on both sides that could have been used in the run-up to November.
Obama, realizing that there were more crucial matters to be looked after in the daily responsibilities of governing, as well as in his quest for a second term, kept some distance between himself and the battleground. (The Bubba, President Bill Clinton, visited Wisconsin in what appeared to be a token gesture.)
Still, all that’s beside the point. The recall election is over. Walker has proved himself – again. The unions tried to punish him for acting against the interests of “We, the people” and failed. The spotlight now returns to the presidential election with both sides campaigning equally hard for supremacy.
Romney has emerged as a somewhat stronger campaigner than he appeared to be during his gaffe-prone primary season. Romney notoriously said: “I don’t remember what I said, but whatever I said, I stand by what I said.” Web sites are populated with many more of the same.
Yet, he is a workmanlike campaigner, perhaps stronger on the debate stage than Obama, but nowhere nearly as effective an orator as the president.
He is supported by a belligerent campaign staff that appears to follow the late Lee Attwater’s political philosophy: “hit first and fast, and never clarify.”) (Attwater was considered a brilliant Republican strategist.)
In the Attwater spirit, members of Romney’s campaign staff recently attended a press conference held by Obama adviser David Axelrod, attempting to shut down the event with boos and jeers. It was bad enough that a presidential contender’s staff acted like goons. What was most surprising, however, is that Romney acknowledged that he sent them on that mission.
Food for thought and fun for all?
The writer has served as Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and the USA. He was Chairman of the Commonwealth Select Committee on the media and development, Editor of the Ceylon ‘Daily News’ and the Ceylon ‘Observer’, and was for a time Features Editor and Foreign Affairs columnist of the Singapore ‘Straits Times’. He is Global Editor of IDN-InDepthNews and a member of its editorial board as well as President of the Media Task Force of Global Cooperation Council.