A couple interesting posts came out today insinuating important effects from the recall elections in Wisconsin. This might seem like old news but it still has relevance. Similar legislation is pending recall or repeal efforts in Ohio and Indiana (reports are the Ohio GOP is now a little nervous at what has happened in Wisconsin). Those who have read prior posts I have written know that I believe the demise of unions is inevitable. But I view Wisconsin as but one step down this road. The articles I found interesting, written by conservative columnist George Will (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/liberals-wisconsin-waterloo/2011/08/23/gIQArm5GcJ_story.html) and liberal columnist Greg Sargent (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/post/conservatives-cant-stop-falsifying-what-happened-in-wisconsin/2011/03/03/gIQANyOkdJ_blog.html radically differ in their interpretations of the results.
To quickly summarize each article (for more details read them) Will believes that unions went all in, in Wisconsin. That the majority of protestors and supporters of the recall were, shocker, union members and young voters. On purely technical grounds he is not wrong. Independents were not swung to vote one way or the other on this single issue, as evidenced by Democratic candidates hitting Republicans on everything but the kitchen sink. But Will also believes this marks the end of the power of unions. That the voters of Wisconsin supported Walker and his policies. Not surprisingly, Sargent has a different view. Sargent does see the results as a defeat for the Left, but not as a conservative victory. Sargent views the results as a draw in the broader sense. Voters in WI mostly kept the status quo but by making GOP control of the state senate so tenuous there voted urged Walker to stop pushing such conservative and divisive policies.
It could be said that Sargent views the results in Wisconsin like Operation Market Garden (keeping with military comparisons here). The entrenched forces in the Netherlands (the Germans or GOP here) bent but did not break and inflicted enough casualties on the enemy (unions) to force them to retire from the field. A draw for the Germans (GOP) and a loss for the allies (unions).
I take a slightly different view of these results. I have openly said I view the results in Wisconsin as a victory for the GOP and a defeat for the unions and Democrats. I still do. But I think the more apt comparison for the results would be the Battle of the Bulge. Unions and Democrats launched an assault (recall elections) in a last-ditch effort to forestall defeat in the war (or through legislative action). Democrats and unions knocked out two GOP incumbent senators both very vulnerable out of 6 senators (like Germans utterly demolishing thin portions of the allied line in 1944). The allies line bent but did not break (hence 4 GOP senators holding their seats). In the final result the aggressors were pushed backed to the German border with heavy casualties and the action was considered a victory by the allies and a loss for the Germans. Same here with the results in Wisconsin.
What we have in Wisconsin in the aftermath of the recalls (bringing this out of military comparisons) is a political climate in the state that is politically polarized. If Walker pursues more controversial conservative policies such as tort reform and education standards it his likely there will once again be a major fight. Of course, with a presidential and US Senate election at the top of the ticket turnout will be up in 2012 and it is unclear what effect Walker’s policies will have on votes in federal elections. But at this point, whatever Walker does even if it is a moderate policy will like angry the Left in some way. That is just how polarizing the climate is in the state.
Bringing this back to the articles both Will and Sargent, in my mind, make big assumptions I believe our inaccurate. Comparisons aside, Will believes that the recall elections subverted democracy. I don’t. It is democratic. Get past all the threats, rallies and protests the recalls were decided through democratic means, elections. That is what elections are for after all. To decide elections peacefully. That whole peaceful transition of power thing. I can think of a few countries that would love to have it.
Sargent makes two big assumptions. The first is that Walker overstepped his bounds and that second he never clued in voters on his ultimate plans. On the first point I could asily argue against. Walker won in 2010 by a 53%-46% margin (leaving out rounding up). Republican candidates won the overall popular vote in the recalls 53%-47%. Not much of a difference. As stated earlier, the two GOP incumbents successfully defeated either a) sat in a deeply Democratic district and b) had serious moral and martial failings. So maybe Walker did not overstep his bounds but just pushed the button of a large and well-funded special interest machine, unions, and they fought back. This strikes me as more likely.
On Sargent’s second point I have to say from a personal perspective I here this again and again. How many times have I heard the left say the GOP candidate/s never clued in voters on what they are doing? Apparently campaigning on cutting budgets, slashing funding, and fixing education was not clear to the liberals in the election. Guess that is why they vote Democratic. Walker made very clear his plans. He openly campaigned on education reform (yes specifics on the ultimate legislative proposal were left out), slashing the budget and reforming pensions and benefits for government workers. I have to wonder whether liberals and Democrats seriously expected him to not act on them, especially in a time when states across the nation were drowning in debt.
I could ramble on but I won’t. Both Will and Sargent make very broad assumptions here I am not comfortable with. I don’t agree with Will that the recalls subverted democracy. Sure, some of the acts the unions and protestors did before the recalls were thuggish but they did not change the voting results. That is what counts. And as for Sargent, I think one of his assumptions is very dubious and his second patently false. If any Democrat or union thought Walker would not act, especially when unions and Democrats have tried to scare the bejesus out of the public on the Tea Party and conservatives, they were deluding themselves. That is not Walker’s or the GOP’s fault.
Wisconsin was the conservatives Battle of the Bulge. They withstood an onslaught from an angry enemy and came out more or less whole (with some losses). Unions I believe will eventually fade into the dust-bin of history. The Left’s desperate fight here proves it just as the Germans struggled to change the inevitable in France in late 1944. In 1944 the allies did not know it yet but the Battle of the Bulge had signified the eventual end of the Nazi Regime. Twenty years, fify years, one-hundred years can we look back and say the same of this is where unions started to fall? We will see.