What Happened In Wisconsin?

by lizard

Tom Barrett lost the election, that’s what happened, and now the blame game is in full swing.

Some blame the money gap between candidates, implying the people in Wisconsin are mentally malleable enough to be swayed by advertising campaigning. Some blame the odd reluctance of the President to use his position to rally supporters to the cause. And some are speculating that a full-blown recall was seen as too severe a move to enact on ideological grounds; that recalls should be reserved for more serious breaches of office.

But at some point it might be good to acknowledge a major factor in Walker’s electoral victory: Right-Wing populism is very…popular.

In a Counterpunch piece today, written by Steve Horn, he asks some good questions:

Many important questions arise for those who consider themselves, broadly speaking, on the left: a.) Why the grassroots attraction to right-wing populism? b.) How’d the left (both liberals and leftists alike) get steam-rolled so badly? c.) What’s next for the grassroots activist of a left-leaning orientation now that, bluntly speaking and when looked at through a sober viewpoint, the cause has been so badly bludgeoned since last year’s “Uprising”?

Yes, it is sobering to realize the plan to dismantle the already dwindling power-base for Democrats—organized labor—will continue, methodically, state by state.

The reality is too many Americans actively support this plan.

Noam Chomsky offered some great advice during a speech he gave in Madison back in April of 2010. Here is the quote Horn uses in his article:

“Ridiculing Tea Party shenanigans is a serious error, I think. It would be far more appropriate to understand what lies behind them and to ask ourselves why justly angry people are being mobilized by the extreme right and not by forces like those that did so in my childhood, in the days of formation of the CIO and other constructive activism.”

It’s something to think about—and certainly more constructive than slapping Tom Barrett in the face.


  1. Diane kamp

    I read the Horn piece this morning when I went looking for non conventional wisdom analysis. Matt Stoller also has a piece at naked capitalism.com. http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/06/wisconsin-recap-thanks-to-obama-american-left-lies-in-smoldering-wreckage.html

  2. Here’s an example. A comment at Nakedcapitalism.com:

    Rick says:
    June 6, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Wow, this ended up being a bigger movement flame out than I thought. The best way to kill a movement is to take it off the streets and into a campaign for a bourgeois Democrat politician. Weak unions combined with a dull uninspiring corporate Democrat for a candidate, and you shouldn’t expect to win.

    Outside of government employees, unions are now virtually extinct and of little, if any, relevance in the lives of working class people. They don’t strike, produce their own media or have their own political party to run candidates for office drawn from the rank and file.

    The average working class person today has little, if any, hope of seeing their standard of living improve courtesy a union organizing campaign. Given this reality it’s understandable why many an average worker might vote to reduce the pay and benefits of unionized state employees.

    The only way forward is a much more active union movement, independent union media and real independent Labor Party.

  3. evdebs

    Barrett got outspent by 7 1/2 to one, $31 million to $4 million. Walker got $20 million from out of state, while Barrett got $1 million.

    That doesn’t count the tidal wave of SuperPAC money, which would have almost entirely gone to Walker.

    If floods of negative TV ads didn’t buy elections, no one would spend dough on them.

    • Big Johansson

      Your numbers are a little bit off.

      The unions kicked in $17M, most of it from out of state.

      • lizard19

        source?

        • Big Johansson

          I fully understand you missing this.

          http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Journalism/2012/06/06/Media-Spin-Recall-As-Money-Suck

          Before you demonize the source check out their backup links.

  4. Big Johansson

    Time to tweak a classic.

  5. Democrats, like some unions, have relied too much on seniority and loyalty and not enough on passion for service and helping those in most need of public assistance. When entry level members are constantly told to stand in line, their benefits and dignity cannibalized by their own leaders, your future as an organization suffers. The future caught up with Democrats and unions. We are living it. Reform of both institutions may be possible, but the way I see it this marriage should have been over a long time ago.

  6. Matthew Koehler

    I grew up in Wisconsin, still have family there (both union and non-union households) and have spent a fair amount of time back in Wisconsin during the last year. Here’s my opinion and observations:

    1) I agree that many in Wisconsin viewed a full-blown recall as too severe a move to enact on ideological grounds. I heard this time and time again from people sort of caught in the middle of all of this. These people either voted for Walker or stayed home and didn’t vote. This might have been the single-biggest factor in the recall election.

    2) Tom Barrett wasn’t a good candidate. He wasn’t a good candidate when he lost to Walker the first go around and he wasn’t good candidate for the recall. His reputation outside of Milwaukee and Madison isn’t very solid, or appealing to the typically “small town Cheesehead.” And many of the people who viewed the recall as too severe certainly weren’t swayed by Barrett the second go around. Lots of feeling in Wisco that elections for Gov should just take place every four years and if you’re not happy with the outcome, wait another four years.

    3) Yes, the money dumped into the state was a factor, but it wasn’t the deciding factor. #1 and #2 above had a much greatly impact.

    4) I’ve noticed a lot more anti-union sentiment in Wisco, especially as the economy has been struggling. I’m not talking about the irrational, tea-party type anti-union sentiment either, although I’m sure there’s some of that. It’s more nuanced than that. I grew up in Sheboygan County, which sits along Lake Michigan between Milwaukee and Green Bay. The city of Sheboygan is about the size of Missoula, minus the UM. The rest of the county is small towns and rural villages surrounded by family farms, state forest, lakes and marshland.

    The major employers in Sheboygan County (outside of schools, local government and health care) are old-school family-owned companies, many of which you’ve likely heard of: The Kohler Company, Sargento Cheese, Johnsonville Sausage, Bemis Manufacturing Company, the Vollrath Company, etc. This part of Wisconsin has a well-earned reputation as being super friendly, super-hard working and super- thirsty (especially on weekends or during Packer games). Some of these larger family owned companies are union, others are not. It’s well known locally that some of the non-union, family-owned companies treat their employees exceptionally, even if there’s not a union at the factory. So I’m not so sure that all workers there necessarily view the union as being a requirement for good pay, working conditions, etc.

    There are also just lots of people who obviously work in small businesses, or on the family farm, where joining a union isn’t really much of an option. Suffice to say, these are hard-working people. They are not looking for a free-pass by any means. But when they see some of their neighbors working no harder, perhaps even at less skilled jobs, making $80k a year, with added benefits, with 7 weeks paid vacation, etc and these neighbors have a new truck, TV, ATV or boat, or go on lavish vacations, there is a certain amount of jealously and resentment that comes into play. With the downturn in the economy this has become even more of an issue, especially as some of the unions or union members complain about their cut-back in hours or increases to their out-of-pocket health insurance costs. And bringing in out-of-state union leaders and celebrities really doesn’t play all that well either with many Cheeseheads.What I’ve noticed is that there is very little sympathy for the union workers in that part of Wisconsin coming from the majority of workers who are equally as hard-working, equally as skilled, but paid and compensated at a significantly reduced rate. Since the Walker recall election in large part centered on this dynamic, or at least brought out many of these feelings among Wisco workers, I think this also hurt Barrett and helped Walker.

    • Sounds about right to me.

    • lizard19

      thank you for the insightful comment, Matt, much appreciated.

    • Best brats are from Sheboygan. I grew up south of Chicago and we’d catch a ride in a Piper airplane and go get brats up there. You betcha.
      The emphasis should be on why everybody ought to have 7 weeks vacation and good health care. Why shouldn’t we be like Germany and have decent wages? There are too many regulations as per the Tea Party. But there is a difference between small business rules and rules for behemoth banks and Walmart. The big guys have the fix in with the politicians to strangle the little guy and mom and pop and then absorb their business into a large multi national. No one makes that argument on the left. They don’t want to. Matt Taibbi explores the small business vs big business regulations in his great book “Griftopia”. But I had recognized it from talking to neighbors around here. My manicurist has to have all these licenses. Stupid.

      • Matthew Koehler

        Yes, Sheboygan does have the best brats. But Johnsonville doesn’t make em. The best Sheboygan brats come from my cousin Chuck Miesfelds’ Meat Market. http://www.miesfelds.com/

        • My Dad just died last year otherwise I’d ask him where we went. It was a small meat market. I’m going to check with his flying buddies and see if it’s your cousin.

          • Matthew Koehler

            Sorry for your loss. But certainly a small world, eh? If you went back in the day, this link shows a picture of the original Miesfelds’ store. The new bigger store was built somewhat recently, and is technically between Sheboygan and Howards Grove. http://www.miesfelds.com/about.htm

            • It WAS Miesfelds. My sister just confirmed it. Small world indeed.

  7. Pete Talbot

    What parallels can Montanans draw from the Wisconsin election? Well, for one thing, Democrats stayed home in droves in Montana’s 2012 primary. Roughly 140,000 Republicans turned out compared to 88,000 Democrats. In the 2008 Montana primary, about 95,000 Republicans voted versus 182,000 Democrats. Granted, there was a heated Democratic primary between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton but still, where did those 94,000 Democratic voters go between 2008 and 2012?

    And what needs to be answered, lizard, in this insightful post and excellent comments, are these questions: what can the left do to appeal to the populists and independents, and what can be done to galvanize the Democratic voters who are staying away from the polls.

    You thought Montana’s last legislative session was kooky? The Dems need to get their act together, in a hurry, or the right wing is going to completely dominate the legislature (not to mention Congress, statewide offices, PSC, county commissions …).

    • Big Johansson

      Too far gone Pete. Miles to make up.

      M. Goodwin quote, “The bad news for the president is pronounced in a Bloomberg news poll. Only 29 percent of independents approve of his performance on the economy, while 66 percent disapprove.
      On reducing deficits, a prime issue for independents, 25 percent like what he’s doing, while 67 percent don’t. Only 30 percent support his job-creation ideas and 34 percent his health-care plans.
      Here’s the killer: 46 percent of independents say they definitely won’t vote for him again, while only 21 percent say they will. By comparison, in 2008 he got 52 percent of independent voters.”

      • Pete Talbot

        I’m not ready to concede the Presidential election, Big J. Obama’s numbers aren’t the greatest but I don’t see Romney connecting with independents or populists. For example, Wisconsin exit polls had Obama up seven points over Romney (even though Walker beat Barrett by that same margin).

        • Big Johansson

          So we can team you up with Lawrence?

    • Steve W

      The lesson I think we can learn is that with a lot of hard work you can flip the Senate and you can force a one party government that’s gone out of bounds back onto more reasonable territory and the end of one party rule.

      Apparently, a majority in the WI electorate prefer Walker remain instead of be replaced by Barrett, again. Also, a majority of Americans apparently preferred Obama to McCain, which makes sense to me. But that didn’t stop the Republicans from blocking Obama on a lot of things, and that didn’t stop the the left from blocking Walker to a substantial degree.

      That’s the lesson for us. The minority has to be willing to fight some battles it might not conclusively win to change the focus of the debate.

    • JC

      Well, I’ll tell you where one of those 94,000 no-show dem primary voters went: too uninspired to show up for a primary for the first time in recent memory.

      Dems have a huge problem in Montana, in no small part due to the condescending attitude of some politicians towards their constituents, or potential constituents. And a lack of true progressive candidates. Republican-lite passing off as a democrat just doesn’t do it for much of the left. Nanny-state dems trying to shed their legislative records for a primary is just a bad recipe for turnout.

      There’s more, but I’m sure this is enough to get the die-hard dem insiders pointing their fingers at the left blaming us for things like bad turnout and failure to get some favs like Laslovich elected.

      • Pete Talbot

        I see what you’re getting at, JC, but I’d call both Strohmaier and Wilmer progressives, and their vote totals combined would have barely beat Gillam’s final numbers. And the race for the U.S. House of Representatives is a fairly important contest, IMHO, so you’d think the left would get out and vote in this one.

        Gillam’s victory shows that the “die-hard dem insiders” did OK and I’m not sure that the Laslovich/Bucy race was a progressive v. mainstream contest.

        Anyway, not trying to be contrary here, just wondering, rhetorically, how the dems can capture the passion that the far right seems to generate in its base.

        • Steve W

          I understand JC’s feeling because I had the same ones in 2010. Then I started watching the 2011 Legislature on TV and a lot of our local Dems and some others were amazingly awesome for the most part and the Republicans were for the most part appalling, clueless, mean-spirited and just basically terrible.

          if the Dems wanted to motivate people to the polls the video from the 2011 legislature shows it all. No one has to say anything, all anybody has to do is watch what happened.

          So while I am rather disappointed and apathetic about some of the national Dems, I’m quite a loud and enthusiastic supporter of the Missoula Democratic state legislative delegation for the most part, and a supporter of some of the better ones from around the State as well. TV shaped my view on this. Just watching them work was an education.

          If the Dems were smart they would be youtubing the legislature with the video from last session, but I think that’s beyond the state Democratic Party vision limits.

        • The “passion” of the Republicans is more like fervor and at times downright nuttiness. Here in our county the county commissioners race found the nutty guy who thinks the UN’s Agenda 21 is out to “turn the whole US into a public park” win the race from a conservative no nonsense woman with 19 yrs experience.

          A big problem in national electoral politics is that the conservative Rockefeller Republicans left the Republican Party and took over the party of FDR in the 1980s. Together with the Southern Blue Dogs they took over the party and left the 99% behind. So it is not possible for them to inspire passion or zeal unless you fool the electorate like Clinton and Obama did. They lied to their base. So did our blue dogs here. But the base of working people (which is all of us) can’t be fooled much anymore. As Mark said recently, “There is no dignity in voting Democratic”. No dignity indeed.

          The 99% must put our energy into movements like Occupy and not into electoral politics. We should concentrate on local issues and solutions. The donkey is a rotten thing and the elephant has gone bat shit crazy.

          • “Rockefeller Republicans left the Republican Party and took over the party of FDR in the 1980s. ”

            Say what you want about Rockefeller Republicans, they at least understand economic policy, even if they favor the rich. The alternative is the Republican party, which minus the Rockefeller Republicans is now composed almost completely of irrational ideologues.

  8. Lizard, this was a very good post – I still think you have the potential to be a conservative one day –

    Just a couple of comments –

    First, Pete Talbot, I don’t think the low Dem primary turnout is quite as bad as you think, because face it, the Dem primary ticket was a real snoozer.

    Second, Matthew Koehler, you made some very good points. Bu you missed a key factor here – Wisconsin was going broke, fast, which is something that voters are made aware of everyday, because of the national politics.

    And Scott Walker came on the scene, and his agenda is working, turning around the state budget, without mass firings. I believe that even union households were voting for him, because he is fiscally doing a good job.

    What does the future hold for Wisconsin ?

    The State is certainly in play in November, because The Great Leader made a calculated gamble not to come campaign for Barrett, and Barrett lost. Even though I think his support would have only encouraged the GOP, and he was trying to avoid having his fingerprints on another high-profile Dem loss.

  9. JC

    You’re looking at it from the wrong angle, Pete. Republicans are allowing their far right wing to drive the party to the right. This excites their base and energizes them. Dems on the other hand are working to distance themselves from their far left wing. This creates a vacuum between them as they move to the right. And it takes away whatever wind is left in the sails of those who were duped into believing that Obama was a progressive

    If dems want to capture some passion, they are going to have to embrace the far left. I know that’s bitter medicine for some, but the far left is washing its hands of electoral politics and its ability to solve the big issues of the day.

    Of course, the entrenched dems will point out their perceived folly of those on the far left and blame them for the failure of dems to accomplish much meaningful policy or reform during Obama’s first 2 years.

    And we’ll hear song and dance about a few steps forward, all the while knowing that we are slipping into a dangerous fascistic place with a growing security state, increased corporate control of politics, decreased civil liberties, and perpetual war.

    Neolib dem triangulation is as much about distancing oneself from the left as it is setting it up a scapegoat for eventual, and inevitable failure. Which is what the hyperbole about the lesser of two evils politickin’ is all about.

    If dems want to reinvigorate themselves as an alternative to mainstream republican politics, then they are going to have to quit acting like republicans. A good place to start would be the Green New Deal. But the likelihood of that is nil. But if dems wanted to act like the dems that the far left could ally with, then this would be a good place to start. And it is where dems used to be not too long ago.




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