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Wisconsin: Conservatives Win, Liberals Gain

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Posted on Aug 10, 2011

By E.J. Dionne, Jr.

There will be no magic potion, no instant formula for Democrats and progressives struggling to come back from their disastrous 2010 election losses.

They had hoped that Tuesday’s recall elections in Wisconsin would provide a narrative-changing breakthrough, proof-positive that the overreaching conservatives who now dominate the Republican Party had ignited a middle-of-the-road voter rebellion and inspired a legion of labor and liberal activists who would offer a definitive riposte to the tea party.

What happened instead was not without promise for Democrats, but it was also a sign of the resiliency of conservative activism—and the power of conservative money.

By holding on to four of its six contested state Senate seats, Gov. Scott Walker’s party maintained its majority and a right to claim victory. But that majority is a now precarious one-seat advantage. While Republicans hope they might pick up another seat next week by winning at least one of two recalls directed against Democratic incumbents, Walker seemed to signal he understood that his was not an unalloyed triumph.

The often pugnacious governor was remarkably mild in a statement he issued after the results were in. “I believe we can work together to grow jobs and improve our state,” he said. “In the days ahead I look forward to working with legislators of all parties to grow jobs for Wisconsin and move our state forward.” One Democrat called it the “most conciliatory statement he has ever made.” In the meantime, Democrats were touting the potential of their working with Republican state Sen. Dale Schultz, a moderate who has frequently resisted Walker’s archconservatism.

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Still, this was small comfort compared to what might have been. If only about 1,100 votes had switched in the closest contest, Democrats would have won the extra Senate seat they needed and would now be celebrating their use of Walker’s frontal attack on the collective bargaining rights of public employees to produce a political realignment.

Republicans had shrewdly found ways of delaying the balloting. This allowed some of the white-hot anger of the winter’s labor battles to dissipate—even if the unions put everything they had into intense organizing.

You could tell even before the polls closed that Democrats feared they would fall short. “I just wish these elections had been held a week ago,” said a Wisconsin-based Democratic consultant as reports of high turnout made their way around the state. He argued that the anti-Walker message was muddled by a week of economic turmoil spawned by the debt-ceiling fight and a plummeting stock market. The dominant news was national and international, about President Obama and Congress, not about Wisconsin, Walker and his state Senate allies.

These contests will be studied as a laboratory test of wide-open campaign finance laws that allowed outside groups to pour millions of dollars into the state. Conservatives succeeded in using their large financial advantage to blunt the impact of labor and progressive organizing. All the spending had the effect of transforming the recalls from a progressive crusade into a typical and dispiriting electoral trench war and its weapons of choice, negative media ads and nasty mailings.

In truth, the euphoria created by the initial anti-Walker upsurge disguised the fact that the recalls were always destined to be difficult. “This was an extraordinarily hard set of races to win,” said Mark Mellman, a pollster who worked with the Wisconsin Democrats. “All these were incumbents who won in 2008 when Barack Obama was sweeping the state. Yet the Republicans lost one-third of their incumbents,” referring to the two senators recalled. “I’d be delighted if the Republicans lost one-third of their incumbents in 2012.”

Mellman, of course, was putting the best spin on the results for the Democrats. But it’s true that these were fights waged in Republican territory. As Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel pointed out in a helpful analysis, while all six districts were swing areas that had voted for both Walker and Obama, five of the six were more Republican than the state as a whole in 2008 and again in 2010. (And Democrats carried the other district handily.)

Republicans can say, and it’s true, that a very conservative governor carried out a very conservative agenda and escaped defeat. But he did not escape rebuke, and progressives can legitimately claim that having watched conservatives take fight after fight to their adversaries, a labor-liberal coalition reversed these roles in Wisconsin. Conservatives withstood this assault. Progressives made modest but measurable advances.


E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)washpost.com.
   
© 2011, Washington Post Writers Group


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By ardee, August 13, 2011 at 5:57 pm Link to this comment

Lafayette, August 13 at 3:38 am

A terrific expansion upon a subject with which I was capable of only surface mention. Thanks for it.

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By Leefeller, August 13, 2011 at 8:34 am Link to this comment

I find all the comments here very interesting and worthy of reflection.  My direct long ago past experiences with Unions find the below poster comments reflective of the problems within Unions and the way they do business.

My respect for differing opinions finds the need for more reflection. Some opinions toward Unions bother me, I find them repetitively common.

One opinion most touted is ‘public employees should not be allowed to unionize’, I disagree with this opinion, from my personal experiences.

Some other arguments against public employees unionizing seems to be in their heavy lobbying for representation, which appears to me, as a conflict of interests for the public good, just like all lobbyists seem to me, now we have the additional tainting of common good by Super Pacs! One other argument brought to my attention is the idea, public unions, with all unions happen to be polarizing?(I find all things can be polarizing, but politics seems a shoe in).

Now I find these arguments have some merit, as I also find NABNYC hit on many more valid points as did RD’s comment on the service jobs.  All of these ideas need to be validated, verified and if deemed correct, used to connect the dots.

As a past public union member and a employee representative, I am recalling my past Union experiences through the fuzzy fog of time, jostled to reflections by many posts.

Why back when, I found my Union at the time a political opportunist with what I now see as a corporate mentality. It turned out Representation to the workers became a liability and was handled by Upper Union Management,  like medical insurance compines handle sick people. Our local was deemed just to militant and apparently cost the Union way to much money, so management called in their cigar smoking goons took control of. the local. It appeared my local was quite the trouble makers! After the take over of the local, I found Union support lacking and much like our political system. (possibly my Union Local was very like Wisconsin Democrats to the National Democratic party?) So none or little support followed and was forthcoming. 

I do not know what else to say right now, but this thread prompts my memory and poses many questions in my mind and worthy for further reflections, discussion or both?

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By Anarcissie, August 13, 2011 at 7:24 am Link to this comment

Is a ‘service economy’ like the town where everyone makes a living selling everyone else insurance?

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By Lafayette, August 13, 2011 at 3:38 am Link to this comment

SOCIAL INVESTMENTS IN HUMAN CAPITAL

RD: The USA is now a service economy, and has been for some time now. The question is really when will we all understand this, when will the necessary retraining of our work force take place so that American workers can take their place in the new economy?

Spot on commentary.

We shall be hearing in the coming year a great many nostrums from our Political Class aimed at convincing us that they “know better than Obama”. Romney will flout, for example, the fact that during his tenure of Governor of Massachusetts that “he brought unemployment down”. With both hands, Milt?

As I never tire of saying, creating jobs is a matter of Demand for goods and services, which depends upon Consumer propensity to spend. Meaning, you and me. Not Obama, not Milt, not Michele, not any of them.

A NON-FICTIONAL SCENARIO

Besides, the Crazies have shown its intransigence by stonewalling any Stimulus Spending for fear of some supposed “Debt Cataclysm”. Piffle.

If Stimulus Spending would happen tomorrow, it would have a highly beneficiary effect upon the economy, known to economists as the Multiplier Effect.

A Scenario: Let’s presume you are out of work. You find a job made possible by Stimulus Spending on, say, infrastructure - like filling potholes in the road. For every dollar of your pay, part will go back to Uncle Sam and the state in income tax. For every dollar that you spend, part of it will go expand Demand, which will convince business to increase production and thus hire people. And for every new hire who spends, the cycle starts over and over again.

Economists figure the multiplier effect is ultimately somewhere between 1.2 and 1.4 times every dollar of Stimulus Spending. And it is all benefit to the economy.

We have indeed become a Services Economy - more than 70% of our GDP comes from that sector. Of course there will be manufacturing in many industries - look how GM recuperated itself from the abyss of bankruptcy.

Regardless of the sector, it will be our national workforce’s skill-sets that will be key. We are graduating numskulls fit for flipping hamburgers.  That is neither a durable job nor at a decent pay. But if young adolescents are not apt for a higher level of employment, then they have little choice.

We are way beyond “Be all ya wannabe”. Now it’s “Do what must be done”.

MY POINT

The government can favor job expansion in many ways, but Social Investments in Human Capital will assure two fundamental qualities; that the jobs are durable in time and decent in pay.

Succinctly, here’s how:
•  It starts at the bottom where the need is greatest, by assuring that the child has a decent family environment (one in which it is prompted to learn). Learning how to learn is taught at a very young age.
•  It continues through a decent secondary school education, where the child is educated by competent teachers. But, more importantly, where those children with Learning Disabilities are attended to and not just left to wither on the vine.
•  It continues finally up to a Tertiary Education that should cost as little as possible to assure that the most children try to obtain postsecondary educational credentials. This is the real cherry on top that will assure them the likelihood of Durable Employment & Decent Wages.

All the above steps must be a fluid as possible, meaning the cost must be largely subsidized from state/Federal funds. Yes, boys ‘n girls, call it “socialism” - but it bears fruit.

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By Anarcissie, August 12, 2011 at 8:27 pm Link to this comment

NABNYC—While I agree with you about the ‘job of the unions’ I think there is a deeper problem, and that is that the job of unions, and their very existence, accepts and depends upon the class system of traditional capitalism.  I think the malfunctioning or even malevolence of that system shows itself in the decline of unions, in the laws multiplied against them, in the increasing disparity between the working class and the rich, and in the wars and imperialism the ruling class feels called upon to indulge in.  We need to move on to a better political economy, one in which ownership and control of the means of production is more widely, indeed, universally distributed—at least.

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By ardee, August 12, 2011 at 4:35 pm Link to this comment

Lafayette, August 12 at 12:52 pm

I can agree with this view of economic inevitability, frankly. I think that the union movement will, eventually, take root in those nations now so attractive to corporate lack of conscience and overwhelming greed. You cannot combat 10 cents an hour and no labor laws!

The USA is now a service economy, and has been for some time now. The question is really when will we all understand this, when will the necessary retraining of our work force take place so that American workers can take their place in the new economy? Or , when will pigs fly?

“American economy has undergone a fundamental shift since the conclusion of World War II, at which time service industries accounted for 10% of nonfarm employment, compared with 38% for manufacturing. Since the 1970s the American economy has moved away from producing goods to providing services, and the service-producing sector has accounted for an increasing proportion of workers. In 1970, for example, there were 48.8 million service-providing workers, and 22.2 million people in the goods-producing sector, representing a service-to-goods ratio of 2.2 to one. (See Table 2.2.) By 2000, the number of workers in the service-providing sector was 107.1 million, compared with 24.6 million in the goods-producing sector, representing a service-to-goods ratio of 4.4 to one. In 2005, according to preliminary statistics compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and published in Establishment Data Historical Employment (2005), workers who provided services (111.5 million) outnumbered workers who produced goods (22.1 million) by a ratio of five to one.”

http://jobs.stateuniversity.com/pages/16/American-Workplace-SHIFT-SERVICE-ECONOMY.html

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By Lafayette, August 12, 2011 at 12:52 pm Link to this comment

ITW: The job of unions is not to demand coffee breaks for workers in third world countries who are now doing American jobs—it is to get those jobs back here.

Pipe dreams. There is no way those jobs are coming back, unless American unions can convince their members to accept 80 cents on the dollar wage cuts.

It’ll be cold day in hell before that happens.

Face up to reality, boys ‘n girls.

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By Inherit The Wind, August 12, 2011 at 9:27 am Link to this comment

The job of unions is not to support democrats, but to force the democrats to support the working people of this country.

The job of unions is not to demand coffee breaks for workers in third world countries who are now doing American jobs—it is to get those jobs back here.

The job of unions is not to make friends with Wall Street, but to tear it down, dismantle the system, and throw its leaders into prison.

The job of unions is not to get bigger pensions for their insiders, but to get jobs for the unemployed.

The job of unions is to get their members out in the street, to shut the whole country down if needed, to protect the jobs of American working people. It requires a commitment to action, which must be as radical as the economic conditions we face.

The job of unions is not to have their inner circle spend two years out of every four in the national binge-drinking excuse they call “elections.”

The job of unions is to organize working people to fight for their own rights, not to organize phone banks to get some millionaire elected.

The job of unions is not to learn how to work with the fascists on the right-wing. The job of unions is to destroy the fascists on the right-wing and take away their power and their money.

The job of unions is not to debate the merits of the wars, but to demand an end to them.  It is only the children of the working people who fight the wars, while the children of Wall Street learn to be just like their parents—thieves, liars, murderers.

***************

Brilliant, NABNYC! I don’t often agree with you on many things but this is spot on.

When unions are strong, America is strong and prosperous.  When unions are weak, America is in turmoil and economic disaster.

Why? This seems counter-intuitive, but it’s not. Unions were, like newspapers were, the watchdogs, guardians and protectors against the excesses of the rich and powerful, who had NO qualms about shooting them down.

Unions made TRUE government regulation possible, made child labor a crime, made unsafe working conditions a crime, and, as even the anti-unionist racist Henry Ford saw it: The best advertisement for Ford was a parking lot at his plant filled with workers’ cars….all Fords.  Because they could a-Ford it.

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By NABNYC, August 11, 2011 at 7:29 pm Link to this comment

If they had enough workers in that state who are unionized, organized, radicalized, committed to direct action for their own benefits, the Republicans would have lost.  But the unions no longer organize or even fight directly for workers, disavow not only radical activity but anything more strenuous than phone banks, and are generally useless appendages of the democratic party who serve to waste money and resources fighting over jobs for millionaires while ignoring the American working people. 

The job of unions is not to support democrats, but to force the democrats to support the working people of this country.

The job of unions is not to demand coffee breaks for workers in third world countries who are now doing American jobs—it is to get those jobs back here.

The job of unions is not to make friends with Wall Street, but to tear it down, dismantle the system, and throw its leaders into prison.

The job of unions is not to get bigger pensions for their insiders, but to get jobs for the unemployed.

The job of unions is to get their members out in the street, to shut the whole country down if needed, to protect the jobs of American working people. It requires a commitment to action, which must be as radical as the economic conditions we face.

The job of unions is not to have their inner circle spend two years out of every four in the national binge-drinking excuse they call “elections.”

The job of unions is to organize working people to fight for their own rights, not to organize phone banks to get some millionaire elected.

The job of unions is not to learn how to work with the fascists on the right-wing. The job of unions is to destroy the fascists on the right-wing and take away their power and their money.

The job of unions is not to debate the merits of the wars, but to demand an end to them.  It is only the children of the working people who fight the wars, while the children of Wall Street learn to be just like their parents—thieves, liars, murderers.

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By REDHORSE, August 11, 2011 at 10:59 am Link to this comment

Cash and propagandist distortion win again but the corporatist fascist toads at least know they’re in a fight. The feeling of unity coming out of Wisconsin is thrilling. Remember, keep fighting and even though you lose all the battles you can still win the war.

    Our propagandist press is set to exploit the terror factor of the “super politbureau” to the max. Manufacturing depression, fear, powerlessness and open assault on the American psyche is how the MSM earns its’ money. Stay clear—and if you can get your nuts up join the fight.

    This is one of Mr. Dionnes better recent articles. More fact than opinion and spin. Some good thoughts here today—thanks.

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By Anarcissie, August 11, 2011 at 10:03 am Link to this comment

I don’t see blind partisanship in the Wisconsin elections.  The Republican administration moved against the unions, partly I am sure for money reasons, but partly also out of class-war ideology.  The unions fought back vigorously, also for both material and abstract reasons.  It seems like a fairly conscious, informed political struggle between two incompatible views of how the social order of Wisconsin should be organized. 

Of course, I haven’t been exposed to the local advertising, which if it anything like what I observe around here, generally descends to the depths to hunt for bottom feeders.

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By EmileZ, August 11, 2011 at 9:53 am Link to this comment

Election fraud!!!

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By SarcastiCanuck, August 11, 2011 at 9:48 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The people have spoken with thier votes.All of a sudden the possibility of a President Palin seems not so crazy….What a wierd and wonderful place this America is….

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By Lafayette, August 11, 2011 at 9:42 am Link to this comment

Governor Moonbeam: “In the days ahead I look forward to working with legislators of all parties to grow jobs for Wisconsin and move our state forward.”

Unless he’s got a stashed treasure trove of a couple of billion dollars somewhere, there’s not a chance in hell that he can do anything about job’s in Wisconsin.

The economy is a national mechanism, the incoming tide raises all boats. And with your party proposing austerity cuts, numskull, sure as hell has no snow there will be no jobs “growing” in Wisconsin.

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By Lafayette, August 11, 2011 at 9:36 am Link to this comment

Admittedly, it is difficult to understand what when through the minds of Wisconsin voters when they did not punish the Replicants for their Debt Ceiling buffoonery.

One can say all politics is local and this was a local matter. But even Congressional elections are local. The only one that isn’t is that of the presidency.

It seems that Progressive Notions have a long way to go in America. Not that it matters much to me ... I observe from afar.

But it is a great shame that a great people should be so blind to what is going on - they are getting shafted by a minority of their fellow citizens because someone taught them that “high taxes are the devil’s workshop”.

And they believed that rubbish ... ?

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By Leefeller, August 11, 2011 at 8:44 am Link to this comment

It is hard for me to comprehend partisanship and especially the blind kind we keep seeing. The polarization and divisiveness seems to feed on itself. In all appearances, this may be why the constant Kubuki play which intrenches the survival of the two party system. 

It seems much more than Yin and Yang, there seems to be the feeding existence of futility.

There may be many human factors which contribute to feeding these divisive tendencies.

So we have the Unions on one side, what do we have on the other side? Corporations, The brothers Koch, ALEC, Grove, Norquest and others. 

Guess the idea is to make people feel like they are supporting their home team, except in politics there really does not seem to be a home team.  Especially now with the Corporations being people too and the hidden money coming from Pacs.

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By George, August 11, 2011 at 8:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This Progressive is coming out swinging for 2012. I’m working for and voting for Obama and a fourth term for George W. Bush. Without re-election to worry about Obama can finish gutting Social Security and Medicare and start his war on Iran for Israel. He can tell the Palestinians to take what Israel offers and stop whining. He can open up every square foot of America for oil drilling and mining. Save money by dismantling the EPA. He can, in the name of job creation, expand domestic spying and indefinite imprisonment. There is so much of the Bush agenda left to be done and Obama will do it all in his fourth term for Bush.

And my Democrat Senator who is as pro-corporate, pro-war and pro-Israel as any Republican would ever dare to be will, of course, get my vote because she isn’t a Republican. My Democrat congressman, who the local media calls “congressman for life,” his seat is that secure, and has accomplished zero in decades but always manages to appear in group photos on the TeeVee will, as usual, get my vote. I’m no conservative!

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By tropicgirl, August 11, 2011 at 5:51 am Link to this comment

No one wants the progressives to win anything if they continue to conspire with the neocons in taking our freedoms, taking us to meaningless war, busting our unions, destroying healthcare and ruining our financial future.

Watch what the new congressional “Gang” is about to do, with the seal of approval by the progressives, and O-Ridiculous, of course.

Pay attention!!!!!

If it was about right/left, then we would be in kindergarten and all would be easy to figure out and everything well with the world. Its not.

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By Inherit The Wind, August 11, 2011 at 5:19 am Link to this comment

Even against the most blatantly fascistic, crooked and state-suicidal maniacs, Democrats cannot win a clear-cut victory.  I expect they’ll lose at least one of the Dem Senate seats up for recall in the next round as well.

It’s long been said you don’t change horses in mid-stream but when the horse you are riding is about to swim over the falls, it’s just damn stupid to keep riding him!

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By Margaret Currey, August 11, 2011 at 2:37 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Republicans won and they had the advantage of more money and also the Coke brothers money surely helped, so even with a lot of money the democrats prevailed in two races and I still think that the election official who held out at the last minute might still be fixing votes on her private (not to be seen by others) computer, and why this partasin person is still has I job I wonder where fairness comes in to the election process.

Also why would seniors need new identification to vote and if their address remained the same for many years why would they need a new identification card to vote.

I look at identification cards as revenue for the state but one must remember a lot of seniors are on a limited income.

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By ardee, August 11, 2011 at 2:25 am Link to this comment

I wonder how much of the narrow victory was attributable to huge expenditures by the radical right and how much that slim margin would have been enlarged if there was not a growing national apathy towards Obama’s poor decision making, godawful appointments and constant surrender?

While all politics is local I cannot help but believe the influence of the direction of our nation played some part in the democrats failure to win more of those recalls. We shall see when the next recall , against democratic incumbents, is over.

The voter really has no clear choice between the Republican Party of NO and the Democratic Party of NO CLUE.

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By masaj salonu istanbul, August 10, 2011 at 11:45 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you very good wink

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