Today, in Madison WI, a little-known prosecutor named JoAnne Kloppenburg holds a .02% lead over incumbent David Prosser for the position of Supreme Court Judge. 99% of precincts have reported and Kloppenburg's lead is currently a scant 311 votes. What's remarkable about this election is a few things. For one, Prosser is an incumbent judge, and typically supreme court judge positions tend not to change hands very often, barring the presence of major impopriety on the part of the incumbent. Even in states like WI, where judges are elected, it's a position very similar to Sheriff in that people tend to vote for the name they recognize, i.e. the incumbent, most often regardless of party affiliation because these are positions where the illusion that politics doesn't affect their job is fairly well maintained. So, for an election such as this to be as close as it is, and for the challenger to be leading, is rather uncommon. What is also remarkable about this election is that Kloppenburg is a relative unknown. She's an accomplished prosecutor, but certainly no one who lit up the political radar in any substantial way. In any other election, in any other year, she most likely would have lost by a 2:1 margin, if not more. This, however, is not any other election or any other year...
The WI Supreme Court Judge race is a symbol of a growing change in the political climate. It's a race that's being called a "referendum" on the policies of controversial Governor Scott Walker. Walker has been all over the headlines for his strong anti-union policies and the attempts by him and the Republican state congress to eliminate collective bargaining rights for WI state public employees, including teachers and firemen. The fight for worker's rights in WI has played out across the national stage, with the ongoing battle between state workers, Democrats in WI and unions vs. Walker, WI Republicans and the Tea Party gaining national media attention and with other states attempting to seize the momentum and begin trying to pass their own anti-worker legislation. However, in the wake of today's election, some of these other states and their Republican/Tea Party leadership might want to rethink that strategy.
Today's election in WI is significant, not just because of the fact that a little-known challenger is in a position to overtake a well-funded and strongly backed incumbent, but because of why this could happen. 2 years ago, during the midterm elections, Republicans won the house and a number of Governorships and state legislative seats due to an apparent dissatisfaction with the still-unproven policies of the Obama administration and the performance of congressional Democrats and the subsequent negative fallout effect on state elections. Republicans, just 2 years removed from the biggest financial collapse since the Great Depression, due primarily to the their party's own fiscal policies, had successfully managed to convince a majority of voters across the nation that they were still a better choice than the Democrats. It was equal parts major success on the part of the corporate-funded Tea Party puppets, conservative media and the largely dispondent middle class who were courted with populist slogans and scare tactics, as well as massive failure on the part of Democrats, who had an entire recession, two wars and nearly 1.5 trillion reasons why the Republican agenda was a bad idea for the middle class and yet still managed to find a way to lose. In the elections where Republican challengers beat their Democratic opponents, the margins were significant. This was viewed as a mandate by the people for Republicans to get in there and fix the mess that... well... they caused.
So, fast forward two years later to today, and now Democratic challengers are edging ahead of Republican incumbents. Of course, this is one election and a particularly hotly-contested one at that, with an above-average voter turnout, a situation which almost always favors the Democrat, but even so, given the apparent overwhelming rejection of the Obama/Democratic agenda just 2 years into it's existence by much of the nation's voters, how is it that not only would a race as typically unremarkable as a Supreme Court judge's seat in a state like WI be so close and likely result in the Democratic challenger winning?
This election is being called a "referendum" on Gov. Walker's anti-worker policies by the people of WI. Amidst the massive recall effort by WI voters to remove Gov. Walker from office, this election has served as a lithmus test of that effort. The recall movement is over 3/4ths of the way to the required number of signatures to start a recall election and the outcome of today's election adds fuel to the fire that's burning across the state. Simply put, the people of WI are angry. They are pissed at the bait and switch that Walker and WI Republicans pulled on them after the elections, and it's a bait and switch that seems to be playing out across the nation, with growingly similar results. Like the rest of the voters in the country who voted Republican in the midterm elections, the people of WI were promised a lot of things by the GOP and their Tea Party minions. Specifically, and most importantly, they were promised jobs, economic growth, recovery and prosperity. They were assured that job creation and improving the quality of life for the middle class, who had been rocked so hard by the recession, would be the Republican's "top priority." Two years later and nothing has been done in the areas that were most important to voters. Job growth is stagnant in much of the country. Yes, there was some job growth this year, but it's being largely attributed to policies of the Obama administration, not House Republicans and not Republican governors and state legislators. Instead, state and federal Republican leaders have been pushing an agenda that's extremely right-wing, conservative and almost entirely social, not fiscal. Instead of upholding the will of the people and pushing for job creation and economic policies that help the middle class, Republicans have passed or pushed to pass a record number of anti-abortion bills. Instead of trying to get us out of the recession and reduce unemployment, Republicans are proposing massive cuts to the public sector - a move that will cost hundreds of thousands of middle class jobs, and reduce the wages for hundreds of thousands more. Basically, the Republicans are either pushing for legislation that will further hurt middle class workers, or they are pushing their draconic, neo-conservative social ideology that has nothing at all to do with why they were elected, both of which will ultimately result in more jobs lost and a further decreased standard of living for the majority of hard-working Americans.
Well, apparently the people are finally starting to realize this and it's beginning to piss them off. I suppose 2 years late is better than never? What's happening in WI is what's likely to happen across the country in upcoming elections. The people are starting to realize that the Republican plan to help the middle class consists of taking away our rights to organize and collectively bargain for things like fair wages, basic benefits, safe working conditions and essential worker rights. It consists of further reducing middle class incomes and shifting more of the tax burden on us by continuing to give billions in taxpayer dollars to wildly profitable oil companies and corporations, while cutting social programs, unemployment benefits and relief for low-income families to pay for it. And now, with the latest Republican budget proposal, it also includes gutting Medicare and privatizing health care for the elderly in this country. This might be the point where the Republicans have simply gone too far in their insane "trickle up" fiscal agenda. It's one thing when they want to take away money from single parents, the poor, minorities and disabled people and other groups who typically don't vote Republican, but it's another thing entirely when you declare war on the elderly, who make up a huge part of the Republican voter base. It's also ironic, and it evokes a term that was used quite successfully to defeat John Kerry's effort to win the presidency from G.W. back in 2004 - "flip-flopping."
See, way back in 2010, the Republicans were fighting tooth and nail to defeat "Obamacare," and the socialist scare tactics they used to oppose it had a lot to do with them winning so many seats. One of their most effective scare tactics was promoting the argument that Obamacare would result in massive cuts to Medicare benefits for seniors. Remember Sarah Palin and her "Death Panels?" Yes, we were all told that if Obama's socialist, national healthcare policy went into effect, that it could mean the end of Medicare as we know it, and that got elderly voters shitting in their Depends. However, just 2 years later, and the Republican budget agenda now calls for the complete dismantling of Medicare over the next few years, and shifting all elderly Medicare patients to private healthcare. If that's not a MASSIVE flip-flop, then I don't know what is.
Now, if you're not over 65, you're probably wondering what the big deal is about eliminating Medicare and forcing elderly Americans to shop for health insurance on the open market. Well, the problem is that being 65 brings a lot of "pre-existing" medical conditions along with it. In fact, just being 65 is a pre-existing condition. It means you are far more likely to file claims for medicine and treatments than someone in their 20's, 30's or even 40's. It means that you are far less likely to pay more into the funds of these private insurers than you take out in benefits claims. See, private insurance companies are for-profit businesses. This means that the bottom line for them is making money. It's not about getting you the best quality care they can or making sure you're aware of all your healthcare options, no matter how costly they might be. It's all about insuring that they get as much money from you as possible while paying out as little back to you as they can. So, if you're a 65+ year old and you're trying to get health insurance from a private provider who isn't required by the government to accept you and isn't given any government subsidies to offset the financial burden of covering you... well, there's simply no incentive for them to do it. The Republican proposal would provide 65+ year old Americans with a "voucher" to help pay for healthcare costs to offset the fact that all their healthcare costs will be out of pocket now instead of provided for free by Uncle Sam. That's all well and good, except most private health insurance companies won't insure someone 65 or older, no matter who's name is on the premium check, because as I stated above, statistics show that they will lose far more money by insuring people over 65 than they could ever make off of premiums. Think about it, the average lifespan in America today is 72. If you're applying for insurance at 65, you have about 7 years left to live, give or take. Those 7 or so years are likely going to consist of constant doctor's visits, incredibly expensive medications and treatments and eventually your death before you ever pay enough into the system to make up for what you took out in benefits. On paper, there is nothing about insuring 65+ year olds that's remotely appealing to a private, for-profit insurance company. Voucher check or no voucher check, unless the government is going to foot the bill for all your treatments and medications and doctor's appointments on top of that, you're still a financial loss on the books, and thus you will still be denied coverage. And, if the government is going to have to subsidize all of the care costs associated with providing insurance for the elderly, then they may as well keep Medicare in place, because it already does that and doesn't require an elderly person to have to wade through the quagmire of paperwork and coverage-shopping required to get a private healthcare package that actually provides the benefits and protections they need.
The Republican position on this is that a "self-reliant" American won't have to worry about Medicare, because they will have money in the bank, a 401k, IRA's and other post-retirement assets that can easily cover the costs of elderly medical care. Because that's why you worked your ass off your entire life, right? So that you could put away enough money to spend your golden years paying all your healthcare costs? Fuck getting that RV and driving around the country, forget about the vacations, screw selling the house and moving to a nice condo on the beach, you want to use all of your retirement money to pay for doctor's appointments and medicine! Right?
Only problem with that, besides the fact that it's insanely fucked-up to expect the majority of working class Americans to spend every penny of their retirement savings on healthcare costs just so you can divert that tax money from Medicare to the bank accounts of the richest 1% of the population, is that at the same time Republicans want to kill Medicare and force 90% of the over-65 population in the country to drain their life savings to pay for basic healthcare, they also want to kill the rights of working Americans to collectively bargain for things like better retirement and healthcare benefits! So, Republicans want you to have to pay for all of your own healthcare costs after you reach the age where no health insurance company will cover you, but at the same time they also want to make sure you have as little money in the bank to actually cover those costs as possible. GREAT LOGIC! The savings rate in America right now is -5%, that means that not only does the average American household save NO money out of their income, they are actually 5% in debt at the end of each month. For the majority of all working-class Americans, their retirement plans are the only form of long-term savings they have, and if you happen to hit retirement age right around the time that the stock market takes another inevitable 2008-style crash, I guess you're eating cat food and living in a closet.
Never mind the impact that Republican policies will have on the lower-middle class, working poor and disadvantaged Americans. If you are low-income, working poor or disabled and dependent upon government assistance for basic necessities like food, shelter and essential medical care, too fucking bad for you. The Republicans want to cut funding for food stamps, housing assistance and low-income medical care programs as well. Mind you, just the amount of money that the government gave to the wealthiest 5 companies in America last year in tax breaks could completely fund all of these programs and then some, but who cares about that, those companies all have big lobbying groups to represent them and poor people have... well...
As bad as Republicans want to make things for working-class Americans who actually have some kind of a retirment or pension plan once they hit 65, how much worse do you think their policies will be for the millions of Americans who depend on Social Security to survive? Well, first of all, Social Security is going to inevitably collapse, it's just going to happen. Our politicians have absolutely no idea how to save it and it's just going to keep slowly dying on the vine until it's completely gone and then millions of elderly and disabled Americans will be put out on the streets to die dirty and wretched in the shadows like some 3rd world nightmare. But, even if Social Security manages to hang on for another decade or so, how is someone on the extremely meager fixed income that Social Security provides going to be expected to pay for basic healthcare in a world without Medicare? The answer is, they won't. Here you go Republicans, here's the "Death Panels" Sarah Palin warned you about, and they have nothing to do with "Obamacare" and everything to do with your own party's policies. You want to talk about class warfare? Is there anything more hostile than saying you only deserve to live a full life in this country if you can afford it? Remember that stupid little Declaration of Independence thing? Remember the silly guarantees it made for all Americans? Something about "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness?" Well, apparently we all missed the fine print at the bottom that said "Rights only guaranteed to those who can afford to provide these things for themselves." Who knew that the founding father's vision of America, back when they came here to escape a religious, plutocratic monarchy, was for our nation to be a religious, plutocratic oligarchy?
So, gradually the American people are starting to realize that the Republicans are totally full of shit. They got elected on the promise of jobs and as soon as they took office immediately abandoned all that bullshit "help out Joe the Plumber" crap and started on their real agenda - make sure Obama doesn't win in 2012, make sure the extremist, facist conservative agenda gets rammed down the nation's throat and make sure we keep cutting taxes for the rich and giving huge handouts to the wealthiest people and companies in America so the Republicans and all of their rich friends can retire to their gated, guarded, exclusive communities, far above the stench and strife of the proletariat, and sit around counting their money and fiddling while Rome burns. Apparetly, not all Americans are blind and stupid and content to suck vapidly at the kool-aid dispensing Fox News/Tea Party tit of right-wing propaganda. Americans are starting to realize that they once again bought into yet another Republican cash grab scam. And while yes, there are still enough Americans gullible enough to believe that warm, golden, asparagus-smelling liquid pouring all over you from the top of the economic food chain is actually rain and not anything sinister, so that the pro-worker, pro-middle class liberal resurgence is only narrowly besting the fuck the worker, hail to the rich, conservative bullwark, it's still beating them. And as narrow of a margin as the working-class backlash might be enjoying against the upper-class war machine, you must also recognize the significant public opinion defecit in the wake of the midterms only 2 years ago that was overcome first to even get to this point.
In the inevitable political, social and class war that must occur before the working class in America can regain their rightful place as the best, brightest, most successful, strongest, proudest, best cared-for and most envied employee base in the world, Madison WI is the Lexington and Concord. The first shots of revolt were fired there today, and they were shots that must be heard 'round the world. How much longer can the backs of the middle class sustain the fattened asses of the wealthy elite? How much more will the working class sacrifice for the benefit of the priviledged few before they reach the breaking point? It's not a question of "if" revolution will happen, it's a question of "when" and "how." How much longer will we see images of violent uprisings in other countries before we see the same images in our own streets? My hope is that the majority of working class Americans will finally wake up and realize that it's not socialism to want what you deserve to have, it's not wrong to expect fair pay for fair work, it's not lazy and entitled "nanny state" behavior to expect that after giving your best years to a company, that you be allowed to enjoy your golden years without the burden of medically-induced poverty. It's not selfish and un-American to not want to be stuck eating cat food and living in the streets because you worked your whole life and have nothing to show for it. My hope is that the middle class in this country will realize these things and start voting for people and policies that restore the middle class to it's rightful place of strength, pride and independence. It's my hope that this will all happen in a sane and rational manner, through the will of the people at the polls and through the choices we make as a group to change the way things run at the top so that we can recapture our former glory. It's my hope, but I fear that the divide is too great, that the divisive subterfuge by politicians, the media and the wealthy and powerful in this country has done far too much damage to the unity of the American working class for things to be resolved so simply and peacefully. I fear that the only way for the working man in America to get back the rights he has been gifted through the blood, sweat and tears of those who fought and died before him is to take them by any means necessary. I fear that the time for rational discourse is fast departing and soon the only way to take back the REAL America is going to be through revolution. The workers in this country are starting to fight back democratically at the polls though, so for now hope is still eclipsing fear in my mind, but what happens over the weeks, months and years following today's election and others like it across the country will have a huge impact on how things progress as we head into this new decade. One thing is for certain though, a tree with no roots can only support so much weight at the top before it topples.