Last night was the big Republican recall election in Wisconsin. And, while everyone in the Beltway press is talking about the 4 Republicans who didn't lose their seats last night and the failure of the Democrats to take control of their state congress, just as compelling is the 2 seats the Republicans did lose.
Did the WI Dems win the battle? No. They didn't get the 3 seats they needed to take back the state government. However, have they lost the war?
It's important to note that all 6 of the Republican seats that were up for recall last night were in strongly Republican, largely non-unionized districts. That 4 of those fights were won by the incumbent Republicans isn't surprising. However, the fact that 2 seats were lost to Democrat challengers is. A true Republican victory last night would have been a 6/6 seat sweep and a resounding defeat of the Democratic, pro-labor movement. Winning 2 seats, in those districts, during an August recall election, so soon after the Republican re-taking of the national congress and the seeming Republican "mandate" on Obama's first 2 years in office, that's a pretty big deal. It's a black eye to the arrogance of the Republican establishment in control of the state. They might have won the night, but they didn't leave untouched. Labor got 2 good shots in. If you're keeping score at home, the Republicans have lost 2 of their guys to recalls and the Democrats have lost 0. With more recalls on the way, there's nothing to indicate the Democrats will lose any of their people to recalls, so even in defeat there is victory. All of this, of course, is leading up to the big recall of Gov. Scott Walker.
Across the country, anti-union, Republican Governors are facing dismal approval ratings from the people who elected them just 2 short years ago. Republicans ran, and won, on the promise of creating jobs and digging us out of the recession - even though it was the policies of Republicans and the Bush Administration that created this mess in the first place. But, ok, maybe the guys who drove us into the ditch have more insight on how to get us out? At any rate, they ran on one platform and legislated from an entirely different one once they took office. Instead of sending up job-creation legislation, instead of working on ways to grow the economy and stimulate recovery, the Republicans at both the state and national level focused instead on stripping collective bargaining rights from unions, on restricting a woman's access to abortion services, on cutting funding for Planned Parenthood and NPR. Instead of working to create jobs and grow the economy, Republicans were killing even more jobs and pushing us towards a double-dip recession with their partisan brinksmanship and manufactured debt ceiling crisis.
Nowhere was this obvious bait and switch more apparent than the offices of the newly-elected Republican Governors. Across the country, fresh Republican Governors were working almost exclusively on anti-union legislation, even as their states languished under strained budgets and looming fiscal ruin. Why were these GOP Governors so focused on stripping union power, when state employee compensation makes up a relatively small amount of the average state's budget? I mean, if you're looking to trim the fat from the average state budget, certainly the billions in tax breaks for corporations who aren't creating jobs in your state is a better place to start than the hundreds of millions in state worker benefits packages? Surely the money spent on pork projects for the individual districts that serve no purpose other than to keep a do-nothing congresses special interests happy is a bigger waste of resources than a state worker's salary?
Well, the answer is simple, once you understand the big picture.
During Obama's 2012 presidential election, out of the 10 largest financial contributers to each side's election efforts, 7 were pro-Republican corporate organizations and PAC's and the other 3 were unions - including the much-maligned SEIU. So, weaken the unions, reduce their membership, lower their revenue from dues and you reduce their ability to be a strong financial contributer to Obama's re-election campaign, or the election and re-election campaigns of pro-labor Democrats across the country.
Remember, the "number one priority" of the Republicans is to make Obama a "one-term president". This is more important than putting you back to work, this is more important than helping you keep your house, this is more important than protecting your 401k from the crashing market, this is more important than anything else in this country.
So, it's a battle on two fronts. The main battle is being fought by the Republicans in congress who refuse to do anything that remotely resembles working with the president on anything, and who are using their Tea Party members as suicide bombers to drive the car, loaded with explosives, right back off the cliff again. The second battle is being fought on the state level, with every GOP Governor with a Republican congress pushing anti-union legislation and new, completely unnecessary, voter-suppressing "anti-fraud" voting regulations. Take away the number one source of Democratic campaign finance and simultaneously pass regulations specifically designed to make it harder for minorities, students and young people to vote - groups who statistically always vote largely pro-Democrat - at the same time the Republicans in Washington are intentionally sending our economy into a double-dip recession and stubbornly refusing to pass or even propose a single piece of job-creation legislation, lest they do anything positive for this country that might reflect well on Obama's ability to get things done, and you have a strategy designed specifically to achieve the one and only goal of the GOP - defeating Obama in 2012.
The problem is that we, the people, can only take so much before we start wondering what the hell those jokers in office are doing. The working class can only go without work for so long before their benefits run out, there's still nothing in the paper, the bills are due, the house is being foreclosed on, their 401k is still down, the cost of everything they buy is still going up and nothing even resembling a light at the end of the tunnel is visible before they look to their elected leaders and say "Hey, what are you guys doing about all of this?" When the answer to that question is "Trying to make sure Obama doesn't get re-elected, of course!" That doesn't exactly resound well. Sure, there are people out there who will vote for a ham sandwich in 2012 if it runs against Obama, but the average American, the average voter? They want to see their quality of life improve. They want to go back to work. They want their house to start gaining equity again. Hell, they want to be able to buy a new house again after having to walk away from their old one thanks to the housing collapse. In short, they want some relief, and when they look to the two branches of government and the two parties in them, they hear Democrats saying "We're trying to do something, anything to help the middle-class, but the Republicans won't budge" and they hear the Republicans saying "We will burn down this entire country if we have to, to protect tax breaks and loopholes for the richest Americans."
The Republicans are learning the hard way that the average American doesn't hate Obama as much as they do. They're also learning that the average American is starting to pay attention to who's really trying to tank our country for their own self-interests. Obama's approval ratings are low, no doubt about it, but they're still about twice what congresses approval ratings are. The people aren't stupid, they know who's doing what in Washington. The Republicans have forced the people to stop what they were doing and pay attention to the mess that's piling up around us. They hoped the people would just automatically blame Obama, that we wouldn't be smart enough, angry enough or care enough to figure out on our own what's really going on. They arrogantly stated their game plan from the very start and the people aren't falling for it anymore.
Basically, the Republicans got greedy. They tried to do too much too quickly to completely rig the political system in their favor. They did all of this while ignoring unemployment, the sagging economy and while just paying lip service to the angry Americans looking for answers. They didn't stop to realize that 10% unemployment, which is more like 15-20% when you count "discouraged" jobless - people who have simply given up on trying to find work and no longer collect unemployment - equals 15-20% of the country sitting at their computers, vetting the statements made by their politicians. 15-20% of the country doing the few minutes of google research necessary to find out who's really doing what in government. 15-20% of the country who's sick of being pissed on and told it's raining. There's a lot of people in this country with nothing better to do than pay attention to what's going on in Washington, and a whole lot of anger to motivate them to do something about it.
And this is why the Wisconsin recall, while not a major "victory" for Democrats, is far from a defeat. Losing 2 seats in an August recall election is a failure if you're the Republican party. To lose even one seat is unacceptable. If the people truly supported the anti-union, voter-suppression tactics of the state GOP leaders, then no Republicans would be getting recalled, and no Republican Governors would have the kind of dismal poll numbers that every Republican Governor who's jumped on the union-busting bandwagon is enjoying right now. The mid-term Republicans have squandered all of the good will that they had when they took office. They were given a very clear mandate by the people - create jobs, fix the economy, get our country back on track - and they have completely ignored that mandate and chosen to focus, instead, on launching tactical strikes against Democratic voters, labor and the Obama administration. They took the ball and ran with it... right into the opposing teams end zone.
The Wisconsin Dems didn't win the battle, but they could win the war. You don't attack labor during record unemployment. You don't suppress the vote when people are more passionate about what's going on in Washington than ever. You don't arrogantly postulate your pro-corporatist, "save the rich!" agenda while the middle-class is drying up faster than pond water in Texas. You don't dare the American people to pay attention to what's going on in Washington when we literally have nothing else to do with our day.
The WI recalls last night should have been a cake walk for the Republicans, and it was anything but. Is this a referendum to the nation? We will see. One thing is for sure, as bad as Obama might be doing right now, he's doing twice as well as congress in the eyes of the people who are going to pull that lever in 2012, and he is now beating "generic Republican contender" in the polls for the first time since the primary buzz started. As bad as Obama might be polling, there are 3 significant groups who are polling much lower than him - The Republican-majority congress, Republican Governors and Republican-majority state congresses. The people might not be thrilled with Barry's presidency so far, but they still think he's doing better than everyone else in government.
You can only push the middle-class so far before it pushes back. WI was the first big shove back by the working class, and it's just the beginning...