By Charles J. Sykes
“A little Madness in the Spring,” observed Emily Dickinson, “is wholesome even for the King.” Wisconsin had more than a little madness, but maybe it was good for us as well.
As the Spring of the Endless Campaign evolved into the Summer of Perpetual Elections, the interminable tantrum turned from rallies and petitions to the main event: the recall of Gov. Scott Walker, who became the first governor ever to be elected twice for the same term.
Irresistibly, the mind turns to Winston Churchill’s observation that there is “nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at without result.”
Can you hear us now?
In November 2010, Walker defeated challenger Tom Barrett by six points. In June, he defeated him again, this time by an even wider margin.
As the distraught left struggled to make sense of the defeat, comedian Jon Stewart put the failed recall in perspective: “The people have spoken saying, ‘I’m sorry, you didn’t hear us the first time? Yeah, we said we liked the tyrant-y, union-busting guy. Like we said 16 months ago. So what the f***?’”
In a moment of harmonic convergence, the Democratic standard-bearer, Tom Barrett, was slapped in the face by a distraught supporter moments after he was slapped by voters for the third time.
If only the Teamsters…
Matthew Rothschild, editor of our bizarro-world sister publication The Progressive eschewed rationalization and spin, declaring Walker’s victory a “whupping.”
“After 16 months of the most historic and exciting citizens’ uprising that I’ve ever been a part of in my 35 years of progressive activism and journalism, we’re left with this disaster,” lamented Rothschild. “Scott Walker is governor for another two and a half years. He claims vindication for his rightist onslaught. The national right-wing media is carrying him around on their shoulders.”
In politics, as in life, the saddest words are “if only.”
For Rothschild, it all could have been so different if only the left had been more militant, more aggressive and more … creative. “The Teamsters with their 18 wheelers…,” he suggested, “could have driven down Interstate 90 and 94 at 45 mph all day long for a week’s time to demonstrate that workers in Wisconsin weren’t going to take this lying down.”
Because nothing wins hearts and minds as effectively as the gratuitous snarling of traffic.
In the wake of the Walker victory, Washington Post columnist Charles Lane wondered “if we’ll be hearing any expressions of remorse for the smears, false rumors and general vilification that his opponents have hurled at him over the last year and a half.” Any remorse for the Walker=Hitler posters; the threats, the all-around boorishness?
We assume that either the question was rhetorical or Lane hasn’t met Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski.
Who are these guys?
In the days leading up to the election, the leftocracy dismissed polls showing Walker leading by regaling us with tales of the epic, unprecedented and perhaps gravity-bending awesomeness of the Democrat/union voter turnout effort. Bill Clinton and Jesse Jackson parachuted into town and pundits on MSNBC giddily recounted stories about legions of canvassers inspiring/dragging voters to the polls in Democrat strongholds.
But in the end, it was the GOP turnout that defied predictions: Walker ended up with more votes than he won in 2010. “What Republicans showed in Wisconsin on Tuesday,” wrote the Washington Post’s Dan Balz, “was their ability to run a superior voter-mobilization operation, at least in this one election.” Politico’s David Catanese marveled: “Conservatives have arguably their best ground operation in place of any of the 50 states — and it’s all going to be transferred to Romney.”
But turnout operations don’t tell the whole story. In May, conservatives made it clear they would walk through fire to vote for Walker, when Walker got 626,538 votes in an essentially meaningless primary, more than both of the leading Democratic candidates — Barrett and Kathleen Falk — combined.
The whole world was watching
During the campaign, Rep. Paul Ryan frequently said that courage was on the ballot on June 5, and the reaction to the vote seemed to embolden conservatives in distant outposts. The results were closely watched in statehouses across the country, including south of the border in the increasingly dysfunctional and profligate state of Illinois.
“Where is Illinois’ Scott Walker?” plaintively asked Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass. “Are there any Scott Walker types among our Republican politicians? Or have they been prudently squirreled away in a cave or woodland hut for safekeeping?”
Given the polarization of the recall campaign, there was probably no single turning point in the campaign. But the closest thing to a dagger for the recallers was a piece of good news about the state’s economy. For months, the Democrats’ favorite talking point was that under Walker, Wisconsin had lost more jobs than any other state.
But in May, Walker was able to point to more comprehensive and reliable numbers showing that Wisconsin had actually added more than 23,000 jobs in 2011. As it turned out, the earlier bad numbers were based on estimates gleaned from a survey of just 3.5 percent of state employers. The new numbers were based on actual data provided by more than 160,000 employers.
And they ruined Tom Barrett’s whole campaign.
Throughout his campaign, Barrett seem oddly obsessed with Walker’s status as a “rock star,” apparently unaware that the recall itself would succeed in making Walker an even bigger celebrity. Indeed, the 16 months of hate engineered by the unionista left may well have created a second rock star in the person of Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who emerged from the first-ever recall attempt of a lite guv as one of the country’s rising young conservative politicians.
Speaking of rock stars, Barack Obama never came here (but did tweet his support for Barrett in 140 characters or less, giving new meaning to the term “mailing it in.”).
How badly did organized labor lose in Wisconsin? Let us count the ways: It failed to stop the passage of Act 10; it failed to flip the state Supreme Court; its hand-picked candidate for governor was annihilated in the Democratic primary; its membership is hemorrhaging. And on June 5, its all-in campaign to defeat Walker failed.
After all the rallies, fliers, phone banks, threats and millions of dollars of dues, all they got was a single new state senator, John Lehman, a symbolic victory with no discernible practical consequence.
But unionism wasn’t killed by Scott Walker; it’s dying of obsolescence. In an article in the New Republic headlined, “Not with a bang, but a whimper: The long, slow death spiral of America’s labor movement,” Richard Yeselson noted the creeping irrelevancy of unions. “Unions are like manual typewriters, oh hell, electric ones — pretty cool in their time, but who has even seen one today?”
Actually, I did see one today. It’s being used as a doorstop.
And, finally, there was the awful specter of the conservative media. Adding to Scott Walker’s multitude of sins, the George Soros-funded Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism indignantly reported that Walker made it a habit to bypass traditional media:
“Fox News isn’t the only conservative-leaning outlet Walker favors,” the group reported. “Charlie Sykes, a radio host of Milwaukee’s WTMJ, was scheduled for more interview time with Walker than any other media professional in his first 13 months in office.”
But I don’t like to brag.
Charles J. Sykes is the editor of Wisconsin Interest. His new book is A Nation of Moochers: America’s Addiction to Getting Something for Nothing (St. Martin’s Press).