I haven't written a lot about politics in a while. Hell, I haven't written much of anything in a while. Oh well.
Last night, I got mildly caught up in the angst of Wisconsin's recall election. But not too much... which probably goes some ways to explaining why a seemingly controversial, not exactly popular Governor managed to survive one of the few recall elections ever held (though apparently he's the only one who ever survived.
There's lots of talk about the "money in politics" part of this story, and no doubt, throwing millions and millions of dollars at a desired result has to help, but I just wanted to take note of a few of the less popular, less liberal friendly lessons this election might be giving us. Not to annoy anyone - even my closest friends have given up on me ever being a proper liberal - just to lay out some of the political issues that the left struggles with. So here, as they kind of occurred to me:
- Elections are local, and specific choices between actual people. There was lots of blather, last night, from people who don't live in Wisconsin, about the Governor's race, but I was struck by the fact that this election was basically a replay of the last one... and Tom Barrettt lost that one, too. I don't live there, I have no idea what Barrett's been like as Mayor of Madison. But apparently, Wisconsin does. There's a part of this story, I think, that both hasn't been told, and relates to the local scene. And I'm not sure many people not in Wisconsin really care what the details are. But they probably matter to how this election shook out. A corollary from this is that it's hard to extrapolate a "national message" here, though conservatives would like this to prove that Mitt Romney can/will beat President Obama. I don't buy that, not yet anyway.
- Unions represent a small fraction of the entire populace. This is a reality that frustrates many lefties and makes it hard to come up with a new kind of liberal politics, because Union paricipation in the Democratic Party - financially, through volunteerism, and with expectations for return on investment - is out of proportion to that reality. We are well past the old romantic days of a manufacturing based working class well spoken for by union bosses, and liberal and Democratic Party politics have to move past those old mindsets. That's not an "antiunion" sentiment... but to the extent that this election was a referendum on public sector unions, the votes reflected a couple of unhappy corollaries: non-union households are not especially sympathetic to the remaining union gripes, and lots of people think it's reasonable to rein in government spending by cracking down on union benefits, which are perceived as plush. Democrats can't stop Walker and Walker-like conservatives while clinging to outdated notions of "pro-union" boilerplate.
- Don't pretend there isn't a fiscal crisis. Walker's anti-union push was built on the noiton of making "hard choices" for how to deal with reducing government spending. I get that many liberlas don't like this, but Walker won by making these "hard choices" sound reasonable, and part of his success was that opposition to it sounded myopic and unrealistic. And while I don't think Wisconsin has huge national implications, there is a point to be made here about the coming budget, debt celing and tax fights in Washington: "raise taxes on millionaires" is hardly a serious approach to reining in spending or addressing revenue issues.
- You can't fight money with nothing. Nobody wants to feel bought, and few want to think of themselves as mindless sheep, easily driven by propaganda to a desired result. All of the "this was about money" griping can't evade the fact that removing Walker was not unachievable, even with millionaires sinking lots of money into a desired result. Which is why I keep saying liberals need more of a call to action than anger and resentment towards a small number of rich people. People vote FOR things; and liberals who care should figure out why so many people - especially people who could have been persuaded otherwise - voted for Scott Walker. Again. Ideas matter, laying out a choice matters, and anger alone isn't a strategy.