Thursday, June 7, 2012

What the Hell Happened in Wisconsin?

The best recap I've seen so far goes to Josh Eidelson of Salon who does a good job at looking at the whole picture:
With legal collective bargaining rights set to stay hamstrung in Wisconsin, Wisconsin Education Association Council president Mary Bell told me yesterday, “Collective action, collective voice doesn’t change. In fact, without the protections of the collective bargaining, collective voice is sometimes the only voice you have in the workplace.”
Soon after Scott Walker declared victory, South Central Federation of Labor president Kevin Gundlach told me that the tasks now facing Wisconsin’s labor movement would have been necessary even if Walker lost: “We would have to rebuild our unions. We would have to do a lot of community outreach and coalition building … We have to embolden our workers” and take on “workplace actions that could lead to other forms of power.”
The U.S. labor movement is at a Wisconsin moment in the best and worst sense: It keeps showing strength and weakness in unexpected places. Wisconsin shows that labor can still be a militant, growing, mass social movement – and that it has to be one in order to survive in the face of existential threat.
Matt Stoller's article on Wisconsin is extremely provocative and raises some important points. Not sure I agree with all of it, but it is very much worth checking out.
And the deeper you look into the race, the worse it looks. By calling for a recall instead of a general strike after Walker stripped collective bargaining rights and cut benefits for workers, labor and Democratic leadership in the state diverted and then subverted populist energy, channeling it into an electoral process (at least one union, one very active in the occupation of the Capitol, stood apart from the electoral stupidity). Then, Barrett, an anti-labor centrist, won the Democratic primary by crushing his labor-backed opponent, Kathleen Falk. Finally, Barrett himself was destroyed by Scott Walker, who outspent Barrett 7-1 with corporate money. In other words, first, liberals lost a policy battle, then they failed to strike, then they lost a primary election, then they lost a general election to the most high-profile effective reactionary policy-maker in the country. The conservative beat the moderate who beat the liberal. And had Barrett won, he wouldn’t even have rolled back Walker’s agenda. Somehow, in a no-win electoral situation, Democrats and labor managed to lose as badly as they possibly could.

What happened?

I wish I could say I had a new insight, but it’s basically the same problem I’ve been writing about for years. Put simply, it’s that Obama’s policy framework is now the policy framework of the Democratic Party, liberals, and unionism. Up and down the ticket, Democrats are operating under the shadow of the President, associated with unpopular policies that make the lives of voters worse and show government to be an incompetent, corrupt handmaiden to big business. So they keep losing.

It should be obvious that if you foreclose on your voters, cut their pay, and legalize theft of their wealth by Wall Street oligarchs, they won’t be your voters anymore. Somehow, Democratic activists continue to operate as if policy doesn’t matter to voters, or that policy evaluation is a Chinese menu of different stuff, some of which you like and some of which you don’t, as in “Oh I’ll take a pro-choice moderate, with a bailout, and gay rights. And a Pepsi”. But that’s not how it works – voters’ lives get better, or they don’t. And under Obama, stuff has gotten worse. Obama’s economic policies have made economic inequality sharper than it was under Bush, due to his bailout of banks and concurrent elimination of the main source of wealth of most Americans, home equity. With these policy choices, Obama destroyed the Democratic Party and liberalism – under Obama’s first two years, the fastest growing demographic party label was “former Democrat.” Liberalism demands that people pay for a government, but why should anyone want to pay taxes for the terrible governance Obama has implemented?
Or you can just go with this recap:

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