A few thoughts on Scott Walker's victory in the recall election in Wisconsin:

1. That wasn't particularly ambiguous

I don't live in Wisconsin and I'm not an expert on the state or its politics. That role naturally falls to the people of Wisconsin, who make collective decisions via regular elections, in addition to the occasional recall. Walker made it through the recall with a 53%-46% majority. There were obviously a lot of people in the state who wanted him out, and went to a lot of trouble to gather enough signatures to force the vote. They were outnumbered by the people who wanted Walker to stay.

And yet the reaction to this vote, on the left, has been an awful lot of denial. Voter suppression was the bugbear as the polls were open, and last night--once it was clear that the margin of victory was big enough to be convincing--it's all about "dark money", collective derangement, asking for a recount, etc etc.

For a party that supposedly represents the people, Democrats seem to have very little confidence in them. Results that deviate from their preferences are somehow seen as illegitimate. This is not a new thing, but it is weird and off-putting. (To be fair, Republicans do this too, but at least they don't so often big themselves as the objectively more enlightened and intelligent party.)

There's an old saying: when you realize you were wrong, it's like treasure in your hands. This could be one of those moments for progressives. They sought out this fight (as it was their right to do). They gave the recall their best shot (and from what I can tell, there was no shortage of interest in this election). And, ultimately, they lost. The voters didn't make a mistake; they made a decision. Maybe at some point they'll make a different decision. That's how this works.

You know, I don't even care about public-sector unions. I guess they have their pros and cons. But I do have a problem with groupthink, sanctimony, and martyr complexes, and last night the left was showing signs of all three.

2. About those crossover voters...

Among the results from the exit polls is that some 18% of the people who voted for Walker said they would vote for Obama if the presidential election was held today. Some have suggested this is a quirk of the exit polls, which are not particularly reliable; Alec MacGuinness, writing at The New Republic before the results came in, predicted that there would be a swathe of swing voters who were less driven by ideology than by their assessment of the status quo. If you think things in Wisconsin are generally fine, that is, and you feel generally okay about the country's direction, you might vote for Walker and Obama.

I don't find the crossover voting surprising and would suggest, alternatively, that these are simply voters from the fiscally conservative/socially moderate cohort. When it comes to a presidential election, where everything from gay marriage to monetary policy is on the table, it can be hard to predict which issues such voters will prioritize. But the Wisconsin recall was all about fiscal issues.

3. This is not a vote against the workers.

Most workers are not unionized. The national unionization rate is about twelve percent. "The unions", particularly the public-sector unions, are not the same thing as "the workers." Moreover, there's an argument that powerful public-sector unions actually hurt workers, viz, the workers who aren't part of the unions, and that collective bargaining reform has advantages. See Joel Kotkin, for example, who points to bloated, unsustainable public-sector pensions as one data point in favour of the proposition that America "seems to have turned on its young." So anyone who's saying that this is an attack on labor, or on workers, really ought to clarify that.

4. Organized labor needs to check itself before it--oh wait.

It would be untrue to say that Americans, or Wisconsinites, have turned against unions altogether. A pre-election poll from Marquette University found that 55%, favoured limiting collective bargaining rights for most public employees--a majority, but not a consensus. It's more correct to say that people have reservations about the current state of play. In the same survey, 75% of respondents said that public sector employees should pay more for their benefits.

The suspicion of collective bargaining, that is, is less pronounced than the frustration with the bargains that have been made. That's generous of the Wisconsin voters, because it suggests that some swathe of them trust the unions to be on better behavior in the future. Incidentally, even unions are judiciously skeptical of unions; according to the exit polls linked above, more than a third of voters from union households (where at least one member is unionized) nonetheless voted for Walker.


06/06/2012 18:03

"fiscally conservative/socially moderate" -- in other words, what "conservative" meant before the term was hijacked by radicals.

There are actually a lot of us around the country. We have little use for public sector unions. And we're generally glad to have a real conservative in the White House. But you'd never know we existed if you just read the political chattering class, or looked at the major parties' approach to the world.

06/06/2012 20:10

For the little that I know about this failed recall, I believe that the vote is legitimate, that both sides apparently played by the role, and that it is dangerous to try to challenge the legitimacy a result that one doesn't like.

It does not mean that I don't think that money has influenced the result, much like it does in just about every other election, given the current rules. There are $70 million dollars that agree with this in Wisconsin and a predicted $6 billion for the 2012 election. An 8:1 advantage is pretty staggering. It reminded me of Act II of this recent episode of This American Life describing the influence of campaign fundraising in politics. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/461/take-the-money-and-run-for-office

I don't think that voters are more rational than donors. If people donate, it is because they believe that they can affect the outcome of the election or the voting record of politicians. http://maplight.org/

06/08/2012 06:59

Silly campaigns, still targeting ads at rational voters! What a waste! http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/08/us/politics/9-swing-states-are-main-focus-of-ad-blitz.html


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