This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published August 15, 2011 in The Washington Times.
Some stories have “legs.” They don’t disappear after a day or so but stay in the news, especially if they help move a liberal agenda. Think of global-warming findings or New York’s assault on marriage.
Tuesday’s recall elections in Wisconsin won’t have legs. That’s because union-backed Democrats failed to gain control of the state Senate in perhaps the most expensive off-year campaign in history. Of six Republicans up for recall, just two were defeated. One was in a heavily Democratic district that gave President Obama more than 60 percent of the vote in 2008, and the other senator had dumped his wife and moved in with his mistress.
On the day after the election, ABC’s “Good Morning America” did not bother to report on it, as noted by the Media Research Center’s Scott Whitlock. CBS’ “Early Show” gave it a liberal slant while failing to mention that two Democrats would face recall elections in Wisconsin on Tuesday. NBC’s “Today Show,” a four-hour program, mentioned the vote result only once.
Even as unions and Democrats bravely talked of recalling Republican Gov. Scott Walker next year, the impact was clear to all but the reality-challenged, such as Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin branch of the AFL-CIO, who said, incomprehensibly, “Let’s be clear, anyway you slice it, this is an unprecedented victory.”
Really? Even MSNBC called it “a big setback for Democrats, organized labor and progressive groups.”
In rejecting the recalls, Wisconsin voters backed Mr. Walker’s bold reforms that sharply curbed public-employee union power and restored fiscal sanity without raising taxes. The state government no longer automatically collects union dues from public employees, which gives those employees a choice about whether they want a portion of their pay to go to union political activities. The unions aren’t into “choice” unless we’re talking about backing pro-abortion candidates.
In July, a Democratic state senator survived the first slated recall vote. On Tuesday, two of the other Democrats who fled the state earlier this year rather than vote on legislation will face a recall election. If they go down, an estimated $14 million spent by unions will result in a net gain of zero seats and a too-obvious-to-ignore rebuke from voters.
All sides before the elections acknowledged that the stakes were enormous. The Chicago Tribune called the overall recall campaign “the largest unified effort to kick incumbents out of office in history. More than $31 million was estimated to have been spent on the nine recall elections, rivaling the $37 million spent on last year’s governor’s race.”
Despite a blizzard of misinformation from the mainstream press, which included breathless coverage of the unions’ noisy occupation in February and March on the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin voters were not fooled.
Targeted Republicans were helped by the fact that Mr. Walker’s reforms appear to be working, with local school districts able to renegotiate contracts and forestall layoffs. The irony is that Mr. Walker’s efforts, which teachers union members skipped school to oppose while fellow protesters hanged him in effigy and portrayed him as Hitler, are saving teachers’ jobs.
Although the recall elections ostensibly were over local reforms, the results also might reflect Americans’ rejection of Mr. Obama’s far-left vision and the forces that helped bring him to power.
As noted by Rick Badger, executive director of the Wisconsin affiliate of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a key player in the recall effort, “These elections are little proxies for what is going to happen for the rest of the country.” If so, the left is in big trouble, and Mr. Obama’s billion-dollar war chest won’t be enough to stop the conservative tide in 2012.
Another lesson from Wisconsin is that the left’s promotion of “people power” since the 1960s is biting liberals, with the rise of the Tea Party and a growing public thirst for holding politicians accountable. The left really only loves the idea of “power to the people” when it’s wielded by useful-idiot college students or union mobs.
As Obama nation careens into credit downgrade and piles up trillions in debt, the left’s answer, incredibly, is more spending, plus a great deal of name-calling. But the “get the rich” battle cry is not resounding the way it did in 2008. Blaming the Tea Party for our fiscal mess is like blaming Jenny Craig for the nation’s obesity epidemic.
The redistributionist rhetoric that is so anti-American at its core is failing to tickle ears sharpened by economic reality. At varying rates, folks are discovering that the government, not the private sector, is the truly greedy player, with an insatiable appetite for higher taxes, which the media dutifully describe as “revenue.”
Recall began as a progressive idea around the turn of the 20th century, when the villains were lawmakers in the pockets of the “robber barons” who controlled large banks, railroads and oil. Today’s robber baron is the massive government-union axis that sucks money from the private sector and always – always – wants more. As citizens assert themselves to stop runaway government, liberal politicians may face the brunt of future recalls.
The idea of recall scares some people, mostly the governing class, who prefer the orderly political process that has brought us to the brink of bankruptcy.
But as the people of the Badger State just showed, accountability can be a beautiful thing.