Walker’s victory, un-sugar-coated

by Doug Henwood

This piece was published at Left Business Observer.

Democrats and labor types are coming up with a lot of excuses for Scott Walker’s victory in Wisconsin. Not all are worthless. But the excuse-making impulse should be beaten down with heavy sticks.

Yes, money mattered. Enormous amounts of cash poured in, mainly from right-wing tycoons, to support Walker’s effort to snuff public employee unions. While these sorts of tycoons—outside the Wall Street/Fortune 500 establishment—have long been the funding base for right-wing politics, they seem to have grown in wealth, number, consciousness, and mobilization since their days funding the John Birch Society and the Goldwater movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

But lingering too long on the money explanation is too easy. Several issues must be stared down. One is the horrible mistake of channelling a popular uprising into electoral politics. As I wrote almost a year ago (Wisconsin: game over?):

It’s the same damn story over and over. The state AFL-CIO chooses litigation and electoral politics over popular action, which dissolves everything into mush. Meanwhile, the right is vicious, crafty, and uncompromising. Guess who wins that sort of confrontation?

Please prove me wrong someday, you sad American “left.”

At this point, few things would make me happier to say than I’d been proven wrong. But I wasn’t.

There were several things wrong with the electoral strategy (beyond, that is, the weakness of electoral strategies to begin with). Barrett was an extremely weak candidate who’d already once lost to Walker (though by a slightly narrower margin than this time). Potentially stronger candidates like Russ Feingold refused to run, probably out of fear of these results. And the bar was very high for a recall. Only 19 states have recall provisions, and Walker was just the third governor to face one. Well over half of Wisconsin voters think that recalls should be reserved only for misconduct—and less than a third approve of recalls for any reason other than misconduct (Wisconsin recall: Should there be a recall at all?).

Suppose instead that the unions had supported a popular campaign—media, door knocking, phone calling—to agitate, educate, and organize on the importance of the labor movement to the maintenance of living standards? If they’d made an argument, broadly and repeatedly, that Walker’s agenda was an attack on the wages and benefits of the majority of the population? That it was designed to remove organized opposition to the power of right-wing money in politics? That would have been more fruitful than this major defeat.

It is a defeat. It is not, as that idiot Ed Schultz said on MSNBC last night, an opportunity for regroupment. (Didn’t hear it myself, but it was reported by a reliable source on the Twitter.) Because in the wise and deservedly famous words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “When you strike at a king, you must kill him.” When you don’t, you look like a fool if you’re lucky. More likely, you’ll find your head in a noose.

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