Facing Facts in Wisconsin: Progressives and Workers Were Sold Out by Obama and the Democratic Party
There will be all kinds of dancing around the issue of why progressives lost the recall campaign against union-busting Tea Party Republican Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin on Tuesday, with the Obama campaign trying to claim that it was not a reflection on him or his popularity, the Democratic Party saying it was not their battle, and the labor movement, sadly, blaming it all on right-wing money. They’ll all be saying that it doesn’t matter, and that the important thing is to focus on helping Democrats win in November.
So let’s get it straight. The Wisconsin battle was hugely important -- an existential struggle for the US labor movement and working people in general, and a critical litmus test of the real nature of both President Obama and of the Democratic Party. And both the president and the party failed that test. Completely and deliberately.
Let’s first get rid of the false Big Money argument. The truth is that no amount of money can turn an election when the public is fired up over a cause or a candidate. What Big Money on one side of an issue or on behalf of one candidate can do is rally the people who are on that side, to get them out to the polls. On the margins, it might help sway a few undecided people who can be duped or scared, but this is of very limited help, because such people tend to be disinterested in politics and voting, so even if they are convinced by the propaganda, they are unlikely to turn out. That can only make a difference if the other side fails to get all its supporters out.
The progressives who battled mightily in this campaign may have been wildly outspent, but they were hardly without resources and they certainly managed to reach every potential supporter with their message of defending working people from Walker’s attack.
What they lacked was any significant support from the Democratic Party and the party’s standard-bearer, President Barack Obama -- the man who as candidate back in 2008, when he won Wisconsin, promised to put on a pair of “comfortable shoes” and to “walk the picket line” with struggling workers everywhere.
A political party is nothing but a patronage vehicle and get-rich-quick scheme for corrupt politicians unless it has basic principles that it is willing to go down fighting for. If the Democratic Party was a real party, fighting to protect the right of workers to organize and bargain would be one of those core principles. Yet both Obama and the Democratic Party looked at the Republican attack on the right to organize that began in Wisconsin, spreading to Ohio and other states, and instead of standing and fighting with the people of Wisconsin, they made a “tactical” decision to stand aside and let the Republicans win.
Obama not only didn’t put in a single visit to Wisconsin during this long recall campaign; he went out of his way to steer well clear of the state, not even dropping in during a visit to Minneapolis a week before the vote, when he was 15 miles from Wisconsin, less than 100 miles from Eau Claire, and less than 300 miles from the capital of Madison, the epicenter of the recall battle.