On Wisconsin – the horrific drubbing the unions took, not the fight song. What if anything did the left learn?
There is lots of interesting (and not so interesting) “introspection” going on among lefties about why what happened in Wisconsin happened – and why it was so resounding a defeat.
Ed Rendell, former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, just thought the attempt was dumb, politically:
"It was a dumb political fight — I would have waited until Walker’s reelection," Rendell told The Hill when asked if the recall push had been a mistake. The former governor and head of the Democratic National Committee pointed to exit polls that showed a number of independents and Democrats who opposed Walker’s policies nonetheless voted for him because they opposed a recall.
Yeah, there’s some merit to Rendell’s point, but if there were indies and Dems who voted for Walker, it may have been not just because they opposed the recall, but because they were actually been objective enough (i.e. not blinded by ideology) to understand the problem the state faced and had seen progress in resolving it.
Even Barney Frank thought it was a fight the unions shouldn’t have picked (and that too is a key point – the unions picked this fight):
"My side picked a fight they shouldn’t have picked. The recall was upsetting to people, the rerun of the election with [Democratic Milwaukee Mayor] Tom Barrett — it’s not a fight I would have picked."
But instead of cool heads prevailing, emotion took over and ended up with a resounding loss. Their first indication that the unions were in trouble was when they couldn’t even get their chosen candidate across the line in the Democratic primary.
Here’s a stat that I see being tossed around that ostensibly supports the Rendell point (i.e. these union members voted for Walker because they “opposed the recall”).
The network exit poll for the special election showed that Walker won the votes of 38 percent of voters who said they were a union member or lived in a household with a union member.
What they don’t point out is whether that 38% were members of a household with a “public service union member”.
Because that’s what this was about. The state, the public service unions, etc. My guess is most of these 38% were members of private unions who were among those getting 28% less in benefits than the public unions.
And, frankly, when the public service union members threw their collective tantrums prior to the recall effort, they turned a lot of people off, to include other union members. Finally, when public service union members were given the choice of whether or not to pay union dues (the state quit collecting them automatically), public union membership in the state dropped dramatically. The AFCME saw its membership drop by 55%. And the Wisconsin Education Association Council (which spent $4 million of members dues on the recall)?
Since the collective bargaining measure was enacted last year, WEAC’s membership has dropped from around 90,000 to 70,000 but the remaining membership became energized by the recall and union leaders are hopeful that passion will continue as the union rallies around issues such as public school funding. The union is working on membership drives this summer.
Over at Reason, Shikha Dalmia cites Alec MacGillis at TNR’s rationalization for the loss:
Over at The New Republic Alec MacGillis enumerates all the reasons why public unions experienced an utter rout yesterday in Wisconsin: they were outspent; they should have attempted a referendum like their more successful comrades in Ohio rather than a recall; voters were in a pro-incumbent mood; Walker is a wily bastard who exempted cop and firefighter unions and thereby splintered the union vote.
I talked about MacGillis’ nonsense the other day. It is hardly a “pro-incumbent” mood out there. And we’ve also come to know that the “we were outspent" assertion is nonsense as well. Dalmia contends there’s also another reason MacGillis avoided:
The only reason he neglected to mention happens to also be the correct one: taxpayers straining under out-of-control union demands finally cried: “ENUFF.”
I don’t think the public service unions yet understand this. They don’t seem to understand that their “special case” puts them in a position where they’re “bargaining” with the people they’ve elected and the public understands and doesn’t like that. And so they’ve gotten completely out of hand and what they’ve “bargained” for is unsustainable. Dalmia makes the point:
Whatever the flaws of private sector unions, they have a right to collectively bargain to get as big a share of company profits as is sustainable. What is sustainable? Something in line with the value they help generate. If they ask for more, employers can’t summarily fire them and hire someone else given how our labor law is currently written. But unions can’t make limitless demands forever without sucking the company dry. Hence there is some market discipline that they have to hew to even when labor law arguably gives them unfair latitude.
But there is no equivalent discipline that public sector unions have to submit to. They don’t generate profits. So there is no objective way to measure the value of their work. The main purpose of their collective bargaining powers – it is a misnomer to call them “rights” — is to extract the most lavish wages and benefits they can possibly get from their government employer. Meanwhile, the employer, who pays from taxpayer pockets not her own, has little incentive to insist on reasonableness, especially if unions have helped put her in office. Collective bargaining powers in the public sector, then, virtually invite abuse. And so long as unions have these powers, they will have little reason to “self reform" beyond minor, cosmetic changes.
An example of a private union which was their own worst enemy was the Eastern Airline union. It refused to compromise, refused to work until the company caved into its demands and when it finally got what it wanted, it had put the company in an unrecoverable position. Consequence? They got 100% of nothing.
Private sector unions, for the most part, understand that lesson and exercise a sort of discipline that keeps that line from being crossed (for the most part).
Public unions have no such governor. There is no line for them. They see the taxpayers as an unlimited source of funds. They see themselves as an entitled class. And even in the face of what any reasonable person would classify as unsustainable debt, they clamor for more. Recall the public service union members chanting “raise taxes” when they were confronted with the unsustainability of their benefits in Illinois? So do voters.
Bill Frezza sums up the point:
"The power of private sector unions was long ago broken by many heavily unionized companies going bankrupt. While this was painful for both workers and shareholders, the economy motored on as nimbler non-union competitors picked up the slack. This approach is problematic for the public sector because bankrupt state and local governments cannot be replaced by competitors waiting in the wings. Yes, citizens can always vote with their feet, emptying out cities like Detroit, leaving the blighted wreckage behind. But isn’t Walker’s targeted fiscal retrenchment less painful than scorched-earth abandonment?"
Yes, it is. And that’s what the voting public is discovering. Walker delivered results. And those results will serve as an example to other states. Reality is a bitch and reality is finally arriving in the public service union sector.
Finally, the big question: Does this victory in Wisconsin mean anything nationally?
The White House, unsurprisingly, says “no”.
"The President supported and stood by Tom Barrett, but I certainly wouldn’t read much into yesterday’s result beyond its effect on who’s occupying the governor’s seat in Wisconsin," Carney said in a question-and-answer session aboard Air Force One. "What you had was an incumbent governor in a repeat election that he had won once, in which he outspent his challenger by a magnitude of 7 or 8 to 1, with an enormous amount of outside corporate money and huge donations, and you got essentially the same result," Carney said.
But here’s the key point that those saying “no” seem to miss:
Walker’s surprisingly easy win over Democrat Tom Barrett on Tuesday was fueled by a big turnout from a motivated Republican base of voters, and by heavy spending by out-of-state conservatives who flooded Wisconsin with campaign cash.
Both trends raised difficult questions for Obama’s re-election campaign, which has struggled to match the enthusiasm of his 2008 White House run and compete financially with the huge sums of money being raised by conservative outside groups ahead of the November 6 election.
That’s right … what was exercised and proven in Wisconsin was a template that included cash and a ground game.
It worked. And it put WI in play in November (pretending that the wildly inaccurate exit polls prove otherwise is simply an exercise in whistling past the graveyard).
Which brings us to a question posed by Jim Geraghty in his Morning Jolt this morning:
A Blasphemous Question: What if Axelrod & Company Were More Lucky than Good in 2008?
Here’s a simple, basic explanation about David Axelrod and the Obama campaign, and their performance four years ago and now: When the wind is at your back, it’s easy to look smart. When the wind is in your face, it’s very hard to look good.
In 2008, Obama had a series of big gusts at his back. Yes, glowing media coverage was one, but he probably wouldn’t have done as well if he had brought the same resume and style to the 2004 political environment or the 2000 one. His ascension to the White House required eight years of the opposition party’s rule, an unpopular war, a series of scandals involving the opposition, and finally the Lehman collapse and the resulting economic meltdown. Almost a perfect storm.
And now, he’s got a record – and a poor one at that – combined with a stagnant economy, massive unemployment and, well you name it on the negative side and you’re likely to find it.
So, yes – it isn’t at all hard, given the number of missteps and misfires his re-election campaign has had to come down on the “lucky” side for 2008, is it?
In the Wisconsin recall election last night, Gov. Scott Walker and Lt Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch jumped to an early lead and never relinquished it, beating their Democratic rivals by 7 points, 53% to 46% and 6 points respectively. 3 of the 4 Republican state senators held their seats with one headed to recount.
Of course given the spin up to the vote, the left was pretty sure that it was a very close race and that they’d squeak out a win because, well, they were the left, for heaven sake and their cause was true and just … or something.
In the end the results left some pretty bitter lefties as seen here with this drama queen:
Of course instead of what this crybaby says, what happened last night was precisely the opposite of what he contends. Democracy didn’t “die” last night, it actually did what it was supposed to do. The unions and Democrats attempted to redress their grievances against the governor, succeeded in getting a recall election and lost.
That’s exactly how the system is supposed to work. Sorry, no guarantee on the outcome.
It also brought out one of the funniest and perhaps stupidest examples of trying to spin/distraction I’ve seen:
You can’t make this stuff up. And of course, watching Ed Schultz melt down on live TV was the treat of the night.
On a more serious note, Josh Marshall at TPM published his thoughts immediately after the results were certain:
These are bad times for incumbents across the country and, frankly, around the world. A governor convincingly (we still don’t know the exact margin) winning a recall election is a big deal. Victory counts. There’s no getting around that.
That’s exactly the opposite that Alec McGillis was trying to contend yesterday. And, Marshall is correct. It is anti-incumbent fever which has been the feature of the past few elections. So surviving a recall and actually doing better than he did the first time? Significant.
Marshall goes on:
This is also a big loss for public employees unions. There’s no getting around that fact. Just why that happened is another matter. But at the end of the day, victory is all that matters. Walker went big to destroy the public sector unions in his state. And the labor movement went all out to take him down and lost. Wisconsin’s a pretty progressive, fairly blue-ish state. This result in this state has to embolden Republican governors across the country to think you can go for game-changing attacks on key Democratic constituencies like labor and not pay a price at the polls. Public employees unions across the country have feel like they have crosshairs on their backs. And they do.
I don’t think you can spin this any other way.
But, as we see with the lame Axelrod tweet, attempts to do so will be fairly common on the left. Already it is “we were outspent” instead of voters just flat rejected their recall effort. And, no denying it, pubic service unions lost big.
I think Marshall was fairly stunned by the result and in a burst of shocked honesty, laid out the real results. I look for he and many others to be much more guarded and circumspect today. I also expect a lot of whistling past the graveyard from them.
The loss in WI is remarkable for the size of the gap between Walker and Barrett. And as usual the left is shocked at the outcome. Because, one supposes, they actually believed they were close to winning given the polling and coverage:
Walker can’t seem to break his 50 percent ceiling of support among Wisconsin voters. His ballot support has hovered at either 50 percent or 49 percent in 12 of the 14 polls released since early May, and recent polls show the race tightening in the final stretch.
“We’re very much anticipating that there’s a chance that we could be in a recount scenario,” said Mike Tate, chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. He said the party will have more than 440 lawyers in the field on Tuesday “doing election protection activities but also tasked with recount preparation, making sure that we know where absentee ballots are at, making sure that we have a strong handle on what’s happening out there.”
But other than the one State Senate race, none of the other races ended up anywhere near recount territory and were instead dramatic and resounding victories for the incumbents.
I bring the polling up for a reason. It is a way the left is going to console themselves and try to convince themselves that the outcome in WI has no national meaning. Marshall goes on in his immediate reaction to provide the example:
For all the ominous things this election said for labor movement and Dems, I don’t buy that this tells us a lot about President Obama’s fate in Wisconsin or across the country. Why? Look no further than the polls. Tonight’s exit polls showed that President Obama would win handily with this electorate. Indeed, all the polls leading up to this vote showed Walker winning by a solid margin and President Obama winning by an even solider margin.
Right – the polling. It was dead on, wasn’t it? And the exit polling in particular was so … accurate.
Last Marshall quote of significance, because I touch on it quite often and it does point to something I feel is of tremendous importance:
Why weren’t the anti-Walker forces able to sustain those numbers? That’s an important question I don’t think we have an answer to. Enthusiasm is critical. But enthusiasm and passion is evanescent if it doesn’t live within robust institutions. Which brings us back to the power (or lack thereof) of the union movement and public impressions of it. Why Walker ceased to be unpopular is the big question here.
Why? Because results matter and what Walker was able to do is show positive results with his agenda. And, more importantly, he accomplished them in enough time for them to be obvious to the voters. Secondly, 60% of the voters apparently felt the recall system was misused in this case, citing “misconduct” as the only reason it should be used. Obviously they didn’t feel this constituted misconduct.
Finally, it appears that while the enthusiasm of a core of union members remained high (like the guy in the video), the movement wasn’t able to sustain that enthusiasm less involved in the recall effort. Whereas the Walker side was able to motivate voters to turn out for him.
That quiet enthusiasm that manifests itself in the voters is what the left doesn’t understand. And apparently it is something the polls don’t catch. Most voters aren’t these simple animals that are susceptible to spin and appeals to class warfare. They’re much more complex than that, able to weigh arguments and make decisions based on what they see and how they see it in terms of results. Walker produced results. The voters, last night, endorsed them.
Democracy didn’t die last night, it got a transfusion and is well on its way to recovery.
Not that the left is at all happy about that.
Update: About that “we were outspent” meme:
Much of the money for the race has come from out of state. About $63 million has been spent on the race so far, including $16 million from conservative groups such as the Republican Governors Association, Americans for Prosperity and the National Rifle Association. The majority of Walker’s donations are from people outside Wisconsin.
Democratic groups – including those funded by unions, the Democratic Governors Association and the Democratic National Committee – have poured in about $14 million, based on a tally from the government watchdog group the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Barrett’s $4.2 million in donations, meanwhile, were mostly from inside Wisconsin.
The answer is actually quite simple – because the dramatic losses in membership public unions have experienced under him could be a harbinger of something that might occur nationwide:
Failure to oust Mr. Walker and overturn the Wisconsin law "spells doom," said Bryan Kennedy, the American Federation of Teachers’ Wisconsin president.
A victory by Mr. Walker "will be a dramatic signal to local and state politicians they can, in the name of fiscal responsibility, tell unions…to come into parity with private-sector workers, especially on benefits," said Michael Lotito, a San Francisco attorney who represents management in labor disputes and has testified on labor issues before Congress.
Yeah, that would be horrible, wouldn’t it, since private-sector workers get less in benefits than do most public sector workers.
Gov. Walker took some steps to curb public sector union power in the state soon after taking office:
The Walker law sharply curbed collective bargaining for nearly all the state’s public-employee unions except those for police and firefighters. Unions no longer can represent members in negotiations for better working conditions or for pay raises beyond the increase in inflation.
He also gave union members an actual choice of membership by no longer allowing the state to collect the dues for public sector unions.
Choice – that freedom prerequisite – has seen membership drop dramatically:
Wisconsin membership in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—the state’s second-largest public-sector union after the National Education Association, which represents teachers—fell to 28,745 in February from 62,818 in March 2011, according to a person who has viewed Afscme’s figures. A spokesman for Afscme declined to comment.
Much of that decline came from Afscme Council 24, which represents Wisconsin state workers, whose membership plunged by two-thirds to 7,100 from 22,300 last year.
And the American Federation of Teachers union"?
In the nearly 15 months since Mr. Walker signed the law, 6,000 of the AFT’s Wisconsin 17,000 members quit, the union said. It blamed the drop on the law.
Amazing what will happen when “members” aren’t coerced into becoming or staying members.
According to the most recent Marquette poll, Walker is leading his Democratic rival by 7 points. His state’s structural fiscal insolvency has been remedied by making public union workers bear more of the cost of their benefits (while still being over 20% higher than private sector benefits).
In other words, he’s actually done something to solve the problems he was elected to tackle.
Perhaps that’s why a state that went 14 points for Obama in 2008 is plus 7 on his side in this recall farce.
And it is equally easy to see why the unions are in panic mode.