Walker Victory Bad for Unions, Less So for Obama

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Protestors show off signs in the rotunda of the State Capitol prior to Gov. Scott Walker's state of the state address in Madison, Wis. January 2012. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
Protestors show off signs in the rotunda of the State Capitol prior to Gov. Scott Walker's state of the state address in Madison, Wis., in January. More than a year after the standoff over union rights that rocked Wisconsin and the nation for weeks, the Republican governor survived Tuesday's recall election. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

Governor Scott Walker’s victory on Tuesday is bad news for unions, particularly public-sector unions. In Wisconsin, Walker’s legislation stopping unions from automatically deducting member dues from their paychecks will likely remain on the books. The American Prospect‘s Harold Meyerson writes about what might happen if yesterday’s vote triggers a “domino effect“:

“Labor has certainly made clear that a war on unions comes at a price. But labor, its defeats notwithstanding, still punches well above its weight at election time and remains the chief impediment to Republican rule in states with a union presence. Taking it down — either through right-to-work legislation that weakens private-sector unions or collective-bargaining restrictions that weaken their public-sector counterparts — has long-term rewards both for Republican politicians and for businesses that depend on keeping wages low and benefits lower, if not non-existent.”

Many pundits were calling yesterday’s recall election the second most important election of the year. And today some are spinning Walker’s win as evidence that President Obama should be worrying about losing Wisconsin in November — which hasn’t happened to a Democrat running for president since 1984.

Last night, Governor Walker told Fox News that “Gov. Romney has an opportunity … to come in between now and Nov. 6 and make the case that he’s willing to make those same sort of tough decisions” as he did earlier in his tenure. There’s no doubt that in the coming days and weeks both campaigns will be re-evaluating their approach in Wisconsin, which the Obama campaign reclassified as a “toss-up” state on Monday.

But many analysts are writing today that it’s difficult to draw a straight line between Walker’s win and a Romney romp in November. Here are a few reasons why.

Exit polls favored Obama: By a 55 to 41 percent margin, Wisconsin voters indicated they would vote for Obama over Romney. CNN reports that voters said they thought Obama would do a better job of improving the economy than Romney (by a slim margin) and of helping the middle class (by a wider margin).

It was about the recall: As Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan (R) admitted in a New York Times piece on Monday there was “a slice of those Obama-Walker voters who think the recall is wrong, improper, a waste of money and an overreaction.” And in exit polls, 6 out of 10 voters said that they thought recall elections should be utilized only when an elected official has engaged in official misconduct.

“Walker-Obama” voters: Writing in the New Republic yesterday, Alec MacGillis attempted to dissect the paradox that is the Wisconsin voter who supports Walker and Obama. He writes that they are “swing voters who are … in a grudging pro-incumbent frame of mind. They see that we’re climbing back out of a deep hole and they see no reason to replace the guy on the ladder at this moment.” And he thinks there may be more voters like them in other swing states with improving economies.

Even though Walker’s victory may not presage trouble for Obama in November, if the domino effect kicks in, it may ultimately be bad for other Dems running in 2014 or 2016. Wonkbook‘s Ezra Klein explains:

“[T]he Wisconsin recall does have implications beyond 2012. Public-sector unions are a key part of the Democratic Party’s coalition. They provide money, manpower, and votes. Which is why Henry Olson, a vice president at the American Enterprise Institute, frames Walker’s legislation as a ‘defunding of the Democratic-party shock troops.’

Wisconsin’s new law won’t, on its own, radically change the power of public-sector unions. But Walker’s ability to withstand the recall will likely spur other governors to follow suit, and likely drain the enthusiasm of the opposition in other states. And even if it doesn’t, labor’s inability to win the recall is more evidence of their inability to reverse their own structural decline. They’re not winning on worksites, as the share of the labor force that’s unionized has been dropping for decades, and they’re not winning at the ballot box.

If you step back, then, two things are happening simultaneously among the key interest groups in American politics. Labor is getting weaker. And corporations, in part due to Citizens United, are getting much stronger. The electoral effect of that is obvious: It favors Republicans. But the legislative effect is, perhaps, more significant: It favors corporate interests in Congress, as Democrats will have to be that much more solicitous of business demands in order to keep from being spent into oblivion.”

At over $63 million dollars — much of it from outside sources — Tuesday’s race was the most expensive in the state’s history with Gov. Walker outspending Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett by a margin of 7 to 1. The Plum Line‘s Gary Sargent writes that “[u]nions and Dems had hoped that grassroots organizing would be enough to offset that spending advantage, and they did in fact mount a huge effort along those lines. The labor-backed We Are Wisconsin signed up 50,000 volunteers in the last 96 hours, a volunteer army that knocked on 1.5 million doors throughout the state. It wasn’t nearly enough.”

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  • Steve

    My reaction is like many in the working class (middle class no longer applies to us). The reality is, Dems failed to show up for the fight of working class America in WI, and we don’t have a party alternative.  I didn’t see any high profile Dems behind podiums turning voters out for Barrett in order to reverse the onslaught of large, rich corporations.  Dollars are not people.

    Our realization is the rich have taken most of the wealth out of the working class (and American treasury), and we have no visionary champions to fight for ideals that made this country great in the past. 

    Do you think Hillary would have let this happen had she been elected in 2008? In the dumbing down of America, the electorate wasn’t smart enough to look at what the Clinton team did for us in the 90’s, and put them back in the game.  It’s our own damn fault for not electing them back into the White House, and damn the rich corporations are hell bent on finishing us off.  I hope they choke to death on their billions.  This is not the America I grew up in.

  • Mass. Citizen

    Remember George Bailey’s nightmare? We’ll all have it spades and like never before, despite what Howard Zinn chronicled.  The ugly, shadow side of humanity is here – the greed, the lies, corruption, fear-based thinking, the winner take all just because they can. And the amazing denial about the Planet’s ecology. Romney just chose a billionaire who wants to push carbon-based fuels. So — while I confess to being incredible discouraged and not a little afraid, I’ll be damned if I don’t double down on this fight. If so called liberals continue to soft shoe what is at stake — well, I’m afraid to admit — if I was younger, I’d emigrate. Liberals are a big part of this – either consumerist distractions of….Stupidity. Really just ignorance in the simple and a failure to learn in the so called more sophisticated or political. Yes, I’ll vote for Obama, but he’s no fighter (and maybe a colluder) and that means a sell out for reasons understandable but ultimately un-heroic and not leader-like. Citizens United, this Supreme Court and Congress…it’s very serious. Well, OCCUPY. And with the first violence, it will be a law and order issue….to keep on violating rights. With the next terrorist incident, it’s law and order…Well, all I can say is I love the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the land of America and the ideas of America. But people just are not stepping up as citizens and the consumer culture lacks even enlightened self-interest apparently. 

  • JonThomas

     When subsistence living is the order, most people are too consumed with day to day pressures of life to find the time and strength to overcome discouragement.

    Add to that the mind numbing entertainment that lulls people to sleep and we have a situation where the sheep are trying to scrounge grass, the shepherds are payed off, and wolves are having a field day.

    I applaud your determination!!

  • JonThomas

     Well, said…

    It’s a difficult thing to do the what-ifs, but I share your dissatisfaction with our present situation.

    We need a lot more than “hope” this time.

  • Joseph A. Mungai

    Democrats had the White House and both chambers of Congress in 2009 and 2010. During the 15 month healthcare debacle Obama promised, “everything must be on the table, there can be no sacred cows.” Instead, he made back room deals with big-pharma and the insurance industry and took Medicare For All and a public option off the table. Looking back, this was not progressive politics. Today we’re dealing with drone strikes killing innocent civilians, Kill Lists, war in Pakistan, NDAA, ACTA, SOPA, retaliation against truth-tellers, “stuxnet” and “flame” revealed for any tweaker to use for their goals and billions of dollars in 2012 election fees. MSM wants more money so they limit viewers to the Evil of Two Lessers. Thank you Bill Moyers for your website and the work you and your colleagues do.

  • Shagnasty Bolivar

    You sir are a fuckwit. To vote for Obama the war criminal….There are alternatives, you just have to take a deep breath and vote Green or Socialist. Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better.

  • curie

    Union members went 1/3 for Walker.  Why?  To punish Barrett and the Dems for the recall iniatiative?  Makes nonsense, and I’d appreciate any links to anaysis of the union vote.

  • Emzucker1

    Progressives should not be too quick to get discouraged. My sense is that the battle is only just beginning and this election was only the first salvo.

    The history of the Great Depression gives some perspective.  The pushback from regular citizens took awhile to gather steam. There were many ups and downs before attention was paid to the plight of the, then, 99%. Much of the energy behind the progressive legislation created back then was to prevent the country from going fascist or Communist. FDR, being a savvy politician, was astute and far-sighted enough to plug into that energy and maintain national stability.

    Stay tuned, because this battle and others like it are just getting started.

  • mik

    Probably divide and rule worked.  The union people who voted for Walker are probably from the private sector.  Also, I know many union people who are gulity of the “I’ve got mine” syndrome; as long as they have what the union won for them, they don’t care about the next generation.  It’s all a symptom of hard times.  Maybe enough people will have to be hit REALLY hard befor things turn around. 

  • Anonymous

    The sad truth is that unions, not unlike corporations, are also seen as powers how think more/only about what they want: it’s always more!

  • Anonymous

    Obama is a fool if he thinks that he and his his allies can lose battle after battle and still win the war.  A wise warrior supports his allies.  A fool does not.  The GOP billionaires will win just as the Third Reich of the 1930s did until those capable of fighting back finally rouse themselves and throw everything they have at the enemy.