If the polls are any indication, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker – the Republican who annihilated workers’ rights and equal pay for women – will narrowly survive a recall attempt on June 5th. It is unbelievably tragic, and did not have to be this way. Walker has benefited from a mass influx of right-wing Super-PAC’s who clearly see his survival as a “make-or-break” moment, while President Obama and the Democratic National Committee have been frustratingly quiet in this battle. But for those who have followed the President on this issue, it is not surprising. Despite efforts by major unions to bring him to Wisconsin during last year’s legislative battle, Obama refused to get involved – leaving unions to fend for themselves. The President is notoriously risk-adverse, but his bold leadership on gay marriage proves that he can move public opinion when it matters – and right now, it’s needed more than ever. But with fellow Democrats like Cory Booker, Deval Patrick, Mark Warner & Ed Rendell all attacking him for making an issue out of Mitt Romney’s vulture capitalism, I’m not optimistic anything will change in the final week.
It’s hard to believe – with all the national coverage and righteous anger towards Scott Walker’s over-handed moves to disenfranchise teachers, nurses and firefighters – that a spirited recall attempt would come to this. I had always assumed the recall would happen in November (to benefit from a high voter turnout of traditional Democratic constituencies) – but for whatever reason, the decision was made to have a special election in June. And after two Republican state senators were successfully recalled from red districts last August, it was not unreasonable to think a historically progressive state like Wisconsin would recall Scott Walker – regardless of when it would be on the ballot. All things considered, the recall attempt was, and is, winnable.
But we all knew the Koch Brothers were going to pour millions of dollars to help their favorite Republican – which makes the national Democratic Party’s tepid support in this race infuriating and wholly unacceptable. As one Wisconsin Democrat complained to the Washington Post, “considering that Scott Walker has already spent $30 million and we’re even in the polls, this is a winnable race. We can get outspent two to one or five to one. We can’t get spent 20 to one.” But besides a press release from President Obama endorsing Tom Barrett, and a fundraising e-mail from the Democratic National Committee, there has been virtually no real financial commitment.
In fact, the President has been so tacit in his support for Tom Barrett — that yesterday Obama’s press spokesman Jay Carney misspoke and told a reporter he believed the White House was staying neutral.
Unfortunately, there were signs early on that this would happen. From the moment Scott Walker declared war on Wisconsin workers in February 2011, and labor activists camped out at the State Capitol, efforts were made to get President Obama actively involved in this struggle. But despite Obama’s vow in 2008 to “put on a comfortable pair of shoes” to walk picket lines with organized labor because “workers deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner,” the White House rebuffed repeated efforts to get him to come to Wisconsin. They wouldn’t even allow his Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis, to show up as a surrogate. In March, Walker did what he was going to do all along – setting the stage for the recall a year later.
Why has Obama been so tepid in his support for the recall of Scott Walker?? It certainly has labor leaders fuming. “Labor has always been there for the national Democratic Party,” said Harold Schaitberger, President of International Association of Fire Fighters. “The national Democratic Party should be there for labor in this instance. They’re not.” But the reality is that Obama – and the Democratic Party as a whole – has become so dependent on Wall Street money over the decades that a fight like this one (which involves organized labor) doesn’t have the same priority it would have had 30 years ago. The other side, meanwhile, is playing to win.
Take, for example, what happened when the Obama campaign made the right move politically – by seizing on Mitt Romney’s vulture capitalist record at Bain Capital. They clearly had polling research that showed Romney was vulnerable, but almost immediately fellow Democrats began to criticize him for daring to attack private equity. Newark Mayor Cory Booker was only the most visible (and he soon had to backtrack when Republicans made him a liability), but other Democrats – from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, California Senator Dianne Feinstein & Harold Ford Jr. – all made similar statements. When a Democrat starts talking about economic greed, you start pissing off your own donors.
When he wrote The Audacity of Hope back in 2006, Barack Obama admitted that he’s “not somebody who gets real worked up about things” – and we’ve all painfully learned how true that is, as he repeatedly looks for “bipartisanship” while Republicans declare war on working Americans. Given how notoriously risk-averse he is, nobody expects the President to do much now – even if he truly wanted to – with the Wisconsin recall election less than a week away.
But the President underestimates his own power, as the “bully pulpit” of the presidency can have a real impact. When Obama took the uncharacteristically gutsy move to endorse marriage equality earlier this month, political pundits immediately started to predict that it would hurt his standing in the black community. Instead, the opposite is happening. African-American voters, who have traditionally been more conservative on this issue, are re-examining their views. A recent ABC News / Washington Post poll shows 59% of black supporting gay marriage (up from 41% two years ago), which brought national support for marriage equality at an all-time high. If Obama were to spend the last week campaigning in Wisconsin, it could have a decisive impact in this race.
The President could have used his power to convince Wisconsin voters – a state where he beat John McCain by a double-digit landslide – that Scott Walker’s extreme assault on workers and women is wrong, and that it’s time for a change. But he chose not to do it, and now labor (who stood by him, despite betrayal after betrayal) is left hanging dry – as Walker survives a recall attempt next week.Filed under: Archive