Thursday, June 7, 2012
The Lessons of Scott Walker
Having said it likely that I would wait until the weekend to post, here I am again (which I suppose means that I am as untrustworthy as some of the politicians I write about). I simply found that the more I listened to the talking heads on both sides of the political spectrum discuss the Wisconsin vote, the angrier I got. I am therefore going to weigh while the ink is still drying on the Wisconsin tallies.
One of the few things more amusing than seeing the mainstream media handed their collective butts in an election is watching the Olympic back-pedaling of the losers and the massive overreaching of the winners when the final results of such an election are finally tallied.
After Ohio's Governor Kasich took a drubbing for the failed effort in his state to gain the restrictions of public sector workers, the left was all but convinced that Governor Walker would receive a similar shellacking, especially with the numbers of signatures on the recall petitions. In spite of the fact that Walker seemed to be consistently ahead in the polls, we were told to expect his demise.
Well the results are in now and the reports Scott Walker's demise were apparently greatly exaggerated. He will remain the governor of Wisconsin, by what appears to be a lead of 53% to 46% over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. And even as Badgers were going to the polls, the pundits were lining up with excuses and prophecies.
I for one was amazed at the amount of whine produced in Wisconsin, as those on the left quickly pointed out that Barrett, after all, was not the Union supported candidate in the Democratic primary (refusing to acknowledge that the fact that his beating of that union candidate should have been saying something). Lest Union power and dignity suffer unduly, they were also quick to point out that outside money being spent on the left was being significantly outspent by outside money from the right. (I was curious that no mention was made about the impact of the opposite having happened in Ohio last year).
Before the dust had settled, we were likewise reminded that Ohio and Wisconsin were different situations, since the Ohio proposal included safety workers and Walker's in Wisconsin didn't. According to this form of spin we're supposed to believe that voters, who often have trouble distinguishing the candidate's political parties, understood the subtle shading of these arguments seven months later. I suppose it's equally possible that we should instead believe that safety workers, having no dog in this hunt, simply threw their Union brethren under the bus; but I heard no one mention this potential.
Last but not least, we were told that in spite of the Walker win, Barack Obama was still polling better than Mitt Romney. (This is known as the, "Oh yeah, your family has a better car, well mine has a better house. Nyeh!" response; and is usually limited to the playground in kindergarten.) By the time they were done, all I cold hear was John Belushi crying out to Carrie Fisher in 'The Blues Brothers', "It's not my fault!"
For their part and much like with the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts a few years back, those on the Right were busy announcing the second coming of the Republican Party to the tune of "Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead". They were equally vocal (and close to being as poor a sport in winning as the left was doing in losing) in predicting that the results of this election was a mere foretelling of Republicans increasing their lead in the House, taking over the majority in the Senate, and ultimately winning the Presidency. They were not only as excited as a new puppy, I think that in a couple cases they actually peed on the rug.
In all of this, they like their opponents were also wrong (at least in my opinion).
Scott Walker did not become the first governor to beat a recall election because he was a Republican. He did so because he's one of the few elected officials out there (along with members of the Wisconsin legislature) to understand what needed to be done and when, in order to balance the budget of the state in his charge. For this, those who originally voted for him did so again.
He knew that raising taxes was an unacceptable option, and that cutting spending was the only answer. He knew that public sector employee health and retirement benefit programs were only going to become worse if nothing was done about them. He likewise knew that laying off public sector employees and reducing services had to remain a last resort. In this, he was in some ways like his counterpart in Ohio, and their contemporary Chris Christie in New Jersey. Regardless of the path taken, all have managed to achieved a balanced budget for States under their care (unlike their ridiculous counterpart in Illinois). Unfortunately, this is not necessarily an example of Republican values when viewed on a grander scale.
Oh don't get me wrong, Republicans will certainly talk about small government and fiscal responsibility when on the political stump, but talk is usually all you get. (Remember the budget discussions of last year, and the 'Incredible Shrinking Budget Cuts' that resulted.) Upon achieving national office, they mostly seem to revert to a kind with their brethren on the left. Republicans have never had any problem spending, their difference was little more than the rate at which they did it. We were still spending more than we were taking in when Republicans controlled both Houses of Congress and the White House. We just hadn't loosed the deficit dogs, running up debt like a country that never expected to pay it back except by inflating a portion of it into non-existence. (Wait, that's exactly what we we're doing ... oh, never mind.)
Social Security and Medicare were both still going broke, and the Republican answer was to add a prescription drug program to make it happen quicker. Regulatory agency budgets at the EPA, HHS, and the Security agencies were increased annually; and added to as required when the Department of Homeland Security was formed. As for Defense spending; of course it had to go up. There were two wars to be fought after all. Oh sure there was talk about shutting down the NEA, but it never amounted to anything. There was also talk of streamlining the tax code, and with it the IRS; but nothing ever came of it but empty rhetoric.
If all of this is the case, what then can we learn from Governor Walker maintaining his office? Perhaps it's simply that even in a state as progressive Wisconsin, sometimes people will overlook political theory and keep someone in office who's getting the job done. It might be that people are getting tired of the way things have always been, and want real change (not hope and change). They're sick of what has largely become an over-priced and dysfunctional form of governance and want one that understands its limited power and even more limited finances. On the other hand, maybe this is just the acorn that the blind squirrel finds once in a while.
As for what this taught (or at least should have taught) the two major political parties, I expect neither learned anything. They've become too bloated, too power-hungry, and too set in their ways to learn from a simple lesson right in front of their eyes in Wisconsin. Elections are not necessarily won by greater spending, more effective bullying, or more masterful rhetoric and spin. Ultimately they are won by those who show up to vote; and increasingly, that group is made up of people who are really pissed at both of you.
So endeth the lesson ....