Matt Stoller at Nekkid Capitalism:
On Tuesday, Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker humiliated his Democratic opponent, Tom Barrett, by easily turning back a popular recall attempt sponsored by unions and liberal activists. The numbers in the election, which were supposed to be close, were ugly, in favor of the Republican. But this wasn’t just any Republican, Scott Walker is THE Republican, the politician who made his governorship a referendum on a hard right agenda, in a blue state. Walker waged a direct and very public attack on the major constituencies of the Democratic Party, rolling back rights for women, the working class, and the young with measures such as ending collective bargaining for state employees, privatizing state assets, and repealing Wisconson’s equal pay provisions for women. His agenda provoked a fierce reaction – – Wisconsin citizens occupied the Statehouse for months – and then a recall.
Yesterday, Walker’s agenda was ratified by the voters of Wisconsin, the state where public sector unions were born. It’s hard to overstate how bad this is – Wisconsin is now on the road to becoming a right-to-work state, in what is likely to become a right-to-work country. Right-to-work laws are provisions that allow individual employees to withdraw from unions, and they make it much harder for unions to organize.
And the deeper you look into the race, the worse it looks. By calling for a recall instead of a general strike after Walker stripped collective bargaining rights and cut benefits for workers, labor and Democratic leadership in the state diverted and then subverted populist energy, channeling it into an electoral process (at least one union, one very active in the occupation of the Capitol, stood apart from the electoral stupidity). Then, Barrett, an anti-labor centrist, won the Democratic primary by crushing his labor-backed opponent, Kathleen Falk. Finally, Barrett himself was destroyed by Scott Walker, who outspent Barrett 7-1 with corporate money. In other words, first, liberals lost a policy battle, then they failed to strike, then they lost a primary election, then they lost a general election to the most high-profile effective reactionary policy-maker in the country. The conservative beat the moderate who beat the liberal. And had Barrett won, he wouldn’t even have rolled back Walker’s agenda. Somehow, in a no-win electoral situation, Democrats and labor managed to lose as badly as they possibly could.
I wish I could say I had a new insight, but it’s basically the same problem I’ve been writing about for years. Put simply, it’s that Obama’s policy framework is now the policy framework of the Democratic Party, liberals, and unionism. Up and down the ticket, Democrats are operating under the shadow of the President, associated with unpopular policies that make the lives of voters worse and show government to be an incompetent, corrupt handmaiden to big business. So they keep losing.
It should be obvious that if you foreclose on your voters, cut their pay, and legalize theft of their wealth by Wall Street oligarchs, they won’t be your voters anymore. Somehow, Democratic activists continue to operate as if policy doesn’t matter to voters, or that policy evaluation is a Chinese menu of different stuff, some of which you like and some of which you don’t, as in “Oh I’ll take a pro-choice moderate, with a bailout, and gay rights. And a Pepsi”. But that’s not how it works – voters’ lives get better, or they don’t. And under Obama, stuff has gotten worse. Obama’s economic policies have made economic inequality sharper than it was under Bush, due to his bailout of banks and concurrent elimination of the main source of wealth of most Americans, home equity. With these policy choices, Obama destroyed the Democratic Party and liberalism – under Obama’s first two years, the fastest growing demographic party label was “former Democrat.” Liberalism demands that people pay for a government, but why should anyone want to pay taxes for the terrible governance Obama has implemented?
We saw Democrats lose elections badly in 2009 and 2010 because of this dynamic. They didn’t self-correct, instead doubling down on Obama. Then, in Illinois and Maryland in April, liberal labor-backed candidates were absolutely wrecked in primaries. I noted at the time in a piece titled “Why Is the Left Slice of the Democrats Getting Crushed?” that this is a consequence of Obama’s policies and a general discrediting of liberalism. In Wisconsin, the stage was much more high-profile, but the dynamics were the same. This quote could just as easily apply to either contest.
“I’m flabbergasted. I’m embarrassed. This is the biggest screw-up electorally that I’ve ever been involved in,” said one progressive activist still sorting through the wreckage.
But it’s not complete to say this is just Obama’s doing. Obama has done everything he’s done with the support of labor leaders, Democratic supportive groups like Moveon, foundations, liberal pundits, African-American church networks, feminist groups, LGBT groups, and technology interests. Any of these could have stopped him by withdrawing support and overtly attacking him, but only the LBGT community fought for their rights. This American labor bureaucracy, which simply does not strike and therefore has no leverage against capital, operates largely as a group of fragmented business unionists.
Matt Stoller was one of the founders of the Hillary-hating, Obama-fluffing Open Left blog. I see that Matthew has parlayed his incompetence as a political analyst into a paying job at the Roosevelt Institute. Since I am still a lowly unpaid blogger I feel absolutely no shame or guilt for savoring the schadenfreude.
Four years ago I was one of the people running around Left Blogistan with my hair on fire, warning people that Barack Obama was going to turn the American left into a smouldering wreck. All I got out of it was burn scars on my head and the dubious honor of being one of the first members of the fastest growing demographic party label.
How bad is Matt’s analysis?
Imagine if the public employee unions in Wisconsin went on strike like he proposes. In the middle of a recession with high unemployment, teachers walk out of their classrooms rather than agree to pay a little more for their medical and pension benefits. How much sympathy would the average voter feel for someone striking over a deal that would still leave them with a better salary and benefit package than the voters themselves?
What Matt Stoller and many of his “creative class” buddies don’t realize is that people just ain’t buying what they’re selling. They are using rhetoric of union “workers” versus greedy “owners” when it’s really civil servants versus the elected representatives of the people.
If you’re making $20,000 a year with shitty benefits, a job that pays $50,000 a year with great benefits sounds pretty damn good. But if you’re being asked to pay higher taxes in order to pay the salary of someone who makes more than twice what you do, it doesn’t sound quite so hot. It’s hard to get the proles to rally to your defense when you claim to be oppressed but you make more than the proles.
When the autoworkers go on strike, you still have a car to drive. If not a single new car or truck rolled off the line for a year most Americans would not be affected, even if the Japanese and Koreans didn’t pick up the slack.
Government provides essential services – in most cases it has a monopoly on them. If government workers go on strike, everyone is affected. When the air traffic controllers (PATCO) went on strike back in 1981 it disrupted air travel around the world.
But just because you’re essential doesn’t mean you are irreplaceable. There are lots of people out there who would love to be teachers, cops and firefighters. If you ever applied for one of those jobs you know what I’m talking about. There are often hundreds of applicants for a handful of openings. Most of those applicants would still be there even if the salary and benefits for those jobs was substantially reduced.
Democrats made a big mistake in drawing a line in the sand over public employees. In their defense, they didn’t have much choice. Public employee unions are a powerful constituency. Therein lies the rub.
Democratic officeholders kowtow to PEU’s because they need their support. But they are using taxpayer money to satisfy the PEU’s demands. It works for a while, but eventually the taxpayers rebel.
It’s not just the Democrats either. Here in California the most powerful PEU is the prison guards. For decades the GOP kept advocating building more and more prisons, and inventing new crimes and increasing penalties for the old ones in order to keep those prisons full.
I’m not blaming the public employees. Individually they are good people doing important work. But you start making a certain amount of money and you get used to it. You even start feeling entitled to it.
Public employees have been mostly immune to economic downturns. They don’t have to worry about layoffs and closings. They usually get annual raises. Over the years the income and benefits disparity between the public and private sector has grown larger and larger.
All around the country we see local, state and federal budget problems. Public employee benefits are no longer a sacred cow:
San Jose voters Tuesday handed Mayor Chuck Reed a crucial victory with his nationally watched pension reform measure passing by an almost 70 percent margin.
It was a big night for pension reform, with a San Diego measure also winning by a wide margin. City employee unions who argued the measures are illegal were expected to challenge both in court.
But voter approval of San Jose’s Measure B puts Reed and the city in the vanguard of efforts to shrink taxpayer bills for generous government pension plans. Passage also strengthens Reed’s hand as he and his city council allies work to enact the measure’s reforms with a vote next week to reduce pensions for new hires.
The San Jose and San Diego votes drew interest around the country as a gauge of voter support for reforming pensions at the ballot box. Gov. Jerry Brown’s pension reform proposals have gained little headway in the Legislature.
Voters like Howard Delano of Willow Glen were tired of watching their city shovel more and more tax money into government pensions far more generous than their own retirement.
“It’s out of control,” Delano, 60, said after dropping off his ballot. “Nobody gives me a pension.”
Reed proposed Measure B a year ago after his efforts from championing new tax measures to imposing 10 percent pay cuts on city employees failed to erase budgetary red ink that has soaked the city ledger for a decade. Though the city projects a modest $9 million surplus in the upcoming budget, thanks largely to the pay cuts and hundreds of job cuts, a $22.5 million shortfall is expected the year after.
A key deficit driver has been the yearly pension bill that has more than tripled from $73 million to $245 million in a decade, far outpacing the 20 percent revenue growth and gobbling more than a fifth of the city’s general fund. A city audit blamed the rise on a combination of benefit increases, flawed cost assumptions and investment losses.
City audits and news reports also assailed a system in which the city’s police and firefighters take tax-free disability retirements at rates far exceeding those in other big cities.
70% is the kind of number in politics you don’t want to be on the wrong side of. Democrats can dig in their heels and leave this issue for the GOP. Or they can be smart.
BTW – Chuck Reed is a Democrat.
I realize what I am saying will be considered heresy by some people. But dismissing things you don’t like as “right-wing talking points” is stupid.