Jack Craver at Isthmus has the same question I have: Why are the Democrats not talking about collective bargaining in the recall elections?
Health care, education, the environment, veterans, small businesses and people who are "salt of the earth." These are all things you can read about on the websites of the nine Democratic recall candidates. Collective bargaining is not.If you view politics as nothing but an exercise in slick tactics and devious one-upsmanship, this makes sense. Democrats feel they already have the labor vote. But talking about it too much risks alienating Republican and independent voters. Why rock the boat? But it's possible to be too tactical for your own good, and Democrats both nationally and on the state level have been doing too much of it lately. Especially in last fall's gubernatorial race, as Craver notes.
This is the conventional wisdom the Democratic Party has operated on for years. During primaries, candidates roll out the union endorsements and compete for credentials in union halls. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton voice "serious concerns" about trade agreements with their fingers crossed behind their backs.Sure, speaking up involves risks. But the alternative is worse. You risk being perceived as standing for nothing. That happened last fall. Scott Walker wasn't elected because of any great conservative tidal wave. He was elected because the Democrats ran a weak, mushy campaign that was short on issues that connected with people. The union vote for Walker says it all.
It was this approach that made Walker's war against public workers possible. Does anybody remember Tom Barrett bringing up labor issues last fall? He didn't, because who would have cared?
Maybe the nearly 40% of union members who voted for Scott Walker.
Scott Walker is wrong about a lot of issues. But those issues aren't what people came to the Capitol in unprecedented numbers to protest. And they're not what the recalls are about. All the other issues are well within the normal spectrum of party differences on the issues, the sort of thing you address in the next regularly scheduled election, not with a recall election.
The protests and and the recalls are all about Walker's stealth attack on collective bargaining rights -- an attack that flew in the face of public sentiment, Wisconsin's tradition of progresive labor relations under both parties and the fact that Walker never talked his plan in the campaign. The recalls are about misleading the public and then ramming through the legislature an agenda that was never revealed in Walker's campaign. It was dishonest and cynical, and even some Republicans and many independents were shocked.
That's why it's so important for Democrats to stand on principle. If there's a legitimate reason for the recalls, it's all about political principle, not partisan politics. Democrats are not going to win by listening to the same old campaign consultants and campaigning in the same old way. They need to sustain the passion and the solidarity that fueled the protests and the recall drives in the first place.
If they don't, they'll play right into the Republicans' contention that this is about nothing but an expensive exercise in politics as usual. And they'll lose, just as surely as they lost last fall. We can do better than this.