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September 27, 2021


Postmortem: Wisconsin, Obama & Elections

Madison's weekly sums it up

Did not the heavenly rhetoric of thine eye,
‘Gainst whom the world cannot hold argument,
Persuade my heart to this false perjury?
—”Love’s Labour’s Lost,” William Shakespeare

Madison, WI—Was it the money? Was it a weak candidate? Was it the President’s and DNC’s indifference?

With Karl Rove and national Republicans dancing in the end zone, the soul searching and recriminations among Wisconsin progressives are now in full swing. The bulk of national commentary—including from generally sympathetic outlets like MSNBC and the NY Times—has generally been useless.

And since we can have for more impact on what we do than on our opponents, it’s more useful to address the former than to state the obvious about the Republicans. Yes, it’s annoying to listen to right-wing talking heads conjuring false courage, praising Walker for “daring to touch the third rail” and “taking on the tough fights” etc. etc, as if ALEC & Co. haven’t made unions and public sector workers their whipping boys everywhere for some time. It doesn’t require “courage” to outspend your opponents by $27 million and carpetbomb the airwaves with lies. But the fact that you read The Mudflats means you’re too smart to expect intellectual honesty from this crew, anyway.

We can’t control what every drunk driver does on the road, but we can control whether or not we wear our seat belt and whether we’re paying attention to traffic or texting on our cellphone. So in that spirit, let’s take a moment for some introspection.

Heather DuBois Bourenane, a Dane County working mom, tireless activist throughout the Wisconsin battle, and publisher of the excellent Monologues of Dissent blog put it thusly:
“I’m sick of these perfect-hindsight analyses of what we did wrong. We’re all like ‘oh, thank you Paul Krugman for not ignoring the Wisconsin struggle like everyone else! You’re our hero!’ when we should be saying ‘get your ass over here and do more if you care so much.’”

Some of the dynamics in play here are unique to Wisconsin and the Walker recall, while others are the same ones that have befuddled progressives across the nation for some time.

How is it that 37% of union households would vote for a guy who’s gunning for their very economic survival?

Is it accurate and prescient to write the epitaph for organized labor, or a wake-up call to recommit ourselves to its survival and reconnect unions and the progressive movement?

And why do so many working class white folks insist on voting conservative and, therefore, as we see it, against their own economic interests? An NYU psychologist challenges the popular “they’ve been duped” assumption with an interesting take on this question.

This writer would be disingenuous to suggest I’ve come up with answers since Tuesday night. Like many in Madison right now, I’m still working through the stages of shock and grief and liver abuse. Given the obligatory, predictable flood of post-election commentary, however, I hope to provide you with a few guideposts in separating the clueless from the plausible—sort of like Jeanne doing the dirty work for us and plowing through Palin’s “books” so we don’t have to.

The pieces linked above grapple with the larger philosophical questions involved. When it comes to the nuts and bolts of electoral mechanics, the best, most credible explanations I’ve come across thus far are Matt Rothschild’s observations in the local Isthmus alt-weekly.

Rothschild’s second point, “the DNC and White House went AWOL,” is difficult to overstate. Every politician and organization makes mistakes, but when you really want to combine moral cowardice with operational ineptitude, you need today’s Democratic Party. What just happened in Wisconsin may be the biggest case of political malpractice I’ve seen in my lifetime.

Wisconsin, Obama & the Democrats

While Gov. Walker and his policies have been embraced and celebrated by Republican Presidential candidates all year, President Obama has approached Wisconsin with the enthusiasm of a seal noticing a polar bear. Oh, he’s been to Milwaukee to raise money for himself, but has never once been a presence in Madison or stood with the protestors—literally or metaphorically—around the capital. There’s been not so much as a press release for over an entire year.

As my friend Adam Casey, who manages a small business in Madison, put it, “I stood at the capitol doors in the freezing cold banging on the doors and challenging cops who had decided they serve power rather than the law, and Obama couldn’t be bothered to stand up for us and the law?”

The Friday before the vote, the President was next door in Minnesota, but apparently Air Force One didn’t quite have the chops to make it across the border.

And what’s injury without a little insult? Wisconsin progressives were stunned to receive an email from the Obama campaign the day after the election, hamhandedly seeking to exploit the electoral tragedy, whose outcome they did nothing to affect, in order to—you guessed it—raise more money for themselves.

“What just happened in Wisconsin” reads the insulting subject header, as if they were around to find out. The only thing Team Obama knows about Wisconsin is that as a result of it we should send them more money.

“Oh what—you think we’ll be better off with Romney?” some of you will invariably ask. And no, we will not. While equally matched in their abilities to drop bombs from drones onto brown civilians, to deport immigrants, to illegally detain citizens without due process, and to roll over for Wall Street financial interests, it would be dishonest to suggest that there aren’t cases where they differ or that those cases aren’t important. The main reason I plan to cast an unenthusiastic ballot for the incumbent is that I care what happens to my LGBT and female friends. Their treatment is not a trivial matter, and when it comes to identity politics, Mr. Obama does deserve credit for having distinguished himself from his opponents.

But if he can do the bare minimum, so can we. Let him raise his money from his new BFFs on Wall Street. Let his corporate appointees—the Larry Summers and Timothy Geithners with whom he surrounds himself—do doors and phone bank for him. Most of us have finite money and time, and must therefore allocate them judiciously.

There are individual Democrats like Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin who have fought for us and need our help this fall. We know that, while it may not receive the glitzy national coverage of federal races, what happens on the state and local level often impacts our lives more directly than the former. Alaskans, for instance, have recently had a front row seat to the courage of Sen. Bill Wielechowski—who took on the world’s wealthiest oil companies, and their consigliere in the governor’s mansion, and prevailed. They’ll be gunning for him this fall, and he deserves our help. Emboldened Republicans and corporate lobbies will now launch other Wisconsins around the nation, and those besieged deserve our help. Somewhere near you, a candidate of integrity and decency is running for school board or city council. And s/he deserves our help.

It’s possible to hold politicians like the President accountable and remain engaged.

Don’t give up.

In sleep-deprived solidarity from Wisconsin,

Thomas Dewar



29 Responses to “Postmortem: Wisconsin, Obama & Elections”
  1. Mo says:


    Scott Walker Pulls a Palin and Stabs Romney In the Back

  2. Beezer says:

    Was it a weak candidate? Very probable I think Wisconsin’s re-call election shows that Gov. Walker had advantage of time and the possible forgetfulness of some WI electorates.- Heck I know I suffer from CRS Syndrome at least twice if not thrice daily!- Tom Barrett current Mayor of Milwaukee was chosen as challenger even though he was a two time gubernatorial loser. Not sure but maybe I heard buzz that another primary candidate was sounding pretty good.

    Walker knew he would be up for possible re-call as far back as Nov. 2011. Barrett decided to throw in his hat on March 30th then he won the primary May 8th… a full 28 days before the general re-call. Walkers campaign had 6 months of time to set his new agenda, gather alliances and money. Uh, I think I meant to say lots of $$$$. Anyway Barrett lost in the 2002 primary and again in the 2010 general against none other than…. Scott Walker.
    The republicans here in WA State know a little bit about choosing a two time losing gubernatorial candidate. I remember whom the WA republicans elected for their U.S. Senate nominee in 2010 to run against our current Senator Patty Murray (D)…Dino Rossi. Yes the same Rossi that lost twice to our current Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) in our 2004 and 2008 gubernatorial races. Damn she is not running for re-election this time around.
    (Some in WA don’t like to recall our 2004 gubernatorial as we made quite a few national headlines of our own ei: First Rossi the winner then Gregoire then Rossi then…it was one the closest races in U.S. history, missing/missed ballots, 3 hand recounts, lawsuits with legal twists and turns. Finally Gregoire was declared the winner and Rossi finally conceded in June of 2005.)

    Is this proof that Barrett was a weak candidate? I think he should have asked Dino Rossi for his advice on if a 3rd time is a charm.

  3. fishingmamma says:

    I am actually encouraged by the results in Wisconsin. Walker spent over a year campaigning to save his seat, travelled the country, and outspent the Dem by 7 – 1. After all that work, and all that money, his ‘victory’ was by a very slim margin.

    So, I am starting to tell all my republican friends that the result is exactly what we wanted. That the real objective was to separate as many republicans as possible from thier millions of dollars and pump that money into the economy. Printers, advertising companies, pollsters, election workers. We managed to turn the republican party into ‘job creators’ after all.

    Remember, there is another election just around the corner, and I do NOT want Romney to be the President that picks Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s replacement.

    We need to use the GOP’s willingness to spend millions as a way to point out just how it is they plan to govern. That even a minor objective is worth millions of dollars, and those dollars will come from middle class taxes.

    • Deni says:

      Excellent points. One other thing to remember is some people voted against recalling Walker because they don’t believe in recalls! Let the GOP dance in the end zone. They may have won the battle, but they will lose the war unless Dems and Independents don’t come out and VOTE for President Obama in November.

      If President Plastic picking the next LIFETIME members of the SCOTUS, doesn’t scare the sh*t out of you, you’re not paying attention!

  4. laingirl says:

    I don’t think President Obama getting involved would have helped much, if any, since almost all of the people who would have been influenced by him were already planning to vote for Barnett. An appearance there would have just riled up more Republicans voters. Hate has always been a big incentive. A lot of people who do not care for unions, and I think that is mostly due to jealousy; they do not realize how unions have helped all workers. Many (even some Democrats) are convinced that union members make too much and have too many benefits when they don’t even know what the union members make or do. While certainly the DNC could have done more, I did hear a lot of positive talk on MSNBC about the upcoming Wisconsin vote; Ed talked about it almost every day he was on, but MSNBC does not have the audience, infortunately, of Faux Nooze.

    Please don’t give up on President Obama; no one has had to face what he has since he’s been in office. Sure I wish he had done more, but he is only human like the rest of us, and the alternative is so awful.

  5. Polarbear says:

    Overall, it appears Bin Laden won this round, both in Europe and North America. His actions resulted in a fearful fractured democracy, a democracy which has nearly bankrupted itself trying to fight multiple wars against several thousand true Muslim extremists. We had a very weak President at the time with very poor judgment, and now, here we are. Our middle class is in shambles. We cannot afford our armed forces. Corporations dominate our political process. The election in Wisonsin did not solve anything, except to demonstrate how big money seeks power, if allowed. Unfortunately, we cannot go back and undo the years since 9-11.

    Our country needs a solid political movement from the middle. There is a gap in the reasonable middle where our democracy thrives for neighborhoods and for the nation. We need to get it together and start cooperating to get things done. I thing Bin Laden is smilling at our predicament.

  6. moose pucky says:

    Democrat bashing and Obama bashing are not helpful activities if one wants to beat the corporatocracy that the Republicans represent.

    Unions also need to remember that there are lots of underpaid, hard-working, good people who do not belong to unions and yet pay taxes for the benefits that union members (public employees especially) receive, benefits that many underpaid, hard-working citizens do not themselves have access to–like, for example, pensions and health insurance.

    Wisconsin did very well, all things considered. They will need to do better in November. I expect they may do better than many states.

    We need all hands on deck everywhere. We need to address the broad issues of the 99%, not just the unions and the middle class. We need to support the one person we have, President Obama, who can halt, through his veto power and appointment of Supreme Court justices, a serious backslide to the dark ages of tax breaks for the wealthy, no regulation for banks or polluters, health insurance for only the select, justice for only the rich, and opportunity for only the connected.

    • mike from iowa says:

      we will have to agree to disagree about obama bashing. does this guy stand for anything? is he so afraid of rwnj that he will not put his ass on the line for the very folks that want to vote for him if he had a backbone? obama and the dnc did virtually nothing for wisconsin. reminds me of dumbass bush sr. who incited southern iraqis(shites,i believe) to rise up against saddam hussein after the first gulf war and then we sat back and watched them be annihilated because bush wouldn’t protect them as promised. i for one will not even consider a vote for obama unless/until he proves the courage of his convictions. glib talk doesn’t get it done. i will find someone to vote for and write them in.

      • Mo says:

        sorry, mike, but a write in vote is a vote for Romney. Or weren’t you paying attention during the Nader debacle?

        • mike from iowa says:

          a write in vote is a protest vote against obama.if he won’t stand up for americans of the progressive or liberal persuasion he doesn’t deserve my vote and will not get it. he is doing his damndest to be dubya light. i will no longer defend him or his policies as they are little different from bush.

          • TS says:

            If you prefer Romney to be President without voting for him – you have the right idea – why not stay at home which is what so many disenchanted liberals seem to see as the solution to their non-stop complaints about the President.

            It is obviously not enough that politicians on the right have stated their major goal is to make him a 1 term President – he has those who should support him helping out the GOP.

      • Alaska Pi says:

        You do what’s right for you.That’s what it is about.And I mean it.
        Kinda makes my shorts chafe here- all the pressure surrounding your declaration.
        Me, I’m gonna bite my tongue (my hand, my foot, my own ear) and vote for Mr Obama. I’ve never voted that way before- not in 40 years of voting, I have never voted for the lesser of 2 evils. Will this time.
        Not because I accept the Centrist Dem POV embodied by this Pres, the Clintons, any number of folks now. Not because I think much will change in a second administration, not for any number of reasons. I’m not a moderate Dem nor am I a Centrist Dem- I’m a far left libertarian whom almost no one agrees with so I don’t say what I think about a lot of things (even though I talk alla time 🙂 )
        Being a perpetual minority gets boring sometimes but not when you’re around.
        I’ve read your comments carefully over time and agree with you on so many fronts and in so many ways.
        I have my reasons this time, you have yours. I’ll help hold off Mr Romney, you find someone worth voting for, ok?
        You fall for the Ron Paul line o crap some libs are and I’m done with you though. I mean it.

    • Happy Place says:

      I respectfully suggest you make a distinction between “bashing” and accountability. The author even indicated he’s going to vote for the man, but we do not live in a monarchy and when the President we elected decides to take a pass on the biggest labor battle of our time—in the place that has become Ground Zero in the battle between working families and corporate power—when the President is MIA for OVER A YEAR and abandons us, having a problem with that is not “bashing.” It’s insulting to suggest we should just shut up, take it, and send him more money.

  7. tigerwine says:

    I had to come here to find others who could put into words better than I the disappointment I felf about the WI recall election. To say I was stunned just doesn’t describe it. Thanks, Mudpuppies.

  8. Martha Unalaska Yard Sign says:

    “The bulk of national commentary—including from generally sympathetic outlets like MSNBC and the NY Times—has generally been useless.”

    Mr. Dewar just discovered the same thing Alaskans discovered about national press – they are flat worthless. Free press? Corporate press – after the quick buck and not the real news.

    Yes, there is a silver lining somewhere – we just don’t always see it. I know a whole lot of people worked really hard to make a positive and decisive statement, and I don’t want them to feel it was for naught because it wasn’t!

  9. Tugustalou says:

    “They know how you feel.”
    We, know how you feel.
    I, know how you feel.

  10. Krubozumo Nyankoye says:

    I can’t agree that national interest by either the president or the president’s titular party was the deciding factor in the failure of the recall election. While it is certainly true that the republicans spent enormous amounts of money to keep Walker in office, it is not necessarily true that democrats on any level could have achieved a different result by spending more money than they did. Once again, look at the demographics. The election was decided by 57% of the electorate. Despite the obviious deleterious effects on the state economy, despite the blatent chickanery of shifting funds from stimulus to budget balancing, despite the strong push to sell off assets to private parties, and on and on, the citizens of WI were not enough interested to turn out and cast a vote to stop the pillaging.

    One wonders what the mind set of the 43% is who did not bother to take part. That percentage certainly does not correspond to any specific economic demographic. But it is possible that a large part of it could be accounted for by the classification “poor”. Not enough money to be even mildly interested in politics let alone able to think about the issues. Nonparticipants. Untouchables.

    And one last thing. President Obama is just one man. Even within his own supposed coalition he has more than a few detractors, critics, naysayers, who pile on enthusiastically when he does not meet their expectations with those who hate everything he stands for. Is that really wise?

    The absurdity of attributing the outcome of man very complex events to the actions of one man is a manifestation of the general lack of education of most people in a so-called representative democracy.

    We are the will of the nation, unless we disengage and do not participate.

    • Mo says:

      KN, I think David Atkins’ “You Are Not Normal” essay is dead on the money:

      “…the political activist bubble, divorced from any reality on the ground. Which, honestly, would have been clear to anyone actually talking to voters. I personally made over 700 phone calls and knocked on over 500 doors in advance of this election to likely June primary voting Democrats, and most of them were clueless–in spite of the daily barrage of mail–that there was a major contested congressional race happening. If they knew anything, it was that Brownley seemed to be competent and a good Democrat, and that they had heard some negative stuff about Parks. But most didn’t even have that level of awareness. I wasn’t normal.”

  11. Kath the Scrappy says:

    I read this very thoughtful analysis, found it worth reading:

    Why Walker Didn’t Win Wisconsin

  12. psminidivapa says:

    In the last PA Governor election, more than 25% of public school teachers voted for Corbett, even though he clearly said he planned to decimate public education. (And he is doing it) Why people would vote for someone who plans to hurt them is beyond me.

    Corbett’s election was funded by private school, charter school, and religious school PACs. (as well as Penn State and Second Mile people – who were paying him to not do anything with the Sandusky thing….imagine how many boys he could have saved over the years he was PA AG????)

    Now, many of these teachers who voted for him are being laid off, or their class sizes are becoming unmanageable, or they are losing their aids, or their extracurricular activities are being cancelled. All of the public schools in PA have had devastating funding cuts for 2 years – schools are cutting arts, sports, related arts. NOW those teachers who voted for Corbett are getting “concerned.” (they voted for him because he was “anti-abortion” and “pro-gun” –I live in redneck “we cling to guns and religion” territory — I ask these teacher colleagues: “Has Corbett done ANYTHING to ban abortions or allow you all to have AK-47 in your classrooms??” (snark, snark)

    Now, we are finding out that: 1. our Governor’s (and GOP) budget cuts will bankrupt all of the public schools in PA in the next 2-4 years, 2. If a public school goes bankrupt, all bargaining unit contracts are null – ie. no more teacher unions, 3. If a public school goes bankrupt (which we ALL will do, sooner or later- because the Governor has cut our funding ), a “private for profit school entity” (who paid for Corbett’s election) can take over the public school – fire all current teachers, hire new teachers (who – because of new state laws – do not have to be certified), these new schools do not have to follow the same rules, like take high stakes tests.

    I do not have my tinfoil hat on, but I think that it is frightening that these GOP Governors all have the same playbook.

    I find it even more frightening that people agree with them.

    • Mo says:

      Criminy, Diva, that is frightening. The American Taliban in action.

      Yet more evidence that, as I mused in prior post below, that it’s more important to these people to validate themselves than it is to have even minimal common sense?

    • leenie17 says:

      As an educator myself and as someone who has two cousins in Philadelphia who are also teachers, I sympathize with your frustration.

      During the last gubernatorial election here in NY, I was talking with some of my colleagues at school. One of them was a close friend who is extremely religious and conservative – quite the opposite of me. We agreed long ago to avoid discussions of both religion and politics, although we sometimes joke that our election day votes always just cancel each other out.

      During that election, the two candidates were Andrew Cuomo (D) and Carl Paladino (R). Paladino was an offensive man who had made his money through questionable business practices in real estate and development. Some of the business deals he had made tremendous profits on were so callous and destructive to the public that they made Mitt Romney look like a socialist saint. During the campaign , it was revealed that he had distributed extremely racist and sexually obscene emails to large numbers of people, for which he was merely dismissive. He promised to slash and destroy programs for the poor and decimate the public workforce while eliminating many of the state government agencies, compared public unions to ‘pigs’, and made several speeches insulting gays and Muslims.

      He accused Cuomo of having extramarital affairs (with no proof) but had himself fathered a child during an affair with an employee while he was married. When the story about his child broke in the media, he threatened a reporter with violence for stalking his child, which the reporter didn’t even do.

      He was a man of the lowest order, and contrary to any and every value a good “Christian” should hold dear. And yet, my friend was voting for him for one and only one reason…he was against abortion in all cases, even rape and incest.

      That 34% of NYers voted for this piece of slime clearly demonstrated to me that there are millions of people who choose their candidate on one and only one issue, and choose to consciously ignore every other aspect of that candidate’s personality, values and political intentions.

      The prospect that any of these Republicans who want to turn us into a radical right theocracy and hand over the country to their wealthy friends might win the upcoming elections often keeps me awake at night. What really frightens me is that the voter suppression, hackable voting machines, unlimited corporate campaign funding, and far right wing courts deciding any conflicts might make it that much easier for them to steal the election and render the will of the (real) citizens worthless.

  13. Lacy Lady says:

    I can’t quote Rommney exactly, but he did say tonight that the People in Wisc. have spoken and that they approve of Walkers cutting the workforce in jobs of Firefighters, Police and teachers.
    I can’t believe that people want to cut their own throats.
    Hopefully Walker will be found guilty when he is indicted.
    It’s too bad that it takes money to win an election. The Koch brothers will soon own America.

  14. COalmostNative says:

    I did see an exit poll that said 6 out of 10 who voted did not believe in recalls; some felt one would be valid only if the official was accused of a crime. Also- even though Walker and his out-out-state backers outspent Barrett 7 to 1, Walker only gained a percentage point over the last election.

    My hope is Walker is finally indicted, like many of his team-

  15. Kath the Scrappy says:

    I am so sorry and disappointed too. I donated several times to several of the candidates and had such high hopes. Wisconsinites worked their hearts out.

    The one silver lining is that the one recall happened and the Dems now have their majority in the Senate, so they can block some of Walker’s radical plans. That isn’t much of a consolation, but at least something came out positive.

    • mike from iowa says:

      wisconsin government is out to lunch until next elections in november. dem control of senate is symbollic only unless they can win again in then the flood of outside money will swamp dems. rw politburo has plenty of time to indoctrinate the naive and gullible with lies upon lies.

  16. leenie17 says:

    I am extremely disappointed about the outcome of the election and frustrated by the insistence of middle class voters to choose the candidates that will hurt them the most. However, I am also heartened by the fact that the percentages of votes for each candidate did NOT reflect the stark difference in money spent. If campaign money was the ONLY factor to have influence, the margin between the winner and loser would have been far greater.

    So, what I take away from this (trying VERY hard to be optimistic!) is that there are still people out there who are smart enough and pay close enough attention to the real issues that they are not swayed by the tidal wave of misleading ads. Those people and the polls that showed a strong preference for President Obama, even among many of those who voted for Walker, give me hope for November.

  17. mike from iowa says:

    rwnj from all across america claim unions outspent rethuglicans in wisconsin despite all evidence to the contrary.these lying sonsabitches are so deep in denial that there is no hope of reconciliation between the parties ever.uncivil war is coming.

  18. Mo says:

    John Stuart Mill:
    “What I stated was, that the Conservative Party was, by the law of its constitution, necessarily the stupidest party. Now, I do not retract that assertion; but I did not mean to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it.” (Public and Parliamentary Speeches, 31 May 1866, pp. 85-86.)

    This has been a pretty consistent observation through Mark Twain to the present. Jonathan Haidt has been getting press lately for his theories on this subject (cf the link you quoted to his Guardian article). While I haven’t read his latest book, yet, what bothers me is his lack of empirical evidence. He sets up a set of 6 “moral concerns” dichotomies and then evaluates supposedly typical lib and conservatard attitudes to these dichotomies. Well, any hypothesis has to be pulled outta the air to some extent, but the setup seems suspicious. A good start, let us say, but more corroborative or disconfirming studies need to be done. Especially when one learns that he favors conservatives in their overall responses.

    I’m not sure stupid people should be given so much credence, no matter how warm they are about Haidt’s care/harm, fairness/cheating, liberty/oppression, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation dichotomies. Basically, all it explains is why demagogues are so successful – appeal to the emotional mind’s thirst for self-respect and power (even if it’s vicarious), and don’t worry about actually thinking and problem-solving. Sarah Palin vs Andrew Halcro.

    So, why would 37% of union households vote for Walker? Because they’re stupid. Being a Republican is more important to their self-esteem than being union. Perhaps Haidt’s book contains clues for how to do an end run about people like that.

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