Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Wisconsin Autopsy of a Recall

If you are of a progressive state of mind and live in what is truly Fitzwalkerstan the past week has been one of unhappy ruminations. I guess I can't say I was totally surprised but hope springs eternal even though there were warning signs, such as the plethora of giant Walker and Fitzgerald signs in the rural areas where I live and which I heard later land owners were paid to put up. There are some with more pithier views which deserve repeating and thinking about: From Mark Vorpahl from Counterpunch:
"The main reason behind the recall’s defeat is political. It wasn’t enough to recall Walker. Someone from the Democratic Party had to be elected to replace him. The Madison uprising had started as a movement that put forward its own demands, rather than whittle away at them in order to make them more palatable for the Democratic politicians. While some union officials talked about concessions in the spirit of “shared sacrifice,” this attitude was not reflected in the great numbers filling and surrounding Madison’s Capitol. Therefore, the shift from mass collective action to an electoral campaign accelerated the movement’s degeneration from an inspiring expression of independent working class fight-back to an example corporate co-optation by the Democratic Party. The Democrats and Barrett The Wall Street funded Democratic and Republican parties do not fundamentally differ in their aim to fix the deficit by making workers pay for it rather than the 1%, whose bailouts, federal loans, and tax breaks have increased as the deficit has grown. The Democrats are no more capable of countering austerity than the Republicans because that would require that they bite the hand that feeds them – the corporations, banks, and economic elite. In fact, they are aggressively pursuing policies that will greatly exacerbate the historic divide between the rich and working people. For instance, the bi-partisan supported and Obama designed Simpson/Bowles measure, that will likely go into effect shortly after the presidential election, will slash hundreds of billions from Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security while providing the rich with even more tax breaks. In addition, the recall election in Wisconsin demonstrated an even further distancing between the Democrats and the interests of Labor and working people in general. The Democratic National Committee was largely missing in action for most of the campaign. Not only did Obama fail to do anything to support the recall other than write a supportive tweet, he bypassed a trip to Wisconsin in order to speak at an event on June 3rd with Honeywell CEO Dave Cote in Minneapolis. (1) Honeywell is currently attempting to bust unions in three different labor disputes. Obama and the Democratic Party could not have made their priorities more clear with this slight. They value standing shoulder to shoulder with an anti-Labor CEO than with the unions. The Democratic candidate that ran against Walker, Tom Barrett, is a typical corporate party man. That is, he is no legitimate friend of the unions and workers. As mayor in Milwaukee he attempted to take over the city’s public school district, angering the cities African-American community. (2) He is also a supporter of charter schools and has said this is an area where he can work together with Walker. (3) During the uprising, he proposed an alternative budget to Walkers that extended its cuts to benefits and pensions to police and fire fighters as well, in opposition to the aspirations of those protesting at the Capitol. (4)",
Jeffrey Sommers, also in CounterPunch, gives another penetrating analysis:
Ultimately, however, the bottom line is that Walker was able to capitalize on the very crisis and long-term economic decline Republicans helped engineer over the past thirty years–with no small help from the Democrats. UCLA’s Robert Brenner described how the Republicans managed to jujitsu the crisis of the 1970s to the GOP’s advantage by turning people’s economic distress over declining living standards to electoral victory. The key was to shift the public’s concerns over the private economy and move them onto government. Ensuring that wage increases match levels of economic growth in the economy is difficult. It requires organizing and unions. In the US only a minority of workers have ever been unionized. This made it difficult to address stagnant wages during the 1970’s crisis, but still possible with union efforts. The GOP innovation was to provide an easier route to fattening one’s wallet: tax cuts. This was first achieved in 1978 through Proposition 13 in California that slashed property taxes, thus providing short-term relief to taxpayers. While people could not control their wages (at least not easily) they could determine their level of taxation, and thus their take home pay. The long run cost of this delusion was the destruction of the state’s educational and transportation infrastructure. Before Proposition 13 California’s schools were ranked number one in the US. They are now typically ranked in the bottom 10% and California’s finances are a mess. Reagan successfully campaigned, and rode to victory on this model in 1980. Scott Walker has privately declared he takes his inspiration from Reagan. Walker asserted in his now notorious Koch call that Reagan’s strike against the PATCO union workers early in his presidency was his defining moment in office and history. Walker emphasized that this was vital not only to reign in labor, but also to demonstrate to the Soviets that Reagan was no pushover. In Walker’s view curbing labor and displaying his resolve (others say intransigence) are the keys to understanding his agenda and his unwillingness to back off. If Walker survives the John Doe investigation he might be under, he will simply roll over the compromise inclined Democrats and advance his program at any cost. And, he has the financial means to do it. Yet, Walker, while committed and smart, is hardly deep. His understanding of economics, history, and politics are thin. While he takes at face value the narrative of tax cuts as the key to Reagan’s success, he fails to recognize that Reagan gave up on the cost cutting enterprise as hopeless within two years of assuming office. Indeed, Reagan’s early austerity policies further depressed the economy. Thus, Reagan “corrected” and launched a massive military Keynesian debt-fueled binge that pulled the economy from its torpor. Meanwhile, given the US success in 1970s of getting oil priced in dollars, Reagan was able to press the pedal to the floor on both government spending and the dollar printing presses alike. As Dick Cheney infamously noted, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.” For Scott Walker, however, “the Gipper” was an austerity icon. Walker is in for a rude shock when he discovers his austerity policies will only exacerbate recessionary conditions. With no Central Bank at his disposal to create dollars, he will be forced to either admit his error (not his strong suit) or launch even further divisive attacks to, in the fashion of the 1930’s USSR, that define and then hit out at “wreckers” responsible for undermining his policy. Further, in the fashion of Mao, he will launch an attack against educators as “elites” parasitically feeding off the people. Meanwhile, just as Reagan’s Director of the Office of Budget and Management, David Stockman, noted early on that it was “feeding time at the trough” for Reagan’s backers at the public trough. That too will continue under Walker’s billionaire, special interest funded Governorship. Walker’s hardcore followers, however, are zealots. They are aggressive in the extreme and will turn hard on all enemies when their ideology is exposed as a failure for not producing broad-based prosperity. Whatever motivates Walker, it is clear his hardcore supporters represent a kind of aggressive freikorps that one would find in the backrooms with Joseph McCarthy or Richard Nixon. What makes Walker dangerous is that at minimum he is comfortable in both attracting and using these elements, while he himself appears to many as a decent and reasonable person who much of the public would not imagine Walker associating with. That said one has to understand Wisconsin in order to further appreciate the broader appeal of Walker’s message. Ironically, under the long Reagan Revolution that Walker has displayed fealty too, Wisconsin disproportionately suffered. For example, its urban workers had wages were 29% over the national average before Reagan took office. Presently, they are under the national average by roughly similar percentages. The Paul Volcker shock Reagan continued to kill inflation and made many of Wisconsin’s industrial exports uncompetitive as the dollar rose. Globalization and NAFTA then buried many of the remaining survivors. For this minister’s son from Wisconsin, however, these reasons are ignored for explaining Wisconsin’s economic decline. Walker instead defaults to the Reagan faith. The crisis is a consequence of government regulation and taxation: provide relief from both and the confidence fairy will return to Wisconsin. Walker’s comic-book narrative is much easier to grasp than any serious economic analysis. Moreover, Walker is an effective salesman for it. He has carefully cultivated his image for years, presenting himself as the plucky working-class kid made good that still carries a brown-bag lunch to work. It’s a throw back to Frank Capra central casting, and the image works for a public generally desiring an honest politician they can identify with. Much of the suburban and rural population has bought into it. Rather than a tool of billionaires, Walker is perceived as the people’s hero that has enlisted the “job creators” (billionaires) to take on the special interests in the public sector. Thus, merely exposing Walker as on the hook to billionaires will not enlighten them to who he really represents. Walker’s constituency desperately needs a hero. Who are they? Overwhelmingly, they were the white working classes with no college education. By and large they have lost these benefits. They may have not seen raises in years. The public sector is an inviting target for them. It’s one of the few places where the working and middle class still receive decent benefits (medical, retirement, etc.). This makes them suspect to a population that has largely lost these. Yet, rather than ask why they too no longer enjoy these, instead, Walker’s supporters want to know why the people in their employ (the public sector) still have them? Walker’s supporters largely assume that “we are broke.” They fail to recognize that the US economy is larger than it has ever been, but that wages have not risen with economic growth since Reagan. Everyone must tighten his or her belts. Moreover, the public sector has disproportionately people of color, thus playing on the racial divide.
"On this note the Kinks inform us again from 40 years ago:

1 comment:

MarkGisleson said...

Amen. Also I've been emailing you to no avail to let you know I'll be passing through on the 29th if that works for you.