6.9.2012 Leave a comment
Much ink has been spilt and punditry hot air vented in explaining the failure to recall Scott Walker in this week’s election. Yet nearly all of it fails to address the appeal of Scott Walker and his policies for much of Wisconsin’s working and middle class. Walker was able to capitalize on the frustration over the continued erosion of living standards and insecurity felt by most Wisconsinites. Walker provided a false empowerment to the electorate by transforming them from victims to owners of the system. His campaign rebranded the electorate as “the taxpayer” or veritable stockowners of a company they owned: government. The people would take charge of their lives through a Walker-led movement against government waste by union and bureaucratic “elites.” Walker’s campaign thus took on the hue of a libratory project.
While the conventional explanations for Walker’s victory have some merit, they fail to explain the nature of victory or the true threat his strategy presents. To be sure, Walker and his billionaires were able to massively outspend their opponents. The peculiarities of the recall election laws and the US Supreme Court’s Citizen Action case permitted him to rain down endless weapons against the Democrats. The Republican National Committee deployed the full weight of their resources on Wisconsin; while the Democratic National Committee was largely AWOL, appearing only at the end to witness Walker deliver the coup de grace to his opponents. It was a historic betrayal of Wisconsin progressives they will not soon forget.
On strategy, Walker’s campaign was a fairly typical deployment of the Powell Doctrine (itself taken from Harry G. Summer’s musings on strategy following the US’s Vietnam debacle) to use overwhelming force against an opponent. Walker’s campaign carpet-bombed media with non-stop television and radio commercials for a half-year. Meanwhile, they positioned what seems to be an army of professional bloggers to control comment forums in the local press. In effect, they crowded out the public and often aggressively spread outright falsehoods on these sites, thus moving the Internet from a place of democratic dissent to use as a tool for reactionary power. This itself represents a major turn in the management of public opinion.
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.
The “Walker won because of his money” claim is surely true, but Walker’s money was not the sufficient condition and efficient cause of his victory. As Sommers argues, Walker won because 1) of the economic distress caused by the reactionary economics practiced in the United States since the late 1970s and because 2) he created a right populist message that found a willing constituency. Sommers thus concludes:
In short, Walker has given voice to the working and middle classes so much hurt by the Reagan Revolution. The people have found their voice in Walker who skillfully and honestly, to his mind, articulates a narrative that resonates with Midwestern sensibilities of hard work and fairness. These concepts may have been distorted beyond all recognition to many observers, but to Wisconsin’s suburban and rural working class they have found their voice in Scott Walker. A ride through their neighborhoods reveals a veritable sea of blue yard signs declaring “I Stand With Walker!” Walker is a formidable candidate and better communicator than Reagan ever was. Analysts and pundits that dismiss his victory as one of simply money over the people do so at their and our peril.
- Scott Walker defeated his opponents in the Wisconsin recall election (atung.net)
- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker survives recall effort – media (legitgov.org)
- Wisconsin voters divided on bargaining, governor – Boston.com (articles.boston.com)
- Scott Walker Wins Wisconsin Recall Handily (snspost.com)
- Ed Schultz Reacts To Walker Victory: ‘Could Very Well Be Indicted In The Coming Days’ (mediaite.com)
- Wisconsin’s union battler Walker is Republican star – Reuters (reuters.com)
- Wisconsin Dems, Labor Poised for a Loss on Walker Recall (blogher.com)
- Wisconsin, Obama And Poor Tom (whitehouse12.com)
- Piers Morgan Refutes Wasserman Schultz Calling Walker ‘Extremist’: ‘The Reality Is He Won’ (newsbusters.org)