June 7, 2012 · 0 Comments
By Marie Burns:
In his column that appeared in Tuesday’s New York Times, written and published before Wisconsin voters went to the polls, David Brooks wrote that “if Walker wins today, it will be a sign … that voters do value deficit reduction and will vote for people who accomplish it, even in a state that has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1984.” In his “Conversation” with Gail Collins yesterday, written after Walker had survived the recall effort by a healthy margin, Brooks didn’t revive the central premise of his column, perhaps because there was nothing in the election results or exit polls to support it.
In fact, what the exit polls showed was that more than two-thirds of Wisconsin’s voters – many of whom voted for Walker’s Democratic opponent Tom Barrett anyway – thought the recall election itself was “inappropriate.” Some thought recalls were never warranted; most thought they were warranted only for “official misconduct.” Many voters arrived at this conclusion, no doubt, because of pro-Walker advocacy ads that made exactly that point. Andy Kroll of Mother Jones reported Tuesday,
a shadowy political group with a generic-sounding name and a scant paper trail unleashed a TV ad campaign in Wisconsin to convince voters that Tuesday’s recall elections are ‘against the Wisconsin way.’ … The ads depict various individuals who say they didn’t vote for Walker in the 2010 election, yet oppose the recall. ‘I didn’t vote for Scott Walker, but I’m definitely against the recall,’ one man says. ‘There’s a right way, there’s a wrong way, and I think this is the wrong way,’ says a woman in the same ad.”
The narrator ends with the message: “End the recall madness. Vote for Scott Walker June 5th.” Walker and pro-Walker groups outspent Barrett, unions and Democrats ten-to-one in the most expensive election in Wisconsin history. Walker has been advertising since last December. Barrett, who also had a primary battle in which he opposed the candidate favored by unions, could not even start fundraising, but lesst advertising in the general recall election until a few weeks ago. As Dan Eggen reported in the Washington Post, “big money won big.”
Could it possibly be that the recall election results had nothing to do with Badgers’ attitudes toward deficit spending?
But Brooks has not given up on his deficit-reduction meme, and he continues to claim that President Obama just might be on his side. In his column, Brooks wrote that he suspected “President Obama has hung back from the Wisconsin race” as “an acknowledgment that governments do have to confront their unaffordable commitments.” In his conversation with Collins, Brooks writes, “I hold out hope that Obama, in his heart of hearts, knew how bad it would be if Walker was recalled, for debt control issues everywhere.” This is nonsense. The Obama campaign has its own pollsters, and it is more than likely that Obama knew what the exit polls would show: that most Badgers opposed the very idea of the recall. Had Obama campaigned actively for Barrett, Barrett almost certainly would still have lost the election, and Obama would have compromised his own chances in Wisconsin by urging voters to participate in a process that most of them believed was illegitimate. As it was, exit polls showed that Wisconsin voters still prefer President Obama over Republican Mitt Romney, and they think Obama would do a better job of shepherding the economy than would Romney, whose central argument is that – as a successful businessman – he knows more about how to fix the economy than does a career politician like Obama. So, for his own purposes, Obama made a wise political call by offering only tepid, last-minute support for Barrett.
Brooks’ misreadings of the motives of Wisconsin voters and of President Obama are self-serving and silly. But I don’t find those distortions as outrageous as I find this remark Brooks made to Collins:
I have to give Walker credit. He did do the hard thing. The proof that it was hard was that he had to go through this whole recall effort. Not many people are willing to do that. It took guts.
Ha! Collins retorts,
Gutsy maybe, but not admirable. This is a Wisconsin version of what we see in Congress. The Tea Partiers happily slash away at programs that their voters don’t care about and pretend they’re being heroic. They take on special interests, but only the ones that support their opponents. That’s not calling for sacrifice. That’s just raiding the enemy camp when nobody’s home but women and children.
Citizens for Tax Justice backs up Collins with specifics. Walker cut the Earned Income Tax Credit that helps low-income families.
He also cut medical programs and property tax credits that the state’s poor and elderly depend on…. The state’s most influential, on the other hand, got all kinds of perks from their governor, like a widely abused tax loophole for corporations and a nice tax break on capital gains for investors….
Governor Walker fancies himself some kind of hero taking on powerful forces at great personal cost, but it’s well documented that the powerful forces are actually some of Walker’s biggest fans. Call it what you will, but you can’t call it courage.
This bullying does not even take into account what several commentators have noted was Walker’s “real achievement.” Jonathan Chait of New York magazine sums up Walker’s coup:
Walker’s win will certainly provide a blueprint for fellow Republicans. When they gain a majority, they can quickly move to not just wrest concessions from public sector unions but completely destroy them, which in turn eliminates one of the strongest sources of political organization for the Democratic Party. And whatever backlash develops, it’s probably not enough to outweigh the political benefit. Walker has pioneered a tactic that will likely become a staple of Republican governance.”
Aside from the recall itself, how well is Walker’s plan working? Look at these numbers reported by the Wall Street Journal:
Wisconsin membership in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees-the state’s second-largest public-sector union after the National Education Association, which represents teachers-fell to 28,745 in February from 62,818 in March 2011, according to a person who has viewed Afscme’s figures…. Much of that decline came from Afscme Council 24, which represents Wisconsin state workers, whose membership plunged by two-thirds to 7,100 from 22,300 last year.
A provision of the Walker law that eliminated automatic dues collection hurt union membership.
David Dayen stated the obvious last week, “… public employee unions were decimated by the assault on collective bargaining. They’re losing members at a rapid rate. That means they’re losing their funding base. And that means that their efforts will be that much less effective. That was the entire point.”
David Brooks of course sees the decimation of public employees unions as a good thing: As he writes to Collins,
These particular public employees were receiving benefits and pensions far above those received by the median earner in Wisconsin. But this is a national problem. In state after state, from New York to Illinois to California, the lavish over-promises made to public employees are squeezing budgets, making it harder to fund schools and social programs and all the rest.
Here again, Brooks distorts the facts to push his own low-tax, low-deficit agenda. It is true that “these particular public employees” were better paid than the typical Wisconsin worker. That’s because “these particular public employees” were mostly teachers and other workers whose jobs require them to have more education and experience than do the jobs held by “median Wisconsin earners.” (Erik Kain of Forbes calculated that Wisconsin teachers don’t earn as much as babysitters!) Unfortunately, plenty of middle-class taxpayers fall for Brooks’ “reasoning.” I was struck the other day by this anecdote reported by Charles Pierce who went to Wisconsin to cover the recall election for Esquire. At one point, Pierce had a chat with Phil Waseleski, a retired postal worker who was supporting Walker:
Eventually, I asked him why he was here, at the Serb Hall, supporting Scott Walker, whose politics were far more in tune with the people who are trying to strangle the postal service than they are with the people who still work there. Phil told me that it was about his sister-in-law. ‘The problem is that, when you start handing out free health care out to teachers, that annoys me to no end,’ he said. ‘I never got free health care. My brother’s wife is a teacher and I once asked her, when I was getting my teeth worked on, what it cost her and she said, “Nothing.” It should never get to that point where somebody’s getting free health care. Something’s way out of whack there.’
What’s “way out of whack there” is Phil’s envy of his sister-in-law. First of all, his teacher sister-in-law has a job that requires a higher skill-level than that of a postal worker like Phil. So, yeah, they were both government workers, but the sister-in-law may have had better pay and benefits than did Phil. But she most certainly was not “getting free health care.” Phil’s sister-in-law paid for her healthcare benefits every day she went to work. The benefits were part of her compensation.
Scott Walker’s plan was to “divide and conquer” Wisconsin, as he told one of his billionaire donors. This is David Brooks’ plan, too: to pit his readers — ordinary taxpayers — against the government workers we support with our taxes. It’s a dirty trick. But it works. Because the “median voter,” just like Brooks’ “median earner,” is Phil Waseleski.
Marie Burns blogs at RealityChex.com