The Wisconsin Solution

The Wisconsin Solution

Protesters demonstrating against the Budget Repair Bill in Madison, Wisconsin, February 17 2011. (Photo: Richard Hurd)

It was, simply, one of the worst weeks in recent memory.

They passed the debt-limit “deal” in Congress and sent it out for signature by Mr. Obama, and the pen he used might as well have been a tiny little white flag of surrender. The financial markets here and abroad reacted to the unqualified mayhem of the debt-limit fight by going south like a duck in winter, and newspapers all across the country carried dire stories of a looming double-dip recession.

Adding insult to injury, Standard & Poors decided to screw us with our pants on by announcing a downgrade of America's credit rating. The fact that they blamed their decision on the GOP did little to soften the blow, especially since most of the “mainstream” media chose to ignore this particular aspect of what Senator John Kerry (D-MA) came to call the “Tea Party Downgrade.”

And then, like a punch in the heart, came news that a helicopter carrying dozens of special forces troops had been shot down in Afghanistan, killing all aboard, including twenty-two Navy SEALs. It was the most lethal single incident in that decade-long conflict, and summoned memories of the daily carnage endured for so long in Iraq. The fact that the death toll in that particular portion of Afghanistan promises to remain high for the foreseeable future was yet another twist of an already bloody knife.

That's enough bad news to fill up a month, and it all occurred in less than seven days. The elements of these serial calamities hold up a very large mirror to everything that has gone so completely wrong in the United States. Our financial system is a fragile house of cards that is being further eroded by right-wing ideologues bent on deliberately trashing the economy in order to gain an electoral advantage in 2012. Mr. Obama has proven to be no match for their tactics, and in fact seems to share more than a few acres of common ground with the very bandits who are bent on his destruction.

Because of this, the silver-bullet solution to the problems wracking our economy – a robust jobs program, an increase in tax revenues, and the end of the Bush tax cuts for rich people – are impossible dreams that will not be fulfilled any time soon. The President has not the stomach to fight for these necessities, and with the House firmly in the hands of the Tea Party, an already sickly situation will be dragged ever downward as the days and weeks go by.

And, of course, the wars go on, and on, and on.

There is no easy fix for any of this, and the temptation to give up and walk away is incredibly strong for a great many people. Congress and the President are entirely divorced from the grinding reality facing so many Americans. The Citizens United decision handed down by the Supreme Court has actively begun to show its teeth, further consolidating power into the hands of a few. The whole thing puts one in mind of the cutting old Emma Goldman quote: “If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal.”

Tempting as it may be to believe this, I refuse to do so, and I have as my working example the great state of Wisconsin.

This is shaping up to be the decisive week in the Wisconsin recall effort, which was spawned by a right-wing power grab that attacked public sector workers, unions, teachers, and a whole host of others that have been on the GOP's hit list for years. What the GOP did not expect was the incredible, voter-driven backlash against those who initiated this frontal assault on working-class Americans. Eric Kleefeld of TalkingPointsMemo explains it this way:

This is a big week in Wisconsin – the culmination of months of protests, campaigning, legislative battling and litigation, since Republican Gov. Scott Walker began an ultimately successful push to strip public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights. On Tuesday, voters will head to polls in six state Senate recalls, where Republican incumbents are all facing stiff Democratic challenges, with the possibility that Dems could flip control of the chamber and end one-party GOP rule after just seven months. And the vote will be closely watched nationally, read as a referendum on the wider anti-union push that other GOP governors have also undertaken.

The state Senate currently has a 19-14 Republican majority, with Democrats needing to gain at least a net three seats to gain control on the senate. (And even this would not be the end of it – they hope to recall Walker some time next year.) All in all, this is the closest this country's system of government can get to a snap parliamentary election, with control of the chamber up for grabs.

So what is the outlook for the races? Well, the simple fact is that because this mass-recall election is so unusual and without precedent, there is simply no conventional frame of reference around which to make a prediction. So on the one hand, the state Democratic Party has claimed that its internal polling shows them ahead in three of the six races and statistically tied in the others, and well ahead in the two races where they are playing defense – thus claiming that they are favored to win the Senate. On the other hand, as Greg Sargent reported, Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, who has conducted recall polls for them, is also tamping down expectations: “The nature of the turnout is so uncertain that it really will make a huge difference. We're dealing with big uncertainties.”

This is not some kind of magic trick, or a bolt from a clear blue sky. This movement was begun, and carried forth, by very average Americans burning a lot of shoe leather to have a strong say in the direction of their state government. If it shakes out the way they hope, these people will have laid their hands on the levers of power and changed their future by the sweat of their brow.

It is not impossible to recreate this all across the country. It will just be very, very hard, but there are plenty of targets to choose from. Those House members who perpetuated the debt-limit disaster on us, who flatly refuse to do anything that might help the economy for no other reason than to thwart Mr. Obama's re-election effort and be damned to the suffering of the people, must be removed from the political equation.

Look to Wisconsin. It can be done, and it must be done. Mr. Obama is not going to wake up tomorrow and change the way he works, and the Tea Partiers in the House will continue to run wild. They are not going to help us.

We have to help ourselves.

Get to work.