Tuesday, June 5, 2012
The Wisconsin Thing
I have no idea how the Wisconsin Recall is going to turn out, but it looks like all the smart money is on Scott Walker to retain the Governor's seat. I saw one prediction, in fact, that expected him to win the recall with 52% of the vote to Tom Barrett's 47% -- exactly the same outcome as the 2010 election which swept out the Democrats and replaced them with the most reactionary of Republicans in a rout.
Lessons learned? Well, if the vote is 52/47, probably none. If Walker wins by any amount, probably none. If Barrett wins (and can survive the inevitable recount challenges) the lesson will be that "The People Have Won!" but that would be premature and probably in error.
The lesson ought to be not to rely on elections and the political system to produce positive and desirable results for the People, because it is not going to do that. It is not designed to do that, it is designed to respond to money and to produce positive and desirable results for the Ruling Classes; in other words, the political system exists to serve itself first and foremost. And that will be true of any political system.
From the outset, though, the whole Wisconsin Thing has had the aspect of both farce and tragedy. Of course it was the spectacular reaction to the Walker-Billionaire-Servicing program put forth in the Wisconsin legislature that triggered the round of rebellions and revolutionary fervor we're still immersed in. Wisconsin led the way with huge demonstrations in Madison and a month-long occupation of the Capitol.
The Flight of the Democrats to Illinois so as to disable the legislative system for lack of a quorum was a strategically sound move, but it led to more than a few questions about loyalty and such that focused on process rather than issues.
The effort to flip the State Senate through recalls failed. Yes, two state senators were recalled, but it wasn't enough for a flip of political control, it wasn't even enough for a stalemate, and yet delusionists hailed it as a "triumph."
The lesson that should have been learned was that Scott Walker and his billionaires were getting away with everything they wanted to do and that they were unstoppable by ordinary political means. Something had happened, something profound, to alter the political landscape in Wisconsin, and no amount of marching, singing, occupying, or voting as it happened, was going to change it.
What had happened?
The blame for this state of affairs has been placed squarely on the shoulders of those whose money seems to be controlling the capitol, specifically the Koch Brothers. They through their oil and commodities empire have decided to spend essentially unlimited amounts of money to get their way. Permanently. And they have been very successful.
But there is much more to it than just Koch money. The money is almost peripheral. The problem runs much deeper.
One fundamental problem is the belief that the political system is supposed to be responsive to the People. It is not. In fact, it is purposely designed to thwart the People's interest and to serve the interests of a Ruling Class -- which may be of one or the other party or both simultaneously. The People have no direct role in the process of Rule, regardless of which party is in control of government.
Voters may think that by electing Walker, for example, they are getting what they want, but the fact is they aren't. The voters have essentially no influence at all; Walker serves those who bought and paid for him. Not the voters of Wisconsin.
Any semblance that he might be doing so is more a matter of marketing a product than reality; propaganda in other words.
He's serving those who pay his freight. Make no mistake.
But that would be just as true of Barrett if he had been elected in 2010 or manages to upset Walker in today's recall election.
Just because Barrett is a Democrat doesn't mean he is necessarily a People's candidate. In fact, it is just as likely that he is a servant of the Ruling Classes -- even if they aren't paying his freight -- as any other ranking pol. It's simply the way it is.
There's been incessant yakking about how stupid voters keep voting against their own interests, but those who make these sorts of observations don't seem to be able to handle something much more fundamental going on, something that seemed to be obvious in Wisconsin in the 2010 election, but which has been largely ignored or dismissed.
The Dems weren't seen to be serving the People's interests, and so Dem voters and Indie voters stayed home.
Now the prediction is for a larger turnout but with the same basic result -- and the result will be the same (if it is) because the Dems still aren't seen to be serving the People's interests.
It's not hard to figure this out. But these ideas are fiercely resisted by Dem pols and others who simply can't seem to imagine that voter actually do get it and they aren't actually voting against their interests; in many cases, they're simply opting out of a deeply flawed and often fraudulent system.
When voting cannot produce the results you seek, it's very rational not to play the game any more.
I noted with interest that the Dem Party apparat largely stayed out of the Wisconsin demonstrations against Walker's program early in 2011, and their support of the initial round of recalls was lukewarm at best. From my outsider's perspective, the Dem apparat was essentially absent. It was mostly certain unions and a fired up grass-roots (both of which looked like they were being sabotaged from within and without) that conducted the recall effort.
A clue here was that St. Russell Feingold, supposed arch-liberal-progressive pol, refused repeatedly to get involved in either the demonstrations or the recall effort, saying he had other priorities and wishing the activists well. It wasn't until the demonstrations were essentially over that he even addressed the demonstrators. He refused to stand for election in the recall of the Governor. He made quite clear he did not want to be part of what was going on -- but nevertheless he wished the activists well. That is well.
Mainstream media largely ignored the tumult in Wisconsin, and if national politicians were aware of it, they didn't seem to let on. The People of Wisconsin appeared to tire of the whole thing fairly early, even though the protest marches were huge. The problem seemed to me to be that the demonstrators could never seem to get on the same wavelength as the People.
While the issues being pressed by the demonstrators -- such as collective bargaining rights -- were important, they were more important to public employees who would be affected than they were to the general public; ultimately the focus on collective bargaining rights and pensions for public employees seemed to be self-serving. There was no apparent recognition that Wisconsin private sector workers by and large didn't have the benefits of unions, collective bargaining, pensions or what have you, and that most of them would never have them. As important as it may have been to preserve public employee rights and benefits that had been hard-won through struggle over so many years, it was probably more important in the eyes of the public that most Wisconsinites had no chance of ever gaining these sorts of benefits for themselves. It might have worked better to focus on extending to all workers the same sort of rights and benefits the public workers were trying to preserve for themselves. But that dawning seems never to have come (actually, the case was made several times, but it never became the focus of the protests).
As troubling as the failure to connect with the struggles of private sector workers -- who were getting hammered by the Recession -- was the fact that the public sector unions were conceding pay and benefit reductions without even a struggle. This has been commonplace everywhere. The concessions and the givebacks by public sector employee unions have become standard practice; the problem is that every time they engage in this behavior, they lose support as well as pay and benefits. It's a self-reinforcing downward spiral.
It's not hard for the public to be convinced that the public sector workers are not really interested in the problems of the People themselves, and to see the struggles of the public sector workers as entirely self-serving. Not surprisingly, it's hard to translate self-serving into a populist cause.
Even harder is to translate it into successful political action against a well-funded hyped up political propaganda machine that is out to use every trick in the book to institute radical change.
That process is going to continue regardless of whether there is a Dem or an R in office; it has been stunningly successful already, and it looks to continue in triumph until the end of days, whether or not a Dem office holder pretends to thwart the march of reactionary money.