Forum Left, 6/12

It Takes More than a Tweet

By Rana Odeh

The victory of Republican Governor Scott Walker over Milwaukee Democrat Mayor Tom Barrett in last week’s recall election was the first time in U.S. history that a Governor survived a recall election. Walker’s triumph was also a victory for neoliberals and free market advocates across the country. According to John Nichols of The Nation magazine, the Koch brothers and their anti-union allies have poured in at least $6-7 million to make sure that Scott Walker survived the recall election; and according to Forbes magazine, Gov. Walker received financial contributions from 14 billionaires, 13 of whom live out-of-state. At the end of the day, the recall election turned out to be the most expensive gubernatorial election in Wisconsin’s history, with a staggering cost of more than $63.5 million.  Gov. Walker raised $30.5 million, 65 percent of which from out-of-state donors, while his challenger only raised $3.9 million (the remaining funds came from super PAC spending).

This is a Governor who was elected as a relatively moderate Republican, and came into office with no projected budget deficits. In a matter of weeks, he decided to give corporations tax breaks to lure them into Wisconsin, and as a result of the projected decline in tax revenues, turned Wisconsin’s balanced budget into a deficit. The blame was then put on public sector unions, which were subsequently stripped of their collective bargaining rights.

Gov. Walker’s manipulation of Wisconsinites did not end there. Applying a divide-and-conquer tactic, Walker’s so-called “Budget Repair Bill” strategically excluded police officers and firefighters in order to break the unity and solidarity of working class Wisconsinites. Unlike Ohio’s Senate Bill 5, which was defeated last November, Wisconsin’s labor movement was not able to make the “Public Safety” argument against the neoliberals.

It is unfortunate that so many police officers, firefighters, teachers, and other union members in Wisconsin were fooled into a shortsighted and selfish decision. According to The Washington Post, nearly a third of union members who went to the voting booth last week have voted for Gov. Walker, and so was the case of 48% of voters who live with a union member but are not members themselves.

Democrats failed not just because they were outspent by Walker’s massive financial resources, but because they let him define the terms of the debate. They were unable to convince voters of the importance of collective bargaining rights. Walker was able to use the doom and gloom scare tactic of linking collective bargaining to budget deficits. His argument was simple: public sector unions demand higher pay, health, and pension benefits, all of which contribute to Wisconsin’s budget deficit. Larger deficits will require higher taxes, which will hurt all residents and drive companies out of business or out of Wisconsin. In short, he convinced working class Wisconsinites that public sector unions contribute to higher unemployment.

It is worth mentioning here that the unemployment rate in Wisconsin did go down in the last year, not because of Gov. Walker’s neoliberal economic policy, but because of a general national trend of which Wisconsin is simply a part. The official unemployment numbers, however, do not include workers on strike, involuntary part-time workers, and those who gave up looking for jobs after being unemployed for several months. Additionally, the millions of dollars in out-of-state campaign financing did probably contribute to some job creation.

So while this historic battle is taking place in Wisconsin, we have on one side a national alliance of the one percent, neoliberals, and the Republican Party leadership organizing all their efforts behind Gov. Walker, and on the other side a divided working class in Wisconsin, a disengaged Democratic Party at the national level, and a Democratic President in the White House who can only spare 95 characters to tweet his mild support for Tom Barrett on the eve of the election. Obama tweeted “It’s Election Day in Wisconsin tomorrow, and I’m standing by Tom Barrett. He’d make an outstanding governor. –bo.”

Well, it is going to take more than a tweet to win in November. While Ohioans can be proud of last November’s victory, the worst thing to do is to assume that the battle is over. Walker’s neoliberal gang is done celebrating in Wisconsin. They have their eyes on a bigger prize: the White House; and Ohioans know very well that the way to the White House is always through Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, among other major states. The battle is coming to Ohio, so let us not forget that they will have more money, they will outspend us, they will try to divide us, they will try to scare us into thinking that being progressive will cost us our jobs, and they will try to buy our votes with promises of lower taxes. We must stand united as a working class, and as a middle class, against those who want to take away our rights to collective bargaining and social safety nets, and force us into voluntary servitude in the name of freedom.

Rana Odeh is a DCP Debate Forum freelance writer. She holds a BA in English and Philosophy from UD and is currently a graduate student in the ICP Program at Wright State University.  Reach Rana at RanaOdeh@DaytonCityPaper.com or view her work at RanaOdeh.com.

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