09 May 2012

Democracy in Wisconsin: do you recall civilized political disagreements?

It's gotten this bad in Wisconsin. A woman has reportedly run down her estranged husband because he tried to stop her from driving her SUV to a polling place to pick a candidate for the recall election against Gov. Scott Walker. This is perhaps the most extreme episode in a state where a poll reveals that 30% of respondents have ended friendships over political disagreements. Wisconsin is possibly the most polarized state in the country, the Democratic candidate chosen yesterday having joked that there are only 37 undecided voters left there. The Democrat is Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, who ran unsuccessfully against Walker, a Republican, two years ago. His nomination by Democratic primary voters gives the recall a little too much of a do-over flavor for my taste. The object of a recall should be to determine whether voters want to repudiate the sitting governor, not whether they want to change their minds entirely about the 2010 election. I doubt there's a way to do it, but recall laws should come with a provision making the recalled official's opponent ineligible for the disputed office. Barrett's presence on the ballot would lend substance to any Republican claim that the real motive behind the recall is sore-loserism. Walker has made himself the enemy of organized labor with his policies abolishing many collective-bargaining rights for public employees. Throw Barrett into the equation and the issue loses clarity; it becomes simply Republican vs. Democrat again rather than Walker vs. Labor. I wish the unions had found a way to put a candidate of their own selection on the ballot, but Wisconsin's recall laws aren't as liberal as California, where a minimal filing fee allowed such people as the porn star Mary Carey and the late Gary Coleman, as well as the eventual Gov. Schwarzenegger, to challenge the recalled Democratic governor. By comparison, I know of only three challengers to Walker: Barrett, a Libertarian nominee and one independent. Many observers lamented the California frivolity, but despite the retrospective inevitability of the celebrity Republican's victory, that state's recall had something different from the usual Bipolarchy flavor that made it seem more authentically democratic in the small-d sense than the campaign orchestrated by Capital-D Democrats to oust the Wisconsin governor. It may still be true that the labor-vs-employer angle is the real exacerbating factor in Wisconsin, and it is true one way or the other that the present recall is being contested on sharper left-right lines than the California contest. That can't be blamed on the Democratic party alone, but it takes two to make a vehicular assault, if that's what actually happened in Chippewa Falls. It may please us to say that one party is driven by hate more than another, but in Wisconsin it looks like both parties are driven by hate to an increasingly dangerous degree. As goes Wisconsin, will so go the nation? We'll find out before the year is done....

3 comments:

Crhymethinc said...

According to author Robert Heinlein, one of the symptoms of a sick society is when people stop identifying themselves as a nation and start identifying themselves in "groups".

If this is the case, then this society is very, very ill. This being said, and on a personal note, I have no sympathy for any anti-labor person who is "smacked down" for their support of the "employer class".

Samuel Wilson said...

What Heinlein said sounds nice, but the diagnosis depends on how you define the nation. Heinlein himself may have counted as an "anti-labor" person, for instance, given his libertarian bent.

Crhymethinc said...

Although I disagree with any individual political policy Heinlein may have advocated, I think he is correct in this. The American people have never really seen themselves as Americans first. It has always been as "New Yorkers" or "Texans" or what have you. Add different religious groupings and now political groupings into the mix. The United States is a very sick nation and it seems to be refusing the medicine that could make it better. (the elimination of political parties, the elimination of corporations as "entities", etc.)