Being an international relations person, my focus has been on Egypt, Libya and the price of oil for the last few weeks. I’ve noticed domestic politics out the corner of my eye, the protests in Wisconsin, and a push to eliminate or curtail collective bargaining rights for public unions. Although being a member of a public labor union (AFUM, associated with MEA/NEA) and a campus local President, I’m not yet emotionally engaged in the issue, and I think just as the Democratic push in 2009 caused a swing the Republicans last year, the GOP is set to help the Democrats out with an overreach of their own.
The narrative reads good for Democrats. A Wisconsin governor says there is a budget crisis and the state is broke. There are budget issues, but the state isn’t broke — and its Republican policies that helped cause the short fall. However, blame is placed on public unions — teachers, snow plow drivers, state workers — and because they won’t allow cuts to their benefits and pay thanks to tough union contracts, the unions must be defanged to save the budget.
But, they are willing to make cuts. They and the Democrats will agree to the budget absent the language sharply curtailing their collective bargaining rights (saying unions can only negotiate raises up to a cost of living increase, cannot negotiate benefits). In short, the GOP could claim victory in Wisconsin at a low political price — the unions caved and Scott Walker could at this point have presided over winning a huge budget battle.
But he didn’t. It wasn’t really about the budget, it was about going after unions. Public unions give a lot of support to Democrats, and if they could be cut to size (Walker compares it to the air traffic controller strike when Reagan broke PATCO) then presumably the Democrats would lose money and support. Republicans retort that the whole controversy is a sham, created by the fact the Democrats left the state and aren’t doing their job! Of course in 1840s none other than Abraham Lincoln leaped out of the capital building in Springfield, IL to prevent there from being a quorum. And Lincoln is revered by Republicans as having been the first Republican President.
Politically, the issue is energizing Democratic constituencies across the country, and as Obama does things like refusing to defend DOMA which the DOJ has deemed unconstitutional (they’ll still enforce it, just not defend it in court) and sides with Labor in a very emotional and visible stand off, the fear that Obama’s base won’t be motivated in 2012 is slipping away. Nothing like a Scott Walker like character (with provocative quotes from a prank call even) to energize the base.
The Democrats also have to be pleased with another emerging story line. The Democrats blame Wall Street, big money, big banks, and the wealthy for the problem, and want them to pay just a little more tax dollars to help the budget come into balance. This alongside a plethora of growing publicity to the increasing size of the gap between rich and poor, with the middle class disappearing, works to the Democrats favor. Now when the Republicans charge them with “class warfare,” they’ll point to the war being waged on teachers, and a host of public employees, many with tough blue collar job. Which war is more just? Attack the teachers but protect the rich?
As Republican Governors go on record cutting benefits and reducing regulations protecting the environment and consumer rights, while the House of Representatives has to make concrete budget cutting suggestions, the Democrats will have a lot of ammo to use against the Republicans in 2012. Probably not enough to take back the House or have the kind of year the GOP had in 2010, but probably enough to hold the Senate and allow President Obama to win a second term. The political winds are shifting again, and the way it feels is much like it did in 2009 when the GOP base started to get angry about Obama.
The economy is the wild card, of course. If current trends for job growth and reduction in unemployment continue, things will look very good for the Democrats in 2012. If high oil prices cause another recessionary dip, President Obama will have a real fight on his hands to win re-election.
I will post more soon about the role of public unions, and call on my own experience as a guide. For now, however, as I focus on Libya and throw quick glances towards Wisconsin, I’m sensing a counter-tea party brewing. The electorate in 2012 will be browner, more Democratic, younger and more diverse than it was in 2010. The Democrats took their lumps in 2010 and will have to deal with the consequences of losing big for the next two years. Some of these consequences may be far reaching. But one consequence may be to help the Democrats politically in the 2012 elections.
UPDATE: Rasmussen, a polling agency usually with a slight GOP/conservative tilt, finds Scott Walker in trouble in Wisconsin, with over 60% disapproving of his job performance. This is a strong sign that even if he wins this battle, he is likely to lose the war.