There are a lot of ways to explain Scott Walker’s decisive victory in the Wisconsin recall election. Democrats will talk about the influence of money and, if they are honest, admit they were wrong to allow the anger of their union allies to drive them off the cliff as even moderates came to view the recall as an example of political misbehavior. Republicans will make hopeful predictions about this win being a harbinger of the defeat of President Obama this November even as the White House tries to claim it will have no influence on that race. But no amount of partisan spin can divert us from the basic narrative of this remarkable result: courage was rewarded.
In the face of an angry and violent union movement and hostile media, Scott Walker chose to attempt a fundamental reform of his state’s budget woes. He was told he couldn’t get away with it, and for a time it appeared as if his critics would make him pay for his resolve with his job. But by not merely surviving the recall, but winning big, Walker demonstrated that it is actually possible for a conservative Republican to not only win an election by promising change but to successfully deliver it.
It should be recalled that in the spring of 2011, after the newly elected Walker and the Republican majority in the Wisconsin legislature decided to keep their campaign promises and to pass legislation that would restrain the ability of unions to hold states hostage, the conventional wisdom heard was that Walker had overplayed his hand and would be punished by the voters–even if he overcame the thuggish attempts of both the unions and the Democratic minority in the legislature to stop him.
It was widely believed that the controversy his stand on collective bargaining rights and the ability of unions to automatically deduct dues from unwilling members would never stand up if he were to be forced to face the voters again. Last year, even many Republicans thought Walker had gone too far and praised those GOP officials who avoided the sort of fight the Wisconsin governor had dared to make. That is why Wisconsin liberals and the union movement were sure that a recall would not just work but set an example for Republican governors throughout the nation.
Walker has not only proved them all wrong, but established that even in a generally blue state like Wisconsin with a long tradition of a strong labor movement, it is possible to challenge the unions and not just win, but win big.
After his recall victory, never again will union thugs storm a state capitol, as happened last year in Madison, secure in the belief that they had the muscle to intimidate a governor and a legislature with a fresh mandate for change from the people. Never again will liberals assume that the status quo they defend with such fervor is unassailable. The reforms Walker advocated and then passed have been shown to be more than theoretical ideas aired at symposiums at conservative think tanks. His recall victory shows that rather than being an example of how extremists always fail, he may well prove to be the first of a wave of reform-minded conservatives to successfully defeat the unions.
All it took for Scott Walker to accomplish what every liberal editorial page in the country was sure was impossible was the courage to try. The reward for his courage will ensure that he won’t be the last to make the attempt.