Commentary Magazine


Topic: Scott Walker

GOP Shouldn’t Fear Competitive Primary

I mentioned in my earlier post the fact that Hillary Clinton’s supposed inevitability in 2008 never materialized, and that few remember how central Clinton’s strength as a candidate was to her potential rival GOP campaigns. Few also seem to remember just how acrimonious was the drawn-out primary battle that eventually produced Barack Obama’s nomination. There were worries all along on the left that the vicious contest would split the Democratic Party and weaken the eventual nominee.

Neither happened, and Clinton eventually went on to serve as Obama’s secretary of state before getting Obama’s obvious support for her 2016 run. The party managed to avoid civil war as well as the attempts to nominate Al Gore–yes, Al Gore–on the second ballot at the Democratic National Convention that year. Despite that seemingly cheerful epilogue, some Republicans apparently worry that a drawn-out primary process could hamper the party’s hopes of taking back the White House in 2016–though this concern is slightly different than the Democrats’ 2008 version in that Republicans are unnerved by the sheer number of potential GOP candidates. They fear not a split, but a shattering, according to the Hill:

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I mentioned in my earlier post the fact that Hillary Clinton’s supposed inevitability in 2008 never materialized, and that few remember how central Clinton’s strength as a candidate was to her potential rival GOP campaigns. Few also seem to remember just how acrimonious was the drawn-out primary battle that eventually produced Barack Obama’s nomination. There were worries all along on the left that the vicious contest would split the Democratic Party and weaken the eventual nominee.

Neither happened, and Clinton eventually went on to serve as Obama’s secretary of state before getting Obama’s obvious support for her 2016 run. The party managed to avoid civil war as well as the attempts to nominate Al Gore–yes, Al Gore–on the second ballot at the Democratic National Convention that year. Despite that seemingly cheerful epilogue, some Republicans apparently worry that a drawn-out primary process could hamper the party’s hopes of taking back the White House in 2016–though this concern is slightly different than the Democrats’ 2008 version in that Republicans are unnerved by the sheer number of potential GOP candidates. They fear not a split, but a shattering, according to the Hill:

More than two dozen Republicans are eyeing the GOP presidential nomination, while on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton looks like she could coast to the crown.

Only a handful of Democrats are even circling Clinton, while the potential GOP field just continues to grow.

“To beat Hillary Clinton in 2016, you need a strong candidate,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said of his party’s 2016 contenders. “A crowded field has the potential to give Hillary a bigger leg up than she currently has.”

The contrast poses opportunities and threats for the GOP.

A winning candidate could emerge from a crowded primary stronger and battle tested, much as President Obama was strengthened from a 2008 primary fight with Clinton.

But a crowded primary could also weaken a GOP nominee by extending the fight and exhausting the eventual winner physically and financially.

Or, it could muddle things enough to allow a weaker nominee to emerge.

I’m not quite sure either of the assumptions underlying this concern holds up under scrutiny. Was Obama really “strengthened” by his battle with Clinton? On the other hand, he surely wasn’t weakened enough to lose or low enough on resources not to set records for campaign fundraising. That, I think, gets to the point of why these stories are logical but overheated: nominate a strong candidate, he will not be held back by the primary. Nominate a weak candidate, and it won’t matter.

Obama was a strong general-election candidate, and John McCain was not. Thus, the fact that Obama had a bitter struggle to gain the nomination while McCain effectively had his wrapped up by Super Tuesday had no real effect on the general election. It was Obama, not McCain, who was flush with cash. And it was McCain, not Obama, who had trouble uniting his party behind his candidacy.

As for the perception of the party among the general voting public, the number of candidates matters less than the quality of those candidates. The Hill goes on to name the prospective GOP candidates, and includes people like Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, and Steve King. But the list of potential first-tier candidates who are more likely to actually run and to garner enough votes to participate in the televised debates goes something like this: Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, perhaps Paul Ryan and John Kasich.

There are others, but those names are the reason many conservatives have been optimistic about the future of the movement and the GOP. A popular perspective from the right is that a lineup like that is a good problem to have, and that you really can’t have too many good candidates at a time like this. Whether they actually turn out to be good candidates remains to be seen, of course. But if each of them didn’t have constituent appeal there would be no concern about splitting the vote.

The party will have its debate and choose its standard bearer, and that debate looks to be wide-ranging, diverse, and almost certainly contentious. But it’s doubtful conservatives would rather have a coronation.

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Is Christie the Foreign Policy Candidate?

In the last month, conservatives looking for a possible 2016 presidential candidate with a serious approach to defense and foreign policy were starting to wonder if they would be stuck with outliers rather than frontrunners. The only reason why people like former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton and Rep. Peter King—men who are respected voices on these issues but not likely to have a chance at the nomination—were getting even minimal attention for their presidential trial balloons was the fact that all of the likely contenders have been ignoring the question of America’s need to maintain a forward position in the world and in the war on Islamist terror.

Even worse, the increasing popularity of libertarian figures like Senator Rand Paul and, to a lesser extent, Senator Ted Cruz seemed to indicate that the Republican Party was abandoning its long stance as the political bulwark of a strong America in favor of a new isolationism. The willingness of so many Republicans to join Rep. Justin Amash, another libertarian foe of anti-terror measures, in a House vote to abolish the National Security Agency’s phone surveillance program on Wednesday—and the unusual deference they got from House Speaker John Boehner—underlined this concern.

But yesterday a leading figure in the GOP and someone seen as a formidable presidential possibility for 2016 finally fired back at Paul. Speaking at panel at the Aspen Institute, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie denounced the effort to pull back on anti-terror measures as “dangerous” and warned that those—like Paul—who are attempting to craft an American retreat from the world are playing with fire. In speaking in this manner, Christie put himself on record as endorsing the policies of President George W. Bush that have been largely continued by President Obama as necessary, and served notice that Paul will be strongly opposed by Republicans who don’t want their party to be hijacked by isolationists. In doing so, Christie not only indicated that he is prepared to run in part on foreign policy issues but may embolden other possible candidates with similar views to his on this question, like Senator Marco Rubio and Rep. Paul Ryan, to do the same.

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In the last month, conservatives looking for a possible 2016 presidential candidate with a serious approach to defense and foreign policy were starting to wonder if they would be stuck with outliers rather than frontrunners. The only reason why people like former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton and Rep. Peter King—men who are respected voices on these issues but not likely to have a chance at the nomination—were getting even minimal attention for their presidential trial balloons was the fact that all of the likely contenders have been ignoring the question of America’s need to maintain a forward position in the world and in the war on Islamist terror.

Even worse, the increasing popularity of libertarian figures like Senator Rand Paul and, to a lesser extent, Senator Ted Cruz seemed to indicate that the Republican Party was abandoning its long stance as the political bulwark of a strong America in favor of a new isolationism. The willingness of so many Republicans to join Rep. Justin Amash, another libertarian foe of anti-terror measures, in a House vote to abolish the National Security Agency’s phone surveillance program on Wednesday—and the unusual deference they got from House Speaker John Boehner—underlined this concern.

But yesterday a leading figure in the GOP and someone seen as a formidable presidential possibility for 2016 finally fired back at Paul. Speaking at panel at the Aspen Institute, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie denounced the effort to pull back on anti-terror measures as “dangerous” and warned that those—like Paul—who are attempting to craft an American retreat from the world are playing with fire. In speaking in this manner, Christie put himself on record as endorsing the policies of President George W. Bush that have been largely continued by President Obama as necessary, and served notice that Paul will be strongly opposed by Republicans who don’t want their party to be hijacked by isolationists. In doing so, Christie not only indicated that he is prepared to run in part on foreign policy issues but may embolden other possible candidates with similar views to his on this question, like Senator Marco Rubio and Rep. Paul Ryan, to do the same.

Paul immediately fired back at Christie saying he’s against terror but only wants to preserve the Constitution. But he’s made it clear that what he wants is a massive pullback of efforts to seek out and fight Islamist terrorists as well as a general retreat from America’s position as a global power with commensurate responsibilities. Paul has tried to call this stance “realism,” but stripped of its rhetorical trappings that attempt to differentiate his positions from those of his crackpot father, former presidential candidate Ron Paul, it is merely warmed-over isolationism. Paul has sought to play upon the war-weariness of Americans after Iraq and Afghanistan to bring this isolationist trend into the mainstream from the margins and fever swamps of the far right and far left, where it has dwelt since before World War II. And to judge by Wednesday’s House vote and his own poll ratings, he’s succeeding.

But as Christie pointed out, anyone who wants to cut back on the Bush/Obama anti-terror measures should come to New York or New Jersey and meet the families of 9/11 victims. Programs such as the NSA metadata mining have helped stop numerous attempts to repeat that atrocity. As Rep. Tom Cotton pointed out on the floor of the House on Wednesday, America is still at war and Republicans who ignore this fact are doing the country as well as their party a grave disservice.

The notion that most grass roots Republicans want the GOP to become the anti-war or the anti-anti-terror party is a fiction. As Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, another member of the panel on which Christie spoke as well as another possible presidential candidate, pointed out, the attempt to transform the Republican Party in this manner is largely the function of “a few loud and vocal people talking in Washington and I don’t think that necessarily reflects where the party is.”

Walker is not only right about that, but his willingness to state this fact should stand as a rebuke to those pundits and politicians who have assumed that all Tea Party supporters are natural allies of Paul and the libertarians. The Republican base believes in limited government and opposes President Obama’s massive expansion of the federal leviathan. But it is not a bastion of isolationism and paranoia about national defense efforts. Most Republicans are capable of making a distinction between the need to cut back on unnecessary governmental intrusions into the public sector and the all-too-necessary responsibility of Washington to provide for the national defense.

Rand Paul may have thought his path to the presidential nomination had no serious obstacles on the foreign policy front, as so many in the top ranks of the GOP leadership seemed to fear to take him on after seeing the way Republicans cheered his filibuster on drone attacks last February. But Chris Christie’s comments as well as those of Scott Walker show that any such confidence is misplaced. It’s a long way until 2016 and there’s no telling who will turn out to be Paul’s chief antagonist on foreign policy. But whoever it turns out to be, the assumption that the libertarians will have the advantage may turn out to be a fallacy. 

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GOP’s Mixed Signals on Immigration

Earlier this week, John Stanton wrote a detailed piece on why Republicans in the House who vote for comprehensive immigration reform are not actually putting themselves at high risk of getting challenged in a Republican primary. Then National Journal released the results of its latest poll, which showed that Republicans support passing immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship as long as it toughens border security, backing up Stanton’s reporting.

But then Politico published a story on Marco Rubio’s immigration “stumbles,” arguing that even though the bill passed the Senate, conservative anger over the bill means that “this isn’t where Rubio wanted to be.” They, too, can point to new polling to back them up: the latest Washington Post/ABC poll finds a majority of Republicans oppose a path to citizenship for those here illegally. I sympathize with the Post’s Greg Sargent when he writes today of the conventional wisdom that conservative voters oppose a path to citizenship and asks, “Can’t some crack polling guru type get to the bottom of whether it’s even true or not?”

If we work backwards, however, it’s a bit easier to get to the bottom of this. The general sense of momentum is currently against the immigration bill, at least as passed by the Senate. But Stanton’s reporting is heavily documented, and the National Journal poll gives respondents enough choices to get a reasonably accurate read on where they’d like the bill to go from here. So what we’re looking for is an explanation for why there can be broad support for the aims of the bill that still puts Rubio in a difficult spot and which supports the idea that the bill is in trouble.

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Earlier this week, John Stanton wrote a detailed piece on why Republicans in the House who vote for comprehensive immigration reform are not actually putting themselves at high risk of getting challenged in a Republican primary. Then National Journal released the results of its latest poll, which showed that Republicans support passing immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship as long as it toughens border security, backing up Stanton’s reporting.

But then Politico published a story on Marco Rubio’s immigration “stumbles,” arguing that even though the bill passed the Senate, conservative anger over the bill means that “this isn’t where Rubio wanted to be.” They, too, can point to new polling to back them up: the latest Washington Post/ABC poll finds a majority of Republicans oppose a path to citizenship for those here illegally. I sympathize with the Post’s Greg Sargent when he writes today of the conventional wisdom that conservative voters oppose a path to citizenship and asks, “Can’t some crack polling guru type get to the bottom of whether it’s even true or not?”

If we work backwards, however, it’s a bit easier to get to the bottom of this. The general sense of momentum is currently against the immigration bill, at least as passed by the Senate. But Stanton’s reporting is heavily documented, and the National Journal poll gives respondents enough choices to get a reasonably accurate read on where they’d like the bill to go from here. So what we’re looking for is an explanation for why there can be broad support for the aims of the bill that still puts Rubio in a difficult spot and which supports the idea that the bill is in trouble.

The answer, I think, has a lot to do with the 2012 Republican primary election and the downfall of Rick Perry. Though Perry’s debate performances obviously had much to do with his freefall in the polls, the issue that hurt him the most was immigration. I think it goes too far to credit Perry’s pro-immigration stance solely or even mostly for his primary woes—Newt Gingrich, after all, took an almost identical position on immigration and it didn’t slow him down—but there’s no question it was a major factor. The pushback Perry got for telling voters to “have a heart” when dealing with illegal immigrants and their children inspired Mitt Romney to bolt to his right on the issue and make his infamous suggestion that illegal immigrants “self-deport.”

Most Republicans learned a lesson from that incident—but they didn’t all learn the same lesson. Republicans who were inclined to support immigration reform believed Romney’s self-deportation idea was the inevitable result of trying to square a circle: the status quo on immigration policy in America is a wreck, but if you want to pander to border hawks without ludicrously advocating for the deportation of 11 million immigrants, your policy essentially amounts to wishing the problem away. And expressing the sentiment that you want those immigrants to somehow disappear while also not offering a realistic solution to the immigration impasse is a surefire way to get clobbered in a national election among immigrant groups, which Romney did.

But those more inclined to believe a bipartisan immigration reform plan would simply amount to a mass amnesty without alleviating the conditions that brought the crisis about in the first place learned a very different lesson. They saw Perry’s collapse in the polls following his immigration remarks as proof that Republican voters by and large had rejected the McCain-led reform effort a few years earlier and were plain fed-up with the fact that they were now being called heartless for simply not changing their minds.

The message they heard was: What part of “No” don’t you understand? And though early-state Republican primary voters are not usually thought to be representative of all right-of-center Americans (it’s become more of a tradition to complain about the Iowa straw poll and caucuses than to treat them as a bellwether), the presidential candidates drive the news more than other politicians, and they drive the perception of the party as well.

That’s why it was so significant for Rubio to lead the reform effort, and why he tried to get Rand Paul to sign on. The current zeitgeist of the party’s grass roots is not going to be divined by listening to where Lindsey Graham or Steve King stands on an issue. The public is always going to pay more attention to the politicians who may be their next president—or at least a major party nominee. Rubio may support this bill, but Ted Cruz voted against it, as did Rand Paul. Bobby Jindal may be sympathetic to the cause of immigration reform, but he came out against the Senate bill too. Both Scott Walker and Chris Christie seemed reluctant to specifically endorse the Senate bill.

What you have, then, is Marco Rubio supporting his own bill—and pretty much everyone else on the 2016 slate, on both sides of the immigration debate, treating Rubio’s bill as if it were radioactive. It’s not surprising that different polls received conflicting answers depending on the wording of the poll question, but neither is it surprising that when it comes to prominent prospective GOP presidential candidates, Rubio has essentially been left to stand alone, and the public has noticed.

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McDonnell’s Mistake

Conservatives dislike it when politicians on the right are told to be more like Democrats. And they are usually just as suspicious when the political press tells prominent Democrats to be more like certain Republicans. Such is the conservative movement’s relationship with the media that good press is often the wrong press, and that is no less true today of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

Fresh off of getting slammed in the Wall Street Journal and by Red State’s Erick Erickson for his plan to hike sales and transportation taxes in the state and for opening the door to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, the Republican governor is, unsurprisingly, now the recipient of stories extolling his supposed moderation. National Journal nudges President Obama in McDonnell’s direction on the willingness to embrace compromise and stand up to his party’s base. McDonnell right now needs such headlines like he needs a hole in the head, but it’s worth noting why. Erickson hints at it when he writes:

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Conservatives dislike it when politicians on the right are told to be more like Democrats. And they are usually just as suspicious when the political press tells prominent Democrats to be more like certain Republicans. Such is the conservative movement’s relationship with the media that good press is often the wrong press, and that is no less true today of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

Fresh off of getting slammed in the Wall Street Journal and by Red State’s Erick Erickson for his plan to hike sales and transportation taxes in the state and for opening the door to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, the Republican governor is, unsurprisingly, now the recipient of stories extolling his supposed moderation. National Journal nudges President Obama in McDonnell’s direction on the willingness to embrace compromise and stand up to his party’s base. McDonnell right now needs such headlines like he needs a hole in the head, but it’s worth noting why. Erickson hints at it when he writes:

What tells you that Bob McDonnell isn’t really a conservative is that there was never any interest on the part of his administration in finding funding for roads through cuts or privatizing state services. Contrast this with what a real conservative does, like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker – when a state commission recommended he raise the gas tax to pay for roads, he said he’d sell off state property and privatize other functions to pay for it rather than raise taxes. McDonnell was never interested in doing that.

The emergence, and success, of a genuine conservative reform movement has deprived Republican politicians of an excuse they used to be able to lean on when attacked from their right flank: political necessity. All throughout the Republican primary process last year, the longest shadow of all the Republicans who chose not to run was cast by then-Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. Daniels was considered serious and electable by election watchers on both sides of the isle. But the most powerful case for Daniels was that he, perhaps more (or at least earlier) than anyone else, had proven that conservatives can govern successfully–as conservatives.

This has always been a knock on the modern conservative movement: the right is accused of going so far in its anti-government zealotry that it couldn’t possibly be trusted to govern. It won’t wield the levers of power responsibly; it’ll just start tossing out all the levers. This was encapsulated perfectly in the GOP primaries. When Rick Perry famously forgot the third federal department he would eliminate, what is often lost in the recollection of that moment is Ron Paul’s response on that debate stage: “You mean five!” What kind of big-government bureaucrat, after all, only wants to get rid of three federal agencies?

Erickson is right to mention Walker’s reforms in Wisconsin, but the real problem for those like McDonnell is that Daniels pushed for a total change in the way state executives approached management and spending. Andrew Ferguson’s profile of Daniels in the Weekly Standard lays out Daniels’s blueprint:

In fact, the governor’s office has publicized a “Citizens’ Checklist” that people can take to their local school boards to see if school officials have made every possible economy. Citizens in Vincennes need to take that list and get answers, he said. The list is filled with questions. Have the administrators “eliminated memberships in professional associations and reduced travel expenses”? Have they “sold, leased, or closed underutilized buildings”? Have they “outsourced transportation and custodial services”?

[…]

Regulatory agencies track the speed with which permits and variances are granted. The economic development agency has to compare the hourly wage of each new job brought to the state with the average hourly wage of existing jobs. In the case of the [Bureau of Motor Vehicles], the two most important metrics were wait times and customer satisfaction. Now each receipt is stamped with the time the customer arrives and the time his transaction is completed. Wait times have dropped from over 40 minutes to under 10 minutes. Surveys put customer satisfaction at 97 percent.

“But when you meet your goal,” Kitchell said, sitting at his office conference table, “he just moves the goalpost.” He turned to his computer and scrolled to an email the governor had just sent. That morning a transportation official had emailed with the happy news that bids on a new road construction project were coming in 28 percent below projections. No doubt he expected a hearty attaboy for driving a hard bargain to save the taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars. Kitchell read me the governor’s reply: “Shoot for 30 percent.”

As Erickson notes, McDonnell didn’t seem nearly interested enough in finding other ways to pay the bill. This attitude toward spending–you better have a good reason behind every single dollar you want to confiscate in taxes–has been embraced in red states and blue state too, by GOP reform-minded governors. In many ways, though the 2012 election may be over, the long shadow of Mitch Daniels hasn’t gone anywhere.

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The Twilight of the Unions

Unions had a really lousy year in 2012. Governor Scott Walker was retained in office despite an all-out union effort to have him recalled. Indiana and Michigan (!) became right-to-work states.

And now the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in its annual survey that union membership fell by 400,000 last year, despite an increase of 2.4 million in the total number of jobs. Today, only 11.3 percent of the labor force is unionized, the least since 1916, when the rate was 11.2 percent. But that understates the decline because in 1916 only private-sector workers were unionized. Today, just 6.6 percent of the private workforce is unionized. In 1953, about one-third of American workers were union members. It was 25 percent as recently as the 1980s.

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Unions had a really lousy year in 2012. Governor Scott Walker was retained in office despite an all-out union effort to have him recalled. Indiana and Michigan (!) became right-to-work states.

And now the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in its annual survey that union membership fell by 400,000 last year, despite an increase of 2.4 million in the total number of jobs. Today, only 11.3 percent of the labor force is unionized, the least since 1916, when the rate was 11.2 percent. But that understates the decline because in 1916 only private-sector workers were unionized. Today, just 6.6 percent of the private workforce is unionized. In 1953, about one-third of American workers were union members. It was 25 percent as recently as the 1980s.

Perhaps the most interesting statistic in the BLS report is union membership broken down by age. Of workers 55-64 years of age, 14.9 percent are union members. For those 16-24, a mere 4.2 percent are unionized. That, to put it mildly, does not bode well for the future of the union movement.

The basic reason for this now-60-year-long decline, of course, is that unions are economic dinosaurs. They arose in the late 19th century at the same time as unprecedentedly large industrial and transportation corporations came into being. The corporations had enormous economic and political power and the unorganized workers had virtually none. Unions helped to redress the balance.

With the Wagner Act of 1935, which put the power of the federal government behind the union movement, the golden age of unions began. It didn’t last long. Greatly increased educational opportunities after World War II and the digital revolution that began around 1970 have eroded the number of workers who need unions to bargain for them and the number of jobs available to unskilled and semi-skilled workers.

But the laws governing corporate-union relations had their last major overhaul in 1947 with the Taft-Hartley Act in a completely different economic universe. The unions’ power with the Democratic Party (they are the No. 1 funder of the party and its candidates) has prevented any modernization, giving them disproportionate political clout. But even that is fading. The unions were unable to get “card check,” which would have ended secret elections in union organizing drives, through Congress when the Democrats had a lock on both houses of Congress in the first two years of the Obama administration.

So while unions, like dinosaurs, are still very powerful, like dinosaurs, they are going extinct.

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Labor Unions, Violence, and America’s Political Religion

When he was only 28 years old, Abraham Lincoln delivered an address before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois.

The speech included Lincoln’s plea to avoid what he called the “mobocratic spirit.” He warned about an “ill-omen amongst us”–which he identified as, among other things, the “growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passion, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts.” 

In fact, the Young Men’s Lyceum speech deals in large part with the issue of passion vs. reason. Lincoln, like the Founders, had a deep insight into human nature, acknowledging that “jealousy, envy, and avarice” are “incident to our nature.” The basest principles of our nature, he said, “were either made to lie dormant, or to become the active agents in the advancement of the noblest of cause — that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty” (meaning they were directed exclusively against the British nation). But at the end of his speech, Lincoln issues this warning:

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When he was only 28 years old, Abraham Lincoln delivered an address before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois.

The speech included Lincoln’s plea to avoid what he called the “mobocratic spirit.” He warned about an “ill-omen amongst us”–which he identified as, among other things, the “growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passion, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts.” 

In fact, the Young Men’s Lyceum speech deals in large part with the issue of passion vs. reason. Lincoln, like the Founders, had a deep insight into human nature, acknowledging that “jealousy, envy, and avarice” are “incident to our nature.” The basest principles of our nature, he said, “were either made to lie dormant, or to become the active agents in the advancement of the noblest of cause — that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty” (meaning they were directed exclusively against the British nation). But at the end of his speech, Lincoln issues this warning:

Passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence. Let those materials be moulded into general intelligence, sound morality and, in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws. This must become America’s “political religion.”

Which brings us to Michigan, where Governor Rick Snyder signed a law declaring that workers will no longer be required to pay union fees as a condition of employment.

National Review offers a summary of the reaction to the new Michigan law: “Democratic legislator Douglas Geiss declared on the floor of the state house: ‘There will be blood. There will be repercussions.’ And indeed there were: Knife-wielding partisans brought down a tent on representatives from the conservative group Americans for Prosperity — women and children among them — and roughed up bystanders. Fox News contributor Steven Crowder was beaten by the same mob, punched repeatedly in the face.” In addition, Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa declared there would be a “civil war” in Michigan. (A video of some of this can be seen here, courtesy of HotAir.com. And on the left, it’s being said that “getting hit in the face is a hazard of inserting yourself in the middle of an argument between billionaire-funded know-nothing ideologues and people whose livelihoods and stability are being threatened by the insatiable greed of the super-rich and the blind extremism of their wooden-headed political allies.”) 

Conservative commentators have pointed out that Michigan is merely the most recent link in a chain of events, from the response to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s decision to end collective bargaining rights for public sector unions (where Walker was often compared to Hitler, Mubarak, and Mussolini) to the Occupy Wall Street protests (which were characterized by sexual assault, arson, and vandalism, among other things).

My point isn’t that what’s happening today is anything like the scale of what Lincoln was referring to (which included murders committed by pro-slavery mobs). But the confrontations and rage, the acts of intimidation and violence we’ve seen in places from Lansing to Zuccotti Park and several other cities are troubling enough.

We all know passions can be inflamed in political disputes. What’s crucial is to respect the rights of others even when we disagree with them. Those who don’t–those who substitute wild and furious passion for cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason–are engaged in something destructive.

We are nowhere close to a pre-civil war situation. We’re even a long distance removed from the violent protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s. But our divisions are deep enough. And when differences in policies lead to screaming matches, shoving matches, provocations and fist fights, it’s not a sign of civic health. (Liberals might be somewhat more attuned to this point if the actions we’re seeing at union rallies had happened at Tea Party gatherings.)

A “mobocratic spirit” is at odds with America’s political religion. And it would be nice, and perhaps even helpful, if the president reminded his supporters and allies of that from time to time.

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The Age of the GOP Governors

Yesterday a landmark event happened in Michigan. The Wolverine State–which is not simply home of the United Auto Workers but in many respects is the birthplace of the modern labor movement–has become the 24th state to ban compulsory union fees. Workers will no longer be required to pay union fees as a condition of employment. And if history–and other states, like Indiana–is any guide, this action will not only grant workers freedom but also attract new businesses to Michigan. (Michigan desperately needs this, since it has the sixth-highest state jobless rate in America at 9.1 percent.) 

This move came after unions once again overshot, having tried to enshrine collective bargaining into the state constitution (through Proposition 2).  

“Everybody has this image of Michigan as a labor state,” Bill Ballenger, the editor of Inside Michigan Politics, told the New York Times. “But organized labor has been losing clout, and the Republicans saw an opportunity, and now the chickens are coming home to roost.”

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Yesterday a landmark event happened in Michigan. The Wolverine State–which is not simply home of the United Auto Workers but in many respects is the birthplace of the modern labor movement–has become the 24th state to ban compulsory union fees. Workers will no longer be required to pay union fees as a condition of employment. And if history–and other states, like Indiana–is any guide, this action will not only grant workers freedom but also attract new businesses to Michigan. (Michigan desperately needs this, since it has the sixth-highest state jobless rate in America at 9.1 percent.) 

This move came after unions once again overshot, having tried to enshrine collective bargaining into the state constitution (through Proposition 2).  

“Everybody has this image of Michigan as a labor state,” Bill Ballenger, the editor of Inside Michigan Politics, told the New York Times. “But organized labor has been losing clout, and the Republicans saw an opportunity, and now the chickens are coming home to roost.”

This victory was important, then, both substantively and politically. And it brought into sharper focus the best news about the GOP these days: Governors. Despite a very disappointing showing at the federal level in November, at the state level things are quite encouraging. Republicans now control 30 governorships–the highest number for either party in a dozen years. (Democrats control 19 governorships and Rhode Island has an independent governor.) 

Moreover, many of the brightest stars in the conservative constellation are governors–people like Mitch Daniels (Indiana), Bob McDonnell (Virginia), Scott Walker (Wisconsin), Bobby Jindal (Louisiana), Chris Christie (New Jersey), John Kasich (Ohio), Susana Martinez (New Mexico), and Nikki Haley (South Carolina), as well as former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

These men and women are models for governance: conservative, reform-minded, growth-oriented, and interested in what works. They tend to be principled but not ideological. They’re problem solvers, they have to balance their budgets, and they are generally popular in their states. As a general rule they practice politics in a way that doesn’t deepen mistrust or cynicism among the citizens of their states.

This period reminds me a bit of the 1990s, when many of the best reforms (in areas like welfare and education) were coming from governors. That’s certainly the case today. And it’s why many on the right were hoping that in 2012 the best of the current class, Mitch Daniels, had run for president of the United States (he opted for becoming, starting next year, president of Purdue University). For now, Republicans could hardly do better than to turn their lonely eyes to state capitals throughout the country.

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The Point of Chris Christie’s Keynote

As Jonathan mentioned, aside from the as-yet-unidentified “special guest” speaker at this week’s GOP convention, the most anticipated speech is probably tonight’s keynote from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Christie has certainly raised expectations, not just for the speech but for his gubernatorial tenure as well. Famous for his confrontational style and honesty, there is a certain degree of pressure on Christie to leave a legacy in New Jersey that matches the rhetoric.

But what those tempted to dismiss his tough talk as mere bluster don’t quite seem to understand is that, in many ways, the rhetoric has already fundamentally altered the state’s politics and the national conversation on important issues. As Jonathan Last wrote in a dispatch from the convention this morning:

Since 1954 the Garden State had had only two successful Republican governors. Tom Kean and Christine Todd Whitman were both impressive politicians, yet they were technocrats. They made the state government function by maneuvering within the existing political culture.

Christie is different; he’s remade New Jersey’s political landscape. “The political culture has changed,” says state senator Joe Kyrillos. “People aren’t afraid to talk about things that were once taboo.” Public-sector unions, deficits, spending—subjects that used to lurk in the shadowy mists of abstract policy discussion—are now the meat and potatoes of New Jersey politics. And that’s all because of Christie, who possesses the political version of Steve Jobs’s legendary reality-distortion field. “Through the sheer force of his personality he has reshaped the political culture of the state,” Kyrillos says. And Kyrillos isn’t just saying that. He’s testing the hypothesis by running against incumbent Democratic senator Bob Menendez.

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As Jonathan mentioned, aside from the as-yet-unidentified “special guest” speaker at this week’s GOP convention, the most anticipated speech is probably tonight’s keynote from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Christie has certainly raised expectations, not just for the speech but for his gubernatorial tenure as well. Famous for his confrontational style and honesty, there is a certain degree of pressure on Christie to leave a legacy in New Jersey that matches the rhetoric.

But what those tempted to dismiss his tough talk as mere bluster don’t quite seem to understand is that, in many ways, the rhetoric has already fundamentally altered the state’s politics and the national conversation on important issues. As Jonathan Last wrote in a dispatch from the convention this morning:

Since 1954 the Garden State had had only two successful Republican governors. Tom Kean and Christine Todd Whitman were both impressive politicians, yet they were technocrats. They made the state government function by maneuvering within the existing political culture.

Christie is different; he’s remade New Jersey’s political landscape. “The political culture has changed,” says state senator Joe Kyrillos. “People aren’t afraid to talk about things that were once taboo.” Public-sector unions, deficits, spending—subjects that used to lurk in the shadowy mists of abstract policy discussion—are now the meat and potatoes of New Jersey politics. And that’s all because of Christie, who possesses the political version of Steve Jobs’s legendary reality-distortion field. “Through the sheer force of his personality he has reshaped the political culture of the state,” Kyrillos says. And Kyrillos isn’t just saying that. He’s testing the hypothesis by running against incumbent Democratic senator Bob Menendez.

Having grown up in the Garden State, and working as a reporter there as well, I can tell you that Last’s bit about the “reality-distortion field” is spot-on. There are times when something sounds great in your head, but significantly less so once you say it out loud. And then there are times when something sounds ridiculous until spoken aloud, when it suddenly makes perfect sense. Christie’s reforms, in the context of New Jersey’s political conversation, were an example of the latter.

And he is, of course, far from the only politician challenging the public union status quo. There are other Republicans, like Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal, who have done so. And there are even Northeastern Democrats, like New York’s Andrew Cuomo, who may have only made modest changes, but in Albany that’s not nothing.

The point is not that the tough rhetoric is sufficient—Christie has already enacted meaningful reforms, as have Walker and Jindal. It’s that those reforms were made possible by first changing the conversation. Support for such reforms has grown nationally, and that’s not because the idea suddenly popped into voters’ minds—voters who just a few years ago would never have considered such proposals. Chris Christie may be entertaining to watch and listen to, but he isn’t at the convention this year to entertain. Everyone in that room tonight should be taking notes.

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GOP’s in a Wisconsin State of Mind

When Newt Gingrich led the Republicans back to power on Capitol Hill during Bill Clinton’s first midterms, the revolutionaries came with a famous to-do list. But the most successful item on that list by far was almost certainly their ability to get welfare reform enacted with a Democratic president. Such congressional victories are rare; this one remains celebrated by both parties. So it was an odd feeling for former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson in 2007 when he ran for the GOP presidential nomination and seemed unable to get any traction with his reform credentials.

Gingrich may have passed welfare reform, and Clinton may have signed it, but Thompson enabled both. No one carried the ball farther down the field on welfare reform than Thompson did as governor of Wisconsin. He also wasted no time in reminding voters that he passed the nation’s first school vouchers program to include private schools. But if Thompson is far from the spotlight, even as these issues crop up once again, he can take solace in the fact that his state remains front and center in just about every major reform fight. In fact, when conservatives talk about states being “laboratories of democracy,” they seem to have Wisconsin in mind.

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When Newt Gingrich led the Republicans back to power on Capitol Hill during Bill Clinton’s first midterms, the revolutionaries came with a famous to-do list. But the most successful item on that list by far was almost certainly their ability to get welfare reform enacted with a Democratic president. Such congressional victories are rare; this one remains celebrated by both parties. So it was an odd feeling for former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson in 2007 when he ran for the GOP presidential nomination and seemed unable to get any traction with his reform credentials.

Gingrich may have passed welfare reform, and Clinton may have signed it, but Thompson enabled both. No one carried the ball farther down the field on welfare reform than Thompson did as governor of Wisconsin. He also wasted no time in reminding voters that he passed the nation’s first school vouchers program to include private schools. But if Thompson is far from the spotlight, even as these issues crop up once again, he can take solace in the fact that his state remains front and center in just about every major reform fight. In fact, when conservatives talk about states being “laboratories of democracy,” they seem to have Wisconsin in mind.

Paul Ryan has taken the reins on budget issues for the GOP, but his public persona is inextricably tied to his proposed entitlement reforms, especially Medicare. Ryan’s ideas became the Republican Party’s budget. He became a standard-bearer at a level usually reserved for presidential nominees. (When Gingrich slammed Ryan’s proposal as “right-wing social engineering,” he was practically booed and hissed out of the race.) Ryan’s reforms became their own litmus test to see if conservative presidential candidates were “serious” about the country’s fiscal future.

And no one will soon forget the liberal reaction to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s public union reforms–the deepest in the country. To avoid even voting on legislation, Democratic members of the state’s Senate fled Wisconsin to live in a hotel in Illinois. It didn’t exactly do wonders for the Democratic Party’s credibility, but neither did the DNC-organized protests; the nicest protesters compared Walker to Hosni Mubarak, the less generous compared him to–who else–Hitler. In fact, Walker’s reforms were tough but smart, and have provided a much-needed boost to the state’s economy. Fearing the effect of fiscal restraint on their taxpayer-financed largesse, the unions helped organize recall elections for state senators and Walker himself. The GOP survived, and so did the reforms.

And today at National Review Online, Katrina Trinko profiles Reince Priebus, the first-term Republican National Committee chair who has improved the party’s fundraising, kept a lower profile, and stayed more on-message than his predecessor. Priebus is also from Wisconsin.

So what is it about the Badger State? At first glance, Wisconsin might seem an unlikely laboratory for conservative reforms. It hasn’t thrown its electoral votes into the Republican column since 1984–though George W. Bush nearly nabbed the state in 2004. And though it has become more competitive in recent years, that should only make it less given to producing politicians willing to take the political risks Ryan and Walker have. Washington, D.C., isn’t exactly famous for political courage, so reformers take the risk of being demagogued into the ground–having their voters and their caucus scared off. But Wisconsin’s voters aren’t so easily bullied by unions either.

Wisconsin, then, is a peculiar kind of potential swing state. Wisconsin’s conservatives are not only enacting serious reforms, but are encouraging the national party to follow suit. (Compare this with Florida, where politicians walk a very careful line with regard to entitlement reform in an election year.) Is creative conservative reform the path to a Wisconsinite’s heart? Perhaps its liberal leanings have helped. Thompson’s reforms came just as the state was beginning to vote Democratic in presidential elections, and voters seemed to seek some kind of balance–the state hasn’t gone Republican in a presidential election since Thompson became governor, but it has also only had one Democratic governor in that same time (Walker’s predecessor).

Whatever the reason, the success of Wisconsin’s reform-minded politicians suggests the country isn’t as resigned to a welfare state future as many fear. Even without a candidate in a presidential election year, the state remains at the center–and often sets the terms–of the debate.

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The Real Key to Victory in Wisconsin

Buried deep in a Politico article about the general gloom hanging over the left-wing Netroots convention was an import nugget of information that shed some light on this past week’s conservative victory in the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election. Though it is and will remain a liberal article of faith that Scott Walker defeated the attempt by the unions and their Democratic allies to force his recall only by dint of an advantage in campaign fundraising, the main factor was something else: voter mobilization.

As Charles Mahtesian noted:

The left’s strength has always been in mobilizing voters. But the GOP managed to do that in Wisconsin. Leaders and activists frequently expressed the idea that, in the short term at least – that is, before the larger campaign finance issues that suddenly loom very large on the progressive agenda can be addressed – the movement must double-down on the organizing that it does best.

But the problem here is that the left’s problem in Wisconsin was not that it failed to bring out its voters. The unions and the Democrats did their best and contributed to a massive turnout that was extraordinary for a mid-June vote even if the whole country was focused on the state. It was that conservatives did even better, turning out an army of conservatives and centrists who have bought into Walker’s powerful logic about the necessity of clipping the unions’ wings so as to enable budget and entitlement reform. Though the Netroots crowd is looking inward to figure out why they lost Wisconsin, the real answer is one they and much of the mainstream media continues to ignore: the Tea Party revolution is not only not dead but is still going strong.

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Buried deep in a Politico article about the general gloom hanging over the left-wing Netroots convention was an import nugget of information that shed some light on this past week’s conservative victory in the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election. Though it is and will remain a liberal article of faith that Scott Walker defeated the attempt by the unions and their Democratic allies to force his recall only by dint of an advantage in campaign fundraising, the main factor was something else: voter mobilization.

As Charles Mahtesian noted:

The left’s strength has always been in mobilizing voters. But the GOP managed to do that in Wisconsin. Leaders and activists frequently expressed the idea that, in the short term at least – that is, before the larger campaign finance issues that suddenly loom very large on the progressive agenda can be addressed – the movement must double-down on the organizing that it does best.

But the problem here is that the left’s problem in Wisconsin was not that it failed to bring out its voters. The unions and the Democrats did their best and contributed to a massive turnout that was extraordinary for a mid-June vote even if the whole country was focused on the state. It was that conservatives did even better, turning out an army of conservatives and centrists who have bought into Walker’s powerful logic about the necessity of clipping the unions’ wings so as to enable budget and entitlement reform. Though the Netroots crowd is looking inward to figure out why they lost Wisconsin, the real answer is one they and much of the mainstream media continues to ignore: the Tea Party revolution is not only not dead but is still going strong.

It ought to be obvious, but with so much discussion about Wisconsin centering on the squabbles on the left and conservative fundraising, it seems many of the chattering classes are intent on ignoring the fact that the taxpayer anger that put people like Scott Walker in office in the first place has not disappeared. It can be argued that Walker’s majority last week required many centrists and perhaps even some supporters of President Obama who rightly thought the whole recall was appropriate. But it is also true that his win was in no small part the function of a fervent conservative base that turned out in numbers that may well have eclipsed the efforts of unionists.

The effort to probe the meaning of the Wisconsin recall for the presidential election has foundered on partisan spin, but perhaps the most consequential factor of that race for November may rest in the proof of the right’s ability to turn out in force when there is sufficient motivation. The assumption in much of the liberal media that the Tea Party phenomenon was merely a passing phase in our political drama was based on turnout in Republican primaries where conservatives had no clear choice. But the presidential election–in which they will have the opportunity to defeat President Obama–will give Tea Partiers and conservatives all the passion they need to mobilize.

This will be but one of a number of factors in determining the outcome of the election. but it would be foolish for either side to ignore it.  Whereas in 2008, it was the left that was able to produce a dramatic turnout for their messianic presidential candidate, this year it will be, as it was in 2010 and in Wisconsin on Tuesday, the right that will have most fervor.

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Tax Hikers Undaunted by California Defeat

In what must be seen as the last piece of bad news for liberals from Tuesday’s election results, California Governor Jerry Brown conceded late yesterday that his attempt to impose an extra $1 tax on cigarettes was turned down by the state’s voters by a narrow margin. But Brown is undaunted by the 51-49 percent defeat for the special tax. He is still planning to put even more wide-ranging tax increases on the ballot in November in an effort to force the most populous state’s citizens to dig deeper to fund the government’s growing deficit. Brown plans to force a vote on sales tax increases as well as imposing higher rates on the wealthy to get closer to balancing a state budget that is projected to be $15.7 billion in the red. He seems sure it will pass.

But given the way taxpayers balked at a hike in taxes on the despised minority that smoke as well as the way voters endorsed referenda in San Diego and ultra-liberal San Jose that cut back on municipal employee pensions, Brown’s confidence may be misplaced. The idea that voters can be blackmailed into approving confiscatory taxes in order to fund the government leviathan may be outdated. That’s something that liberal tax and spend politicians need to take into account. If even deep blue California has realized it’s time to put the brakes on the politicians’ gravy train, there should be no surprise that states like Wisconsin — where the public employee unions and their Democratic allies were prevented from throwing out Gov. Scott Walker — are embracing conservative ideas.

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In what must be seen as the last piece of bad news for liberals from Tuesday’s election results, California Governor Jerry Brown conceded late yesterday that his attempt to impose an extra $1 tax on cigarettes was turned down by the state’s voters by a narrow margin. But Brown is undaunted by the 51-49 percent defeat for the special tax. He is still planning to put even more wide-ranging tax increases on the ballot in November in an effort to force the most populous state’s citizens to dig deeper to fund the government’s growing deficit. Brown plans to force a vote on sales tax increases as well as imposing higher rates on the wealthy to get closer to balancing a state budget that is projected to be $15.7 billion in the red. He seems sure it will pass.

But given the way taxpayers balked at a hike in taxes on the despised minority that smoke as well as the way voters endorsed referenda in San Diego and ultra-liberal San Jose that cut back on municipal employee pensions, Brown’s confidence may be misplaced. The idea that voters can be blackmailed into approving confiscatory taxes in order to fund the government leviathan may be outdated. That’s something that liberal tax and spend politicians need to take into account. If even deep blue California has realized it’s time to put the brakes on the politicians’ gravy train, there should be no surprise that states like Wisconsin — where the public employee unions and their Democratic allies were prevented from throwing out Gov. Scott Walker — are embracing conservative ideas.

Advocates of the cigarette tax hike were shocked by its defeat. Its authors framed the question in such a way as to make it as much a referendum on increasing medical research as making it more expensive to buy smokes. But even that altruistic-sounding premise (backed by the endorsement of people like cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong) couldn’t outweigh the general disgust of the public with government pocketing more of the people’s money. Liberals sounded their usual sour grapes about being outspent–this time by the tobacco companies–but it could also be that cynicism about whether the taxes would really go to research may have contributed as well as revolt by some usual Democratic constituencies. After all, minorities and the poor are more likely to smoke than the affluent, making cigarette taxes among the most regressive in the government’s arsenal of levies.

There is also the possibility that even Californians are getting sick of the way the nanny state that Brown supports is not just legislating morality but attempting to impose new restrictions on individual liberty. Smoking is unpopular and rightly so as it is a noxious habit that contributes to the deaths of those who smoke as well as annoying those in the vicinity of the smoker. But the increasing resistance to using the tax code to discourage certain types of behavior and encourage others is becoming a significant force in American politics. Citizens are sick and tired of the tyranny of the taxman and the way government officials take it for granted that there is no limit on their ability to put their hands in the pockets of the taxpayers.

This week’s defeat for higher taxes in California as well as support for restrictions on union power there and elsewhere is a wake-up call for politicians to realize that the ideas of Scott Walker and not those of Jerry Brown are the wave of the future.

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Did Super PAC Really Swing Wisconsin?

The left’s response to the Wisconsin rout is that their ideas weren’t rejected, but they were simply outspent by a flood of corporate, special interest cash. And it’s true the anti-Walker forces were outspent — by roughly the same ratio as Barack Obama outspent John McCain in 2008 — but obviously if Gov. Scott Walker’s policies were as draconian and abhorrent as Democrats claim then no amount of money could win him the election.

Still, Democrats are bringing back all the old conservative boogeymen — the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, corporate spending, Citizens United — in an attempt to turn the Wisconsin loss into an Obama campaign fundraising ploy. The Hill reports:

In an email to supporters, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina called Tuesday’s outcome — and, more specifically, the super-PAC money spent on Walker — a “terrifying experiment.” …

Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, agreed with that sentiment, saying Democrats learned a similar lesson in 2010, when they lost a slew of seats to Republicans.

“In 2010, we did not lose the House to House Republicans,” Israel told The Hill. “We lost it to Karl Rove and the Koch brothers. In 2012, we did not lose the Wisconsin recall to Gov. Walker, we lost it to an 8-to-1 spending differential, most from out of the state.”

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The left’s response to the Wisconsin rout is that their ideas weren’t rejected, but they were simply outspent by a flood of corporate, special interest cash. And it’s true the anti-Walker forces were outspent — by roughly the same ratio as Barack Obama outspent John McCain in 2008 — but obviously if Gov. Scott Walker’s policies were as draconian and abhorrent as Democrats claim then no amount of money could win him the election.

Still, Democrats are bringing back all the old conservative boogeymen — the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, corporate spending, Citizens United — in an attempt to turn the Wisconsin loss into an Obama campaign fundraising ploy. The Hill reports:

In an email to supporters, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina called Tuesday’s outcome — and, more specifically, the super-PAC money spent on Walker — a “terrifying experiment.” …

Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, agreed with that sentiment, saying Democrats learned a similar lesson in 2010, when they lost a slew of seats to Republicans.

“In 2010, we did not lose the House to House Republicans,” Israel told The Hill. “We lost it to Karl Rove and the Koch brothers. In 2012, we did not lose the Wisconsin recall to Gov. Walker, we lost it to an 8-to-1 spending differential, most from out of the state.”

One side is almost always outspent in politics, and Democrats certainly didn’t seem concerned when Obama was outspending McCain. But was Wisconsin really different because of the Citizens United decision, as liberal pundits have claimed? At the Examiner, Conn Carroll finds zero evidence that Citizens United had an impact in the race:

But the Center for Public Integrity link…proves no such thing. Yes, [Tom] Barrett was outspent heavily. But none of the money spent on Walker’s behalf would have been illegal before Citizens United either. …

At no point in CPI’s entire article do they cite a single example of conservative spending that would have been illegal before Citizens United, but is legal now.

Read the rest of Carroll’s piece, where he shoots down the different claims about Citizens United and political spending. Citizens United is the crux of the Democratic argument about Wisconsin, but so far they’ve presented no evidence it had an effect.

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A Tide in the Affairs of Men

As Jonathan noted, last night wasn’t just a big night for Scott Walker and a bad one for Wisconsin unions. It was also a very big night for the people of two of the nation’s largest cities (in true-blue California, yet)–San Diego and San Jose, where propositions on pension reform for public employees passed by overwhelming votes.

So let’s review:

Spring of 2009: The Tea Party emerges as a major political force.

Summer of 2009: Tea Party members confront members of Congress in town hall meetings, demanding fiscal reform, as the senators and congressmen stare back at them in the best deer-in-the-headlights fashion.

November 2009: Bob McDonnell wins the Virginia governorship 59-41 percent on a fiscal reform platform. Chris Christie wins the New Jersey governorship 48.5-44.9 percent (5.8 percent went to a third candidate) on a fiscal reform platform, running against a self-funded incumbent.

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As Jonathan noted, last night wasn’t just a big night for Scott Walker and a bad one for Wisconsin unions. It was also a very big night for the people of two of the nation’s largest cities (in true-blue California, yet)–San Diego and San Jose, where propositions on pension reform for public employees passed by overwhelming votes.

So let’s review:

Spring of 2009: The Tea Party emerges as a major political force.

Summer of 2009: Tea Party members confront members of Congress in town hall meetings, demanding fiscal reform, as the senators and congressmen stare back at them in the best deer-in-the-headlights fashion.

November 2009: Bob McDonnell wins the Virginia governorship 59-41 percent on a fiscal reform platform. Chris Christie wins the New Jersey governorship 48.5-44.9 percent (5.8 percent went to a third candidate) on a fiscal reform platform, running against a self-funded incumbent.

January 2010: Scott Brown defeats Martha Coakley in deep-blue Massachusetts to win Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat.

November 2010: Republicans sweep to victory across the country, taking the House with their largest majority since 1928 and gaining seven seats in the Senate. Governorships and state legislative houses turn Republican across the country.

June 2012: Walker wins the recall election with a margin larger than his original win in November 2010. San Jose and San Diego voters rein in public pensions.

That sure looks like a trend to me. I’d advise the Romney campaign to follow Cole Porter’s advice and “Brush up Your Shakespeare,” specifically, Julius Caesar, IV:3:214-218.

And while they’re at it, I would also recommend a brilliant essay by James Pierson in The New Criterion, “The Fourth Revolution,” which explains the deeper tides of American history leading up to the present moment. It is illuminating to say the least.

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MSNBC’s Four Stages of Political Grief

What do you do if you host a program for MSNBC and Republican Scott Walker not only wins his recall election in Wisconsin, but (a) wins more votes and wins by a larger margin than he did in 2010 and (b) deals a devastating blow to organized labor?

Easy. First you pretend a near-landslide election is going to be razor-thin. Then you toss out charges that Governor Walker may well be indicted in the coming days. Then you deny the Wisconsin loss hurts President Obama. And then you insist the election actually helps Obama.

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What do you do if you host a program for MSNBC and Republican Scott Walker not only wins his recall election in Wisconsin, but (a) wins more votes and wins by a larger margin than he did in 2010 and (b) deals a devastating blow to organized labor?

Easy. First you pretend a near-landslide election is going to be razor-thin. Then you toss out charges that Governor Walker may well be indicted in the coming days. Then you deny the Wisconsin loss hurts President Obama. And then you insist the election actually helps Obama.

Call it the four stages of liberal grief. You can watch the whole pathetic, desperate drama play out here .

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More Bad News for Unions From California

As if the epic defeat of their effort to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wasn’t enough, the union movement got even more bad news from California last night when voters in San Diego and San Jose gave huge majorities to referenda that called for cutbacks to retirement benefits for municipal workers. If only a year or two ago states and cities throughout the country appeared helpless to stop the march toward insolvency caused by the enormous expenditures required to pay for the generous benefits and pensions given public employees, it now appears the tide has turned in favor of the taxpayers.

Where once there was no greater political power in most states than the unions representing state workers, these once mighty groups look like paper tigers. The voters have rightly determined that the burden of the contracts is too great for the taxpayers to bear in a time of a shrinking economy when private sector workers cannot hope to do as well. Politicians who feared to cross the unions or to stand up to them in negotiations — because doing so meant running the risk of strikes and slowdowns that could bring states and municipalities to their knees — are suddenly discovering the courage to not only say no to further demands on the public exchequer but to request and get givebacks that make fiscal sense. After Scott Walker’s big win in Wisconsin and the 66 and 70 percent majorities won in California, this could be just the start of a broad movement that will end the stranglehold unions once had on state budgets.

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As if the epic defeat of their effort to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wasn’t enough, the union movement got even more bad news from California last night when voters in San Diego and San Jose gave huge majorities to referenda that called for cutbacks to retirement benefits for municipal workers. If only a year or two ago states and cities throughout the country appeared helpless to stop the march toward insolvency caused by the enormous expenditures required to pay for the generous benefits and pensions given public employees, it now appears the tide has turned in favor of the taxpayers.

Where once there was no greater political power in most states than the unions representing state workers, these once mighty groups look like paper tigers. The voters have rightly determined that the burden of the contracts is too great for the taxpayers to bear in a time of a shrinking economy when private sector workers cannot hope to do as well. Politicians who feared to cross the unions or to stand up to them in negotiations — because doing so meant running the risk of strikes and slowdowns that could bring states and municipalities to their knees — are suddenly discovering the courage to not only say no to further demands on the public exchequer but to request and get givebacks that make fiscal sense. After Scott Walker’s big win in Wisconsin and the 66 and 70 percent majorities won in California, this could be just the start of a broad movement that will end the stranglehold unions once had on state budgets.

To those who cry foul over the pension reform measures in California or Walker’s clipping of the unions’ wings in Wisconsin, we need to point out that treating public employees as a privileged class is what we might find in dictatorships, not a democracy. The ascendancy of the unions was the product not only of political muscle but the vast expansion of government during the last century. The bigger government got, the greater its appetite for revenue and the more leverage state worker unions had. Having used that power to extract exorbitant contract concessions from the people supposedly representing the taxpayers, the unions were determined to hold onto their grip on the nation’s purse strings.

But like any Ponzi scheme, this was a concept that had to go bust sooner or later. The costs of these contracts and pensions continued to grow with only the seemingly unlimited power of the government to confiscate more of the taxpayers’ income to pay for it. The Tea Party revolt that swept the nation in 2010 was an expression of the public’s disgust at the way states and cities were locked into spending patterns that could not be sustained. Rather than merely stopping the spigot of public funds flowing into union coffers, Scott Walker sought to put in place measures that would ensure unions could never again put a figurative gun to his state’s head in order to get a bigger share of the budget. In California, mayors have acted similarly by passing measures that will reverse the giveaways conducted by their predecessors.

Scott Walker’s defeat of a union movement determined to punish him for undermining their hold on Wisconsin’s finances as well as the result from California ensures that others will follow in those footsteps. The era of unions holding up states and cities is over. A new age of fiscal sanity may not be far off.

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What Scott Walker’s Victory Signals

Governor Scott Walker’s victory last night – his seven-point win against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was by a greater margin than in 2010 – will have profound national ramifications. It was a historic defeat for organized labor, and most especially public sector unions. They chose Wisconsin as the ground on which they would make their stand and make an example out of Walker. Instead, they were decimated. In addition, Walker instantly becomes a dominant political player in the GOP, as well as a model to other reform-minded governors. The loss will also drive a wedge between President Obama and organized labor, which cannot be pleased at the indifference Obama showed toward this race. (Tom Barrett was one of Obama’s earliest supporters in 2007.) The president wasn’t there when organized labor needed him. They are likely to return the favor in November.

When combined with the dismal jobs report on Friday, the news Monday that new orders for U.S. factory goods fell in April for the third time in four months, and the downward revision of economic growth in the first quarter (to 1.9 percent) – all of which signal that our weak economy is growing still weaker – Democrats must feel as though the walls are beginning to crash down around them.

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Governor Scott Walker’s victory last night – his seven-point win against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was by a greater margin than in 2010 – will have profound national ramifications. It was a historic defeat for organized labor, and most especially public sector unions. They chose Wisconsin as the ground on which they would make their stand and make an example out of Walker. Instead, they were decimated. In addition, Walker instantly becomes a dominant political player in the GOP, as well as a model to other reform-minded governors. The loss will also drive a wedge between President Obama and organized labor, which cannot be pleased at the indifference Obama showed toward this race. (Tom Barrett was one of Obama’s earliest supporters in 2007.) The president wasn’t there when organized labor needed him. They are likely to return the favor in November.

When combined with the dismal jobs report on Friday, the news Monday that new orders for U.S. factory goods fell in April for the third time in four months, and the downward revision of economic growth in the first quarter (to 1.9 percent) – all of which signal that our weak economy is growing still weaker – Democrats must feel as though the walls are beginning to crash down around them.

The epic 2010 mid-term election was foreshadowed by three races in particular – the victories by Bob McDonnell in Virginia and Chris Christie in New Jersey in November 2009 and Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts in January 2010. They were clear signals of what awaited Democrats in November 2010.

Scott Walker’s crushing win in Wisconsin – which occurred only 154 days before the presidential election — has a similar feel to it. Wisconsin ain’t Utah; it is the home of Robert La Follette and a state with a strong progressive tradition. Barack Obama carried Wisconsin by 14 points in 2008 and it hasn’t gone Republican since 1984. For Governor Walker to win by the margin he did, based on the agenda he’s enacted, is a sign that the political currents in America strongly favor conservatism and the GOP. Even in Wisconsin.

Intelligent Democrats know that. Which is why panic is spreading throughout their ranks this morning. They see another huge wave forming and growing. And right now, they have no idea how to avoid it.

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What Wisconsin Means for November

The last time a Republican presidential candidate won Wisconsin was in 1984, the year President Reagan swept every state except Minnesota. But last night showed that Wisconsin is once again in play, despite Obama’s decisive 14-point victory in 2008. Both the Romney and Obama campaigns are now eyeing Wisconsin as a swing state, and Romney now plans to campaign there aggressively:

Obama’s team, which has been on the ground organizing but hasn’t spent money on advertising for months, signaled this week that it believed the state had grown more competitive. In May, campaign manager Jim Messina had said Wisconsin was trending toward the president. By Monday, he was listing Wisconsin as “undecided.”

Romney now plans to compete in the state aggressively, looking to capitalize on the Republican momentum that carried Walker to victory. His team considers Wisconsin a top target, along with Florida, Ohio and Virginia, and more attractive than even Romney’s native Michigan, where the campaign had hoped to establish an Upper Midwest beachhead.

“The close vote on Tuesday confirms that Wisconsin will be a swing state,” said Republican strategist Terry Nelson, an adviser to George W. Bush.

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The last time a Republican presidential candidate won Wisconsin was in 1984, the year President Reagan swept every state except Minnesota. But last night showed that Wisconsin is once again in play, despite Obama’s decisive 14-point victory in 2008. Both the Romney and Obama campaigns are now eyeing Wisconsin as a swing state, and Romney now plans to campaign there aggressively:

Obama’s team, which has been on the ground organizing but hasn’t spent money on advertising for months, signaled this week that it believed the state had grown more competitive. In May, campaign manager Jim Messina had said Wisconsin was trending toward the president. By Monday, he was listing Wisconsin as “undecided.”

Romney now plans to compete in the state aggressively, looking to capitalize on the Republican momentum that carried Walker to victory. His team considers Wisconsin a top target, along with Florida, Ohio and Virginia, and more attractive than even Romney’s native Michigan, where the campaign had hoped to establish an Upper Midwest beachhead.

“The close vote on Tuesday confirms that Wisconsin will be a swing state,” said Republican strategist Terry Nelson, an adviser to George W. Bush.

Last night’s exit polls still showed Obama with a double-digit lead. But they also showed Walker and his opponent Tom Barrett in a dead-heat, when Walker actually won the race by seven points — raising doubts about the accuracy of the exit polling.

Republicans may also have the ground game on their side. The Democratic Party relies heavily on unions to organize on the ground, but if Big Labor couldn’t get out the vote for Barrett against Walker — public enemy #1 for unions — they’ll likely also have trouble rallying support for Obama, whose relationship with the unions has been shaky at times.

Not only were Wisconsin Republicans able to out-organize the unions, they’re also passing this on-the-ground support directly to the Romney campaign, Politico reports:

The flip side: Republicans end the showdown more motivated than ever. Conservatives have arguably their best ground operation in place of any of the 50 states — and it’s all going to be transferred to Romney.

A Republican National Committee official confirmed the two dozen Walker campaign offices would immediately be converted into Romney working space as soon as later this week.

Romney’s Wisconsin co-chair, former State Sen. Ted Kanavas, said the campaign has already taken lessons from Walker’s well-oiled early vote effort and targeting tactics.

“We’re going to try to leverage everything that was learned and apply it to November,” he said.

Add that to the massive energy boost the Walker victory gave Republicans, as well as the signal that independent voters are receptive to Walker’s reform message, and these are promising signs for Romney next November.

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White House Wisconsin Spin Won’t Wash

Given the decisive nature of Scott Walker’s recall victory, it’s not likely that Democrats who were prepared to cry foul if they lost in a squeaker will be talking about a “stolen election” after he won with 53 percent of the vote. Instead, the main Democratic talking point in the days after their recall debacle will be to claim that not only is it not a harbinger of more defeats in November but that it may not even have an impact on how Wisconsin will vote for president. Democrats were encouraged by exit polls that showed President Obama holding a big lead over Mitt Romney among recall voters. However, any liberal enthusiasm about the finding is bound to be diminished by the fact those polls were obviously skewed toward Democrats because the 50-50 split they predicted on the recall was disastrously wrong.

But the White House spin that the recall will have no impact on what happens in the fall is not just wrong because of the faulty exit polls. After months of attempts to interpret Republican and Democratic primary results in terms of their predictive value for a general election, Wisconsin didn’t just provide the country with its first partisan matchup of the year. It was the most bitterly contested state election in years, with money pouring in on both sides from around the country. And rather than being a test of personalities as most elections generally prove to be, the attempt by the unions and their liberal allies to take Walker’s scalp as revenge for his legislative achievements provided the country with a clear ideological battle. In a straightforward battle between liberals and conservatives, the latter won in a state that President Obama carried by 14 points in 2008. Anyone who thinks Obama isn’t in for the fight of his life there this year just isn’t paying attention.

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Given the decisive nature of Scott Walker’s recall victory, it’s not likely that Democrats who were prepared to cry foul if they lost in a squeaker will be talking about a “stolen election” after he won with 53 percent of the vote. Instead, the main Democratic talking point in the days after their recall debacle will be to claim that not only is it not a harbinger of more defeats in November but that it may not even have an impact on how Wisconsin will vote for president. Democrats were encouraged by exit polls that showed President Obama holding a big lead over Mitt Romney among recall voters. However, any liberal enthusiasm about the finding is bound to be diminished by the fact those polls were obviously skewed toward Democrats because the 50-50 split they predicted on the recall was disastrously wrong.

But the White House spin that the recall will have no impact on what happens in the fall is not just wrong because of the faulty exit polls. After months of attempts to interpret Republican and Democratic primary results in terms of their predictive value for a general election, Wisconsin didn’t just provide the country with its first partisan matchup of the year. It was the most bitterly contested state election in years, with money pouring in on both sides from around the country. And rather than being a test of personalities as most elections generally prove to be, the attempt by the unions and their liberal allies to take Walker’s scalp as revenge for his legislative achievements provided the country with a clear ideological battle. In a straightforward battle between liberals and conservatives, the latter won in a state that President Obama carried by 14 points in 2008. Anyone who thinks Obama isn’t in for the fight of his life there this year just isn’t paying attention.

It is true that the size of Walker’s victory was in no small measure the result of moderate disgust at a union vendetta that was rightly seen as an attempt to override the verdict of the voters in 2010. Some of those who cast ballots for Walker may wind up drifting back to the Democrats in November to back President Obama. Yet the Democratic defeat — and the widespread dismay by liberals at the way the president gave the recall his half-hearted support will have repercussions for his party.

Walker’s win is just one more of a string of recent events that are starting to convince the nation that Obama is likely to be a one-term president. Along with the growing list of economic statistics that make a summer economic recovery unlikely, the stunning conservative victory in Wisconsin will make it harder for the president to claim that Republican solutions are unpopular or that support for entitlement reform is a sign of extremism.

Instead of merely a local political fight that got national coverage, the failed recall may prove to be a decisive moment in an election that looked only a few months ago to be the president’s to lose. Though five months is a lifetime in politics, Wisconsin could be the moment when Mitt Romney’s campaign moves into overdrive and the rickety nature of the Obama re-election effort becomes manifest. The presidential election wasn’t won in Wisconsin on June 5, but the recall may be best remembered in the future as the tipping point that transformed Obama from a likely winner to an incumbent headed to one-term status.

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Walker’s Example: Courage Rewarded

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.

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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.

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Exits: Obama Voters May Back Walker

Various sources reporting Wisconsin exit poll results are pointing in a number of different conflicting directions. Drudge is saying that sources are reporting that the exits will show Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker holding a five-point lead over his Democratic challenger in the recall. However, CNN’s polls are showing a 50-50 split. Lending credence to the idea of an edge for the GOP is the Washington Post, which reports that the exits paint a picture of an electorate that is remarkably similar to that of 2010 with conservatives outnumbering liberals 3-2 though moderates are still the largest group. However, CBS News is saying the poll shows President Obama has a 51-45 percentage point lead over Mitt Romney among those voters, a result that ought to give some hope to Democrats.

However, the latter result may not offer much solace to the Wisconsin unions and Democrats who have sought to oust Walker. The left’s vendetta against Walker has alienated many moderate Democrats who rightly perceive the recall as a function of the anger of their party’s base and not good politics or policy. Though the recall may be seen as hurting the president’s re-election chances, it may be that Democrats who believe the entire exercise is inappropriate will be the main factor that will keep Walker in office.

Various sources reporting Wisconsin exit poll results are pointing in a number of different conflicting directions. Drudge is saying that sources are reporting that the exits will show Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker holding a five-point lead over his Democratic challenger in the recall. However, CNN’s polls are showing a 50-50 split. Lending credence to the idea of an edge for the GOP is the Washington Post, which reports that the exits paint a picture of an electorate that is remarkably similar to that of 2010 with conservatives outnumbering liberals 3-2 though moderates are still the largest group. However, CBS News is saying the poll shows President Obama has a 51-45 percentage point lead over Mitt Romney among those voters, a result that ought to give some hope to Democrats.

However, the latter result may not offer much solace to the Wisconsin unions and Democrats who have sought to oust Walker. The left’s vendetta against Walker has alienated many moderate Democrats who rightly perceive the recall as a function of the anger of their party’s base and not good politics or policy. Though the recall may be seen as hurting the president’s re-election chances, it may be that Democrats who believe the entire exercise is inappropriate will be the main factor that will keep Walker in office.

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