Friday, March 25, 2011

GOP Buyer's Remorse Is Nice, but It Only Matters If It Leads to Votes

[This article also appears on You can access it from my author page here.]

There seems to be a growing tide of GOP buyer's remorse sweeping the country.

Republicans campaigned in 2010 on creating jobs and cutting spending and the deficit. But once in power, both in the U.S. House of Representatives and in numerous states, all those promises went out the window. Instead they've offered a steady stream of items from the traditional far-right wish list: union busting, blocking abortion, redefining rape, limiting voting rights, going after public radio, etc. Even their budget priorities were not in tune with their campaign promises, as unpopular tax cuts for the rich will outpace their proposed budget cuts. (Not not to mention the petty-seeming far-right initiatives, like going after a mural supporting labor in Maine and reversing environmentally friendly cafeteria policies in the House, while spending money to add signs to federal buildings mentioning God.)

Unsurprisingly, voters have been unhappy.

In Wisconsin, a governor, Scott Walker, who never campaigned on union busting, offered as one of his first proposals the virtual gutting of public sector unions (except for police and firefighters who, not coincidentally, supported his campaign; to their credit, police officers and firefighters nevertheless joined in protesting Walker's union-busting bill). He followed that up with a proposed budget that offered tax cuts for the wealthy but cut programs for the middle class, most notably hundreds of millions of dollars in education cuts (paired with rules that would prevent local school districts from doing anything to raise education funds locally).

So in addition to nearly a month of protests at the Capitol (the largest in Madison since Vietnam), polls show overwhelming disapproval of Walker's far-right initiatives, and one survey found that if the November election were held again, Walker would be handily defeated. Some Republicans are speaking out against Walker, regretting their votes for him. And the disapproval is not just poll-based. The governor's opponents have begun recall drives against eight Republican senators (several with good chances of actually leading to recall elections), as well as shining unprecedented attention on April's Wisconsin Supreme Court justice election, with Walker ally and incumbent David Prosser being targeted by angry anti-Walker constituents.

Wisconsin is not unique in this regard, either. A poll revealed that voters in Ohio would not vote for their governor again if they had the chance. Even Republican legislators in Florida are not happy with Governor Rick Scott's ideologically based rejection of federal high-speed rail funds. And there is national discontent with what the Republicans have done since taking over the House (based on Speaker John Boehner's priorities since January, you would think that Planned Parenthood and NPR were destroying the economy).

One would think this wave of buyer's remorse, coming less than three months after Republicans rose to power, would make someone like me happy. After all, I believe that the GOP's economic agenda is to protect the interests of wealthy and corporate interests at the expense of the other 98 percent of Americans, while pushing for far-right social programs that go well beyond what most citizens want. So yes, part of me is enjoying the realization sweeping the country that the Republicans are not looking out for their interests.

But I can't get too happy about the discontent at Republican overreaching, because it's meaningless if people don't learn from what has happened in 2011. And based on 2010, I'm not convinced the lesson of 2011 will stick.

The story is pretty simple: The Republicans controlled the White House and Congress for most of the Bush administration. During that time, their policies of deregulation, tax cuts for the rich and reckless foreign intervention plunged the country into debt and war, nearly brought down the financial system, and sent the economy spiraling into recession, accompanied by 10 percent unemployment. We are currently paying the price of nearly a decade of the Republicans' disastrous policies.

In the midst of the near financial collapse, Americans sent a message at the polls in 2008, electing Democrats to the White House, as well as large Democratic majorities in the Senate and House.

Whether you support or oppose President Obama's policies, he pretty much did exactly what he said he would in his campaign. He promised a stimulus bill to help get the economy re-started, a health care law to cover all Americans, a tightening of financial regulation, a drawing down of troops in Iraq and renewed focus on Afghanistan. And that's exactly what he did.

And yet, in 2010, boosted by lower turnout and a sea of lies demonizing and mischaracterizing the president's policies, especially health care (socialism! death panels!), Republicans regained a majority in the House and won state-based elections across the country. The lesson of the Bush years was forgotten.

Which makes 2011 a case of "here we go again." Americans are angry that Republicans have ignored their campaign promises and prioritized a far-right agenda voters do not support. But for how long will this anger last? Is this a hiccup, one that will go away in 2012 when the Republicans tell some more lies and demonize the president further (watching Republicans flip-flop on Libya, led by Newt Gingrich, just to stay on the opposite side of the president, has been truly entertaining)? Or is the anger the beginning of a movement, a realization that Republicans are not looking out for most Americans, and that the party's campaign rhetoric has no basis in reality?

That is the key question to come from the first three months of 2011. If GOP buyer's remorse has no lasting impact, it's meaningless now. Let's hope that the American people have finally learned their lesson and translate this anger into votes, this spring in Wisconsin, and then nationally in 2012.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wisconsin is Front Line of GOP War on Democrats, So Where Are the National Democrats?

[This article also appears on You can access it from my author page here.]

I wrote two weeks ago about how Gov. Scott Walker's so-called budget repair bill was part of a larger Republican war on the working class. And the events of the last two weeks have backed that up.

Walker's proposed budget, released yesterday, cuts taxes for the wealthy while drastically reducing funds for education. (Apparently Walker admires his colleagues in Southern red states, where low education spending directly correlates with low student achievement.) Howard Schweber did a great job outlining the insidiousness of Walker's budget.

And we were treated to Walker speaking to a blogger pretending to be David Koch, making it clear that he is on a mission to return Wisconsin to the 1920s, regardless of how policies affect the state's non-millionaire citizens. (Not to mention that national far-right conservative groups like Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity are running ads in Wisconsin defending Walker.)

We got a true peek into the GOP mindset in an emotional, off-the-cuff remark by a Republican Wisconsin state senator, Glenn Grothman, who, while being heckled by protesters, said, referring to the protesters in Madison, "I really think five years from now most of these people will have a real job and be voting Republican." Thankfully, Grothman is wrong, as poll after poll after poll after poll after poll shows that Wisconsinites and Americans think Walker has gone too far, and that collective bargaining rights should be retained. In fact, a poll found Wisconsin citizens would not re-elect Walker if an election was held today.

But what has become apparent in the last two weeks is that this isn't just a GOP war on non-millionaires, it's a war on the Democratic party.

Both Rachel Maddow and Howard Fineman clearly demonstrated how Walker's actions are part of a national Republican plan to break unions, and thus weaken Democrats. As Maddow pointed out, of the top 10 organizational donors in the last election, seven were for Republicans and three were for Democrats. And those three were unions. The GOP is taking aim at Democratic organizations and trying to make it harder for Democrats to raise money and win elections. (It's not a coincidence that another of Walker's top legislative priorities is a bill to make it harder to register to vote in Wisconsin, a proposal that would affect the least wealthy and students the most, and we know for which party those two groups tend to vote.)

We have seen the overwhelming response in Madison to Walker's actions: two weeks of protests with massive turnouts (even in the snow and freezing temperatures, as I witnessed first-hand) and well-behaved protesters (the Madison Police Department attested to that fact), sleep-ins at the Capitol, and Democratic state senators moving out of the state to prevent passage of a bill that is clearly bad for most of the citizens of Wisconsin, while four Democratic members of the Assembly moved their desks outside in the freezing cold to make themselves available to their constituents after Walker shut down the Capitol to the public.

But if this is a war on the Democratic party, and Wisconsinites have mobilized to an impressive extent, I can't help ask: Where are the national Democrats? Where is President Obama? Where is Vice President Biden? Where is the secretary of labor? Where is Harry Reid? Where is Nancy Pelosi? (A fund-raising e-mail went out in her name today, but that is the closest she's gotten to Madison.) Where are the Democratic U.S. senators who represent the states that border Wisconsin? Why has Wisconsin's Democratic U.S. senator, Herb Kohl, made only one appearance at the Capitol?

When the Republicans got pasted in the 2008 elections, they didn't run scared. They doubled down and stuck to their values. And with the help of lies about President Obama and health care reform, they were able to score a victory in 2010. And how have the Democrats reacted? By going into the fetal position and tripping over each other to move to the center (really to the right, as President Obama caved on extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, which most Americans oppose, and Democratic senators formed a group to suggest more spending cuts).

The cower and cave strategy has never worked in the past, and it won't work now.

It's time the Democrats recognize that the GOP has declared war on them and their core constituencies. Waffling, capitulation and cowering in fear are not acceptable responses. Fighting back and defending themselves and the vast majority of Americans should be the plan.

I don't want President Obama to go down as the Neville Chamberlain of the 21st century, trying to placate enemies who seek his (political) destruction. Scott Walker and the national Republican party want to return the United States to the Hoover-era 1920s. Who is going to stop them?