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?