Some Thoughts on the Wisconsin Recall Election

Dan Beltaigne

The failure to recall Governor Scott Walker is not a defeat for unions or labor in Wisconsin, nor is it a referendum on Obama – Editors

Although Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin soundly defeated the effort to recall him, a few issues bear some examination.

First, in spite of all the hype, this recall election is not, in my view, a referendum on the president. Obama has a more comfortable lead in the polls over Romney than Walker had over Tom Barrett, the Democrat who tried to unseat him. Barrett has never been a favorite of the unions here in Wisconsin. In fact, Walker’s approval rating was significantly below what it is now before the primary that decided who was to run against Walker. Not only that, because Barrett never has come out and said that he would undo Walker’s union-busting legislation, Barrett has allowed Walker, in my view, to define what has become the main issue in this election—jobs, jobs, jobs. Of course nobody, including Republicans, believed that, but in this economy that kind of message resonated throughout the electorate. Although it can’t be said that Obama won’t be hurt by a Walker win here, it can neither be said that clear parallels can be drawn between this election and the one coming in November.

Second, in spite of all the hype, this recall is not, in my view, a referendum on the future of unions. First of all, unions rank more favorably in the polls here in Wisconsin than either Scott Walker– or Tom Barrett, for that matter. Second, and more importantly, electoral politics have never, in any history, been the sole underwriter of democracy, and never will. This entire moment in Wisconsin, no matter what the immediate outcome may be, has already become a new beginning for labor, if only the barest of one, but a beginning nevertheless.

If we want to focus on “referendums” here is one to contemplate: Walker spent a little over $30 million to Barrett’s almost $5 million. Two thirds of Barrett’s money came from in state, whereas two thirds of Walker’s money came from out of state. The battle has just begun against corporate capital.


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