The beating that the Left took last night in Wisconsin can't be sugar-coated. Scott Walker survived his recall election by a good seven point margin, and all but one of the other Republicans did as well.
From the perspective of the Left media (though I find it a little amusing to see the same Left media outlets that took money from Scott Walker complaining about this), the blame for the loss is being put squarely on the shoulder of Citizens United and Walker's 8-to-1 money advantage, and there is no doubt that cash coming through the Citizens-United-opened the floodgates is drowning our democracy. Nonetheless, hanging it all on Citizens United ignores a crucial cause for this defacing loss: the ideologue Left themselves.
Ask yourself: how did Scott Walker and radicals like him come to power in the first place? This is how:
Elections have consequences. The consequence by the name of Scott Walker (and others like him) is intricately the effect of people like Ed Schultz actively disengaging Democratic voters in 2010. As we found out last night, voters aren't particularly fond of helping you because you don't like lying in the bed you made for yourself in the middle of a term.
While Citizens United is harmful, exit polling indicates that most of the money spent on ads since Democrats had a nominee was wasted, as 90% of voters made up their minds before May 1. The recall election in Wisconsin was from the beginning a failure of convincing voters that this is an extraordinary circumstance that requires a governor to be recalled - even in the midst of the signature gathering drive, not a failure due to money disadvantage on the Democratic side.
Which brings us to the next inconvenient truth: voters don't take recall votes lightly, and they, by and large, do not believe that public officials, once elected, should be recalled from office simply for policies they disagree with (that's what regular elections and re-elections are for). In fact, 60% of WI voters believe that recalls are only appropriate for official misconduct, and an additional 10% believe that it's never appropriate. Here's how those votes broke down (Barrett on the right, Walker on the left).
A lot of Wisconsinites who disagree with Scott Walkers' policies voted to keep him in office anyway, because they did not believe that public officials should be recalled on that ground. That's why you cannot depend on recall elections. If anything, the only good the recall did on the Democratic side is that it fooled the Republicans into spending a whole lot of money that they probably did not need to spend to keep Scott Walker's seat. That's money that can't be spent to defeat President Obama in November.
The organizers of the Recall, as well as the Left's head pundits hammered on the point that Scott Walker was a bad governor. They succeeded in drilling it into the voters' heads. But that is not the question voters were asking at the voting booth. They were asking whether or not Walker was a crook. By focusing on the policy battles - as important as they are - the recall proponents essentially ceded that they were in fact trying to recall the governor because they didn't like the consequences of the last election.
Let's talk about the last election for a minute here. There was only one surefire way of keeping Scott Walker and his anti-worker policies out of Wisconsin, and that would have been not to elect him in the first place in 2010. No Scott Walker, no attack on workers. The same groups most interested in recalling Scott Walker from office were categorically responsible for depressing Democratic turnout in 2010, which helped Scott Walker and many like him to get into office. These were groups and influencers like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee ("Bold" progressives), Firedoglake and their "Accountability Now" PAC, Daily Kos, Democracy for America (of which yours truly was a founding member), The Nation, Ed Schultz and other groups and opinion leaders. These groups have shown catastrophic failure in strategic thinking.
In that light, we must have a serious look at the damage that the Left did to itself in 2010. There's no sugarcoating that either. After tidal waves of blue in the 2006 and 2008 elections, just as President Obama and Congressional Democrats were getting a handle on the American disaster left by George W. Bush, the loudest voices claiming to represent the Left throughout the media - old and new - went on a slaughter mission. Slaughter not of the right wing ideology that caused the economic meltdown, mind you, but slaughter of the policies and ideas President Obama was trying to put in place to handle it.
By now, anyone who pays attention to the news knows that on President Obama's inaugural night, the right wing leadership got together and decided to be an obstructionist wall. But although there is no record of the ideologue Left having joined them in that secret meeting, no one would be surprised if they had. The Professional Left understood the political gravity of the economic meltdown no better than the Professional Right. Just as the Right began to form unanimous oppositions in Congress and to hold racist rallies in the streets, the ideological detractors of the president on the Left demanded that the President toe their line.
When the president had to compromise to get big things done, the armchair activists of the Left called him a sellout. They demanded that the President usher in a bigger stimulus package through, one assumes, the waving of a magic wand given that the votes weren't there in Congress. When the president was trying to pass health care reform, far from backing him up with strong support, they joined the Republicans to try to kill it. When the President and the Democrats in Congress were trying to pass Wall Street reform, they tried to kill that too. Why? It wasn't good enough, big enough, far-reaching enough. The high-horse riders on the Left were as fervent in their opposition to everything the President accomplished as their far-Right counterparts, albeit ostensibly for different reasons.
The constant barrage of their attacks fed the media frenzy that the president was in trouble with "the Left" just as the 2010 elections approached, Democratic enthusiasm and turnout dipped as the Right wing's well funded machines turned out their votes. The result? Scott Walker. Rick Scott. Rick Snyder. The truth, inconvenient as may be, is that the Left's standard bearers on our media were as responsible for putting these people into office as Karl Rove.
Protesting is one of the ideological Left's hallmarks. They can protest anything. And they will protest almost everything. They protested health care. They protested economic recovery. They protested Wall Street reform. And after the 2010 elections, they protested extending unemployment benefits and working class tax breaks, as well as creating the first tax cut for the working poor in recent memory (the payroll tax cut), on the grounds that, oh no, the compromise deal would also temporarily extend tax cuts for the rich. Then in 2011, they sparked the "Occupy"... umm... "movement:" A movement whose featured members were uninterested in solutions and uninformed about what was being done to solve the problems they raise, and refused to let civil rights heroes speak.
There is nothing wrong with protests per se, and done well by an informed citizenry, protests are an essential pillar of democracy. But if you want to win elections, you can't just protest. You must organize. Protesting is not organizing. Organizing is how you win elections. Organizing and learning to be a team player. The ideologue Left proved its destructive power by depressing Democratic turnout in 2010. Since then, they have failed to demonstrate a single shred of constructive power. Every one of their significant electoral attempts have utterly failed. Because they are so convinced that they are right (as in correct) that they do not believe they have to do anything to get voters to go their way except being right.
Let me be clear. In order to do anything good, we need to have political power. We gain political power by winning elections. We do not win elections by ideological stridency. We do not govern well through ideological purity. And we cannot organize through ideological purging. We must govern pragmatically, organize inclusively, and win elections broadly if we wish to bring big changes. And when we win, we cannot have people pretending to be on our side trying to take down progressive reforms for the lack of ideological checkbox compliance.
The lesson for the Left from last night's results in Wisconsin, if there is one, is that we must build a broad coalition, reject ideological warriors in our midst, and focus on winning to bring broad changes instead of being honorable losers.