Friday, June 29, 2012

Ron Johnson's Very Bad Field Trip to the Supreme Court

Far and away the biggest loser in the wake of the Supreme Court's Obamacare ruling, at least as far as Wisconsin is concerned, is Ron Johnson. Here's why:

Obamacare has always been Johnson's pet issue. He cited it has the issue that motivated him to run for the Senate in 2010. The issue caused him to cravenly retrofit the story of his daughter's infant illness into a political parable. His rhetoric on the subject has been so overwrought so as to be nothing short of apocalyptic. He's repeatedly called the law "the greatest assault on our freedom in my lifetime" and claimed that it's implementation would result in the removal of American's "last shred of freedom."

This kind of rhetoric is patently absurd, but it's really all Johnson has in his struggle against the bill. 

Starting in early March Johnson and his team put together a strong publicity push designed to make Johnson appear to be one of the law's principle opponents. The Senator may certainly loathe the plan more than his colleagues, but he's done precious little--if anything--about it. He appeared on just about every cable news show there is, wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal and sat in the gallery during the arguments. Each time he repeated his predictions of doom.

Johnson's strategy (and that of several other Senators) was to basically let the GOP lawyers do the heavy-lifting in front of the Justices and then swoop in front of the cameras when it came time to hand out credit. Why else do you think he was hanging outside the Court on Thursday? It wasn't to hand out unspeakably stupid soundbites to liberal watchdogs groups.

Now Johnson looks silly. His statement following the ruling was characteristically hyperbolic:
“Today’s Obamacare decision establishes that there is no area of Americans’ private lives that is off limits to federal intrusion and control. Freedom took a real body blow. It is now up to Congress – and hopefully a new President – to repeal this unpopular monstrosity and replace it with free market reforms that will actually improve the quality and restrain the cost of health care in America.”
(Here's a fun game: replace the word "freedom" with "Ron Johnson" any time you read or hear a Johnson speech/op-ed/statement. The words are almost perfectly interchangeable, which should probably give the reader a pretty good hint as to what "freedom" means to Ron Johnson.)

If you need further proof of just how disastrous this decision is for Johnson just listen to this interview with Charlie conducted not long after the ruling. Johnson doesn't even bother to hide how dejected he is or how bad the decision is for him. That's largely because Johnson has staked an enormous amount of his political capital on the law being repealed. Yes, Johnson does manage to recite the GOP's talking points about this firing up the base and this being a "tax increase" that the President must now run against, but does anyone really think the Republicans were going to run a campaign without accusing the Democrats of raising taxes? Has that ever happened? Is the GOP even capable of doing that?

Now that Johnson has lost the "freedom" argument, expect him to pivot to the "cost" issue. The first is a moral argument, one that any idiot can make. The second is a policy matter and this is where Johnson has proved to frequently flounder. Johnson's approval/disapproval numbers sit at an underwhelming 36/35. More temper tantrums will not win over the 29% of Wisconsin voters still waiting for Johnson to connect with them.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Last Night's Biggest Winner/Loser: Scott Walker

So instead of becoming the third governor to get recalled, Scott Walker becomes the first Governor in U.S. history to single-handedly piss away his majority in the legislative branch. He went from a bullet-proof +4 majority in an upper house of 33 to now being down -1 heading into a presidential election year, which Republicans haven't mastered in the state of Wisconsin since 1984. I know redistricting and and the mysteries of Dale Shultz's mustache aren't as sexy as giving a genuinely awful, chest-pounding, cock-waving victory speech in prime time (seriously, Walker must be the least articulate Governor in Wisconsin's history--his speech-writers are as shitty as his ad-makers are good, a true testamentary to his tenuousness with the the truth), but voters in Wisconsin sent him a clear message these last 16 months that ran 100% contrary to lessons he professed to have learned from this whole recall process: you have to work with the other side. Scott Walker has never once demonstrated a willingness or ability to do that and this trait, more than even his potential legal troubles, will give him a world of pain in the next two years (see Walker's spectacular G-tac faceplant). Oh yeah, and all this only cost Walker, et al. $60+ million dollars.

Right now there are two contestable state senate seats: the first is right here in the Oshkosh and Fond du Lac county area, the second is the seat soon to be vacated by Jim Holperin. The race up north might be a lost cause. The one in the Fox Valley is going to be fought tooth and nail, largely between the incumbent and outside groups that have nothing to do with the area, but even if the Dems lose both of the seats Walker will still enter 2013 much, much weaker than he entered 2011. The voters of Wisconsin were clearly not in the mood to recall the governor, but they weren't willing to let his bullshit go unpunished either. Some folks--i.e. Matt Yglesias--seem to think this represents contradictory behavior, but I like to think of it as being a far more nuanced solution to what seemingly appeared to be a black and white option. Maybe this should be chalked up to a "wisdom of mobs" type thing, but anyone who calls the 16 months a vindication of Walker's policies is fooling themselves or lying (or in the case of Charlie Sykes, both).

There are many distressing signs for Democrats, but those are out in the open. The entire state GOP has put their eggs in the Scott Walker basket and if he drops it, many will be screwed. They might not lose their jobs, but any hopes of advancement will be quashed. Despite the Manichean analysis of last night from the East coast, Republicans still have to contend with a considerable deficit in the Presidential race, one that will impact down ticket races later this year. Tales of imminent Armageddon may make good copy and generate a lot of page hits, but they also over-simplify the reality on the ground here.

This may actually become the costliest Pyrrhic victory in state history. If Walker is indicted and the Democrats aren't stupid enough to let him use the charges to paint himself as a victim (I know that's asking a lot, but it's probably something Dems should start planning for). Walker's downfall could have very long lasting effects. There isn't a Republican Facebook page in the state that doesn't have a picture with some volunteer or young go-getter or big shot donor or potential future candidate for office with a flat-angled photo mugging with Walker. Hopefully the Dems are smart enough to scour the internet and get copies of all these pics because those are potentially direct mail pieces that write themselves in 2016, 2018, 2020 and maybe even beyond. That's probably expecting too much foresight on the Dems part, but since this is a job that an intern could probably do in a day or two, it's well worth the effort.

Lastly, and I have nothing to really base this opinion on except anecdotal evidence, I really do think that the very concept of the recall itself was a bridge that a lot of Wisconsinites could not cross. Not once have I seen a poll that really probed this angle with any depth. Dems not only had to make the case for their candidates, but they also had to make the case for the recall itself and there wasn't enough time to do that. The law is set up so that there shouldn't be any need to make the case for recall. The recallee should be preforming so awfully that his unfitness for office should be manifest to everyone. That's probably a good thing.

From here on in Walker will have no foil. Even if he is indicted, it will be very difficult to play off the prosecution as engaging in political retribution because this case has been going on so long. (Don't think that will stop Walker from trying or the Dems from somehow letting him get away with it.) Legal issues are, of course, very sexy, but they really will only amount to background noise to a much bigger policy issue that Walker needs to contend with.

Throughout his career Walker's only successes have come when the odds are heavily stacked in his favor. He definitely deserves credit for frequently picking his fights with a certain degree of timeliness, but if this recall managed to do anything it forced Walker to reiterate at the top of his lungs a promise he will not be able to keep. 250,000 are not going to emerge from the ether by fiat. Dueling jobs numbers is a magic bullet that can only be used once. Now he actually has to produce results. As we've noted earlier, this is not Walker's forte.

So what's the big lesson from last night? There are some truly insipid pieces of commentary, mostly from the Washington I-am-an-expert-on-everything! set, that really amount to little more that "First Wisconsin was a red state! Then it was a blue state! Now it's back to being a red state!" because God forbid human social organization admit of anything other than a binary description. The only real lesson that can be gleaned from last night is that Wisconsin voters are fickle. Very, very fucking fickle.

I haven't bothered to review the state's lefty blogs this morning to examine the finger-pointing and fall-out largely because a lot of that already started a few weeks ago (probably the surest sign of a campaign's imminent demise is when that starts to happen before election day). I'll let other folks worry about who's "fault" it all was. I'm sure there was a ton of piling on the amorphous blob known as "the media" too, but bitching about something does little to explain why it happens or fix the problem. A number of folks are apparently livid at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, but we'll have to save our thoughts on that until another time, largely because there are many of them.

And if last night's event really messed with your head, buck up: at least we'll now be able to get to the bottom of that dastardly voter fraud busing scheme!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

If You Believe People from Michigan were Bused into Wisconsin to Vote Today, then You really have to Meet this Nigerian Prince I Know

One can count on a few certainties just about every Election Day in Wisconsin. Polls will open at 8:00 AM and by around 10:00 AM we're all sure to get our first "eyewitness reports" of voter fraud on right wing radio. Today did not disappoint, but the example that we got was so ridiculously inept that even on it's surface the story was nearly impossible to take credibly. Naturally, it bounced around the right side of Twitter with a vengeance and looks like it will be taken as inerrant gospel for the foreseeable future.

Before we look at the transcript, here's some context. The radio station is WMAL out of the Washington, DC media market. The caller's name is "Mike," no last name given, and he claimed to be calling from a bus making its way to someplace in Wisconsin--he couldn't say where, specifically-- from just outside Detroit.

Here's the transcript:

Monday, June 4, 2012

Moral Victories

Just a quick note regarding tomorrow's festivities:

There is no such thing as a "moral victory" in elections--you either win or go the hell home--and chances are that most of the commentary you're going to read in the next week will reflect that. Regardless of how much Scott Walker wins by tomorrow, you'll likely hear how catastrophic the recall was for Dems. There will, of course, be some truth to that strain of thought, but here are some things to consider:

1.) Recalls laws in Wisconsin give huge advantages to incumbents. We can debate the justness of these advantages until the cows come home, but there's little denying they exist, and do so in an outlandishly over-sized proportion to the normal advantages incumbents get during conventionally scheduled elections.

2.) The largest of these advantages is the unlimited fundraising loophole that Walker took full advantage of. Good for him. We won't know for a few more weeks, but it's possible that Walker could have out-raised and/or outspent Barrett something in the order of 20:1. Usually, when one sees a money discrepancy that large the race is between a safe incumbent and a sacrificial lamb--a race that's deemed "uncontested." In this respect, anything less than a blowout on Walker's part is very much defeat. A minor one, but still a defeat.

3.) It's likely that if Walker wins tomorrow, he'll do so by a margin smaller than the one he won by in 2010. If the only poll that really matter is the one taken on Election Day, then that's a measurable step backward for Walker.

4.) Walker went all in for this race. A few weeks from now his "30,000+ job created" gambit might look pretty embarrassing for a variety of reasons. Renewing his pledge to create 250,000 jobs by the end of his first term was likely a move to satisfy a short-term need at the expense of a long-term interest.

5.) Walker will spend the rest of his tenure working without a net. He will have no margin for error. If he's indicted for election shenanigans in the County exec's office he might only lose 2-3% of the moderate Republicans that will support him during the recall, but that will be enough to sink him.

6.) The Wisconsin GOP deserves a great deal of credit for preserving their man in the middle of this shitstorm. Wisconsin is likely the best organized state in the midwest for conservatives. They called for all hands on deck and they got it. On a any given day, they are likely better organized then their Dem counterparts and this gap is only likely to get wider during the next decade (between redistricting and the neutering of union strength). Let's face it: Republicans are better at doing the hard work of herding their own cats, while Dems in Wisconsin would much rather schedule sing-a-longs in the Capitol, hold neon signs over freeways and put on yet another benefit concert at the High Noon Salon. If Democrats can convince their people to spend time making phone calls and/or visiting neighbors instead of doing the job of a sign post, they'll be in business. 

7.) The most interesting race tomorrow is the Racine state senate race. If Van Wwaannggaarrdd (spelling?) loses, that'll really be a turd in Walker's punch bowl.

8.) The last pro-Walker WMC ad I saw on TV--which apparently sucked such a huge bowl of goats' balls that no one bothered to put it online--had some of the worst production values of any political ad I've ever seen. Were I a member of this group that supposedly represents "business" I would be outraged that they spent my money on such a shitty product. Honestly, it was on par with the Hari Trevedi ad; maybe even worse.

9.) Believe it or not, this is not the most contentious the state of Wisconsin has ever been. Very early in our state's existence there was an honest-to-God real constitutional crisis that was the functional equivalent of today + Florida 2000 ...  and yet I haven't seen a single newspaper article in the last 16 months about the great Barstow/Bashford clusterfuck of 1855. Usually digging into our past and finding a worse example of today's polarization is a pretty routine way to create some copy for any journalist, but apparently not one reporter in the state of Wisconsin bothered to even look. 

SPOILER ALERT: Both men were supremely corrupt assholes (one of whom was "from" Oshkosh!) who got away with far more than Scott Walker could even contemplate getting away with today. That's what I call progress. Forward, bitches. Forward.