After the Tuesday Wisconsin recall many a political pundit assessed the results of this Midwestern state’s impact on the presidential elections. Is Wisconsin a representative microcosm of American politics from which national contests can be accurately gauged? Or did the entire effort speak more to significant political divides within the US and the ease in which we are swayed by rhetoric and the money spent perpetuating it?
Can we gauge the direction of the national election for president on the results of the recall effort against Scott Walker? Can we honestly conclude that, as goes Wisconsin, so goes the nation? Probably not. The recall election was, despite all the national attention, a local contest, decided by Wisconsin state residents concerned about what was best for them. Wisconsin, like California and Massachusetts, has a history of electing Republican governors yet send Democrats to the White House. Judging from the exit polls, voters may well follow that trend once again. In the end, localized statewide contests serve only as potential predictors for how those states may lean during general elections not as indicators of national trends.
More importantly, though, Wisconsin did illustrate two unfortunate trends in the political landscape in this country. The first is the ever-expanding chasm of political divisiveness which has widened significantly over the past decade. As such political partisanship has increased, so has distrust and distaste for the others’ policies. Yet, anger over policy direction, however, is not a qualifying reason to recall an elected official. A Twitter message from that night presented a thought-provoking result from the exit polling;
Bingo RT @chucktodd Most important result from the exit poll: the 60% who said recalls are ONLY appropriate for OFFICIAL misconduct.
— Thomas C. Bowen (@thomascbowen) June 6, 2012
Is this the road we want to start down? Do we truly want to tie up the process of governing with threats to remove leaders from office if enough people who disagree with their policies sign a petition? Did Scott Walker, in his effort to eliminate collective bargaining, do anything illegal? Was their misconduct involved in passing the Wisconsin budget repair bill? As yet, nothing has come to light. Was it necessary for Governor Walker to continue with the ban on collective bargaining rights even after unions agreed to his budget cutting terms to increase employee benefits contributions? No. A compromise had been reached but the governor insisted on an apparent my-way-or-the-highway ultimatum. Does an inexorable nature qualify as a reason for removal from office? Unfortunately not. If it were, the vast majority of the House of Representatives would be facing their own recall elections. Perhaps for the Walker opposition a focus on the issue, not the man would have produced a more desirable outcome. Instead of ousting Ohio governor, John Kasich, opponents to a similar collective bargaining ban asked voters to decide. They overturned the legislationwith 61% of the vote.
While Wisconsin may not be representative of the US in miniature, it most certainly was a trial run for the big money campaign spending machine set loose by the Citizens United ruling. It gave the country a view of what will transpire in the national campaigns to come. For many it showed money can buy elections. Scott Walker pulled in $32 million outspending his challenger 7 to 1. Much of the money came from outside the state, accounting for about 59% of Walker’s war chest, three quarters of which were donation of $10,000 or more. As many are aware the donors list featured the who’s who of the conservative millionaire-billionaire crowd, with the Koch Brothers, Rick Santorum’s benefactor Foster Friess and Bob Perry of 2004’s Swiftboating fame at the top. This prompts questions about this small group’s influence on the electorate as a whole. To whom will the winning candidates feel beholden to? Those select few who funded their campaigns or the voters who elected them? In addition, it wouldn’t be out of line to question whether all this money spent on political campaigns by these millionaires and billionaires, these job creators, could not be better spent on more substantive pursuits.
Some sources say the money spent had little impact as many voters made their decisions long ago. These findings may well be valid. After elongated campaigns voters may simply tune out the barrage of ads. But what cannot be ignored is the drumbeat of rhetoric that hammers questionable claims into voters’ heads until they essentially become fact. We’ve bore witness to it many times before. Not just in Wisconsin, teachers’ unions have been successfully demonized as wasters of taxpayers’ money when in reality teachers are one of the most underpaid professions in the country. On the national stage health care reform was characterized as “government takeover of healthcare” when it was largely an insurance industry, regulation reform bill with no government takeover or ownership of any kind. Republicans have successfully convinced many voters the economy is worse now under Obama than before he took office despite over 2 years of private sector growth, an increase of GDP from 0.4% to 3.0% in 2011 and overall hiring of 4.2 million people under Obama’s time in office.
Did the contest in Wisconsin truly provide us a glimpse at the dark underbelly of campaign spending we will most likely watch spread throughout the country over the next 5 months? Quite possibly. Did it clearly show the consequences of the hyper-partisanship we ourselves as voters have fostered? Perhaps. If anything, it demonstrated the need to research those we entrust our vote to. It should motivate many to delve deeper into the claims displayed on the ads flashed across our television screens, the all too repeatable talking points and the heated commentary from a myriad of sources. Unfortunately, the onus of truth is placed onto the voters’ shoulders these days but in the end one must weigh the the choice between making an informed vote versus the one handed to you.