[Marxism] Walker’s Win Highlights Obama’s Abandonment of Labor

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jun 13 07:41:05 MDT 2012

(Chris Lehmann is very sharp, even if the points made in this 
article have become commonplace by now.)

Culture Shock
Walker’s Win Highlights Obama’s Abandonment of Labor
Why the Dems Got Shredded in Wisconsin
By Chris Lehmann 6/12 6:18pm

After America’s Dairyland rallied in impressive numbers to retain 
the services of its union-busting, austerity-besotted Gov. Scott 
Walker, the nation’s pundits clamored to declare Wisconsin’s June 
recall vote a stinging setback to the re-election plans of Barack 
Obama. Major-party operatives on both sides dubbed the Walker 
ballot the “second-most important election in the country this 
year,” the Washington Post’s Dan Balz reported. By rolling up a 
margin of support even greater than he amassed in his initial 2010 
election campaign, Governor Walker was supplying nothing less than 
a “template,” Mr. Balz observed, for the national GOP as it seeks 
to fine-tune a winning 2012 presidential strategy: “big money, 
powerful organization and enormous enthusiasm among [the] base.”

Meanwhile, progressive-minded commentators and political leaders 
drew obsessive attention to the first of these factors, noting 
that out-of-state Super PACs and national GOP organizations helped 
Governor Walker roll up more than a seven-fold funding advantage, 
pulling in nearly $30 million compared to something shy of $4 
million for his opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. “If you 
have enough money, you can put out not only an alternate message,” 
lamented Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who chairs the Democratic 
Governors Association, “you can put out an alternate set of 
numbers, an alternate story, an alternate reality … trying to 
convince everyone that the reason they’re not doing better is 
because school teachers have pensions.”

The influence of campaign cash is indeed a toxic and disfiguring 
force—but as Governor O’Malley himself went on to note, the recall 
vote faced other daunting obstacles, chief among them the 
procedural objection that Governor Walker shouldn’t have faced a 
recall in the first place. Even though his assault on 
public-sector unions was wildly unpopular—stoking dramatic mass 
protests outside the state Capitol the previous winter—some 60 
percent of Wisconsin voters told pollsters that recall campaigns 
should be reserved for cases of ethical and/or criminal misconduct.

More fundamentally, though, doting on campaign cash or the 
strategic merits of the anti-Walker crusade changes the subject in 
the face of the true, distressing moral of the failed mobilization 
of a grassroots left in Wisconsin: the Potemkin façade of 
progressive politics in our age. National Democrats never really 
galvanized money or balloting power behind the recall, for the 
simple reason that the Democratic Party stopped serving as a 
persuasive advocate for wage-earning Americans about two decades 
ago. When unions bitterly contested Governor Walker’s ultimately 
successful bid to rein in collective bargaining among government 
employees, the Madison rallies had the look and feel of a bona 
fide economic uprising of the disenfranchised, akin to the 
spontaneous protests of the Occupy movement. So one might expect 
national Democrats to harness their wagon behind an energized 
corps of voters seeking to strike a blow for fundamental rights in 
the workplace—especially in a presidential election cycle 
providing precious little in the way of energizing economic 
progress. (For just the most recent current example, see President 
Obama’s stunning bid over the weekend to channel John McCain, 
circa September 2008, and pronounce that the American private 
sector is “doing fine”—news, certainly, to the 12.7 million or so 
Americans still unable to find work in it.)

Yet union campaigns and workplace representation count for very 
nearly nothing in the sanctums of national Democratic strategy. As 
early as 1992—the cycle in which Bill Clinton and his cohort of 
“third way” economic strategists shook off the alleged stigmas of 
the Democrats’ “anti-business” image—polled majorities began to 
identify the Democrats as the party of the rich. By the last 
presidential cycle, the evidence unambiguously supported that 
view: A 2009 USA Today analysis of Census data found that 
Democratic lawmakers represented 57 percent of households earning 
$200,000 or more in annual income; in 2005, the GOP had 
represented 55 percent of that income demographic. Small wonder 
that President Obama could rouse himself to back the Walker recall 
only long enough to send out a solitary, belated pro-Barrett 
tweet—a suitably distracted, digitized and managerial response to 
a historic material reversal in the cause of worker 

This shift simply punctuates the steady migration of the 
Democratic leadership class away from the party’s historic 
working-class base. Once he was in office, Clinton wasted little 
time in selling the interests of union Democrats down the river 
with the ratification of NAFTA and the erection of the executive 
branch’s current job-hemorrhaging protocols of free trade. Obama 
followed the same new Democratic bait-and-switch playbook in the 
early months of his presidency; after booking at least $200 
million in union donations to his 2008 campaign, the president 
quietly shelved labor’s prime legislative goal: “card check” 
legislation to streamline organizing drives in workplaces, and 
thereby (so labor leaders hoped) to begin reversing the disastrous 
decades-long decline in private-sector union membership. Instead, 
Obama prioritized a health-care overhaul riddled with boondoggles 
for the insurance and pharmaceutical industries—a law that 
Democrats are now scared to highlight in their own campaign 
dossiers, even if the Supreme Court manages to uphold it later 
this month. Card check never even came up for a floor vote.

And in a political version of battered-spouse syndrome, unions 
largely played along with the strategy. Andy Stern, then the 
president of the 2.2-million-member Service Employees 
International Union, was the most frequent visitor to the White 
House during the height of the health-care battle in Congress. On 
one level, Mr. Stern made his own narrow political accommodation 
to the lobbyist-first ethos of the Democratic nomenklatura—the 
SEIU, which kicked in a cool $60 million to the 2008 Obama 
campaign all by itself, represents a good share of workers in the 
health-care industry. Still, it’s impossible to imagine, say, 
Charles and David Koch, the energy barons who’ve engineered their 
own multimillion-dollar backing for today’s conservative movement, 
sitting placidly by while Republican leaders announced that, while 
they very much appreciate the truckloads of coal and oil money the 
Kochs have backed into the loading docks, well, offshore drilling 
just can’t be a prime order of business before Congress these days.

Nevertheless, our commentariat, the Democratic Party elite 
and—most puzzling of all—organized labor itself continue 
faithfully reprising the pantomime fiction that the Democrats are 
the party of the toiling masses, arrayed against the expropriating 
classes. The real surprise in Wisconsin, in other words, wasn’t so 
much the magnitude of Governor Walker’s victory, or Mayor 
Barrett’s defeat; it was, rather, that at this late date, anyone 
expected the Democratic establishment to contribute anything more 
than a lousy Tweet to the cause.

More information about the Marxism mailing list