Robert M. La Follette, the architect of the progressive movement that a century ago made Wisconsin the nation’s “laboratory of democracy,” recognized that the experiments would at times go awry. “We have long rested comfortably in this country upon the assumption that because our form of government was democratic, it was therefore automatically producing democratic results. Now, there is nothing mysteriously potent about the forms and names of democratic institutions that should make them self-operative,” he observed after suffering more than his share of defeats. “Tyranny and oppression are just as possible under democratic forms as under any other. “Those words echoed across the decades on the night of June 5, as the most powerful of the accountability tools developed in La Follette’s laboratory — the right to recall errant officials — proved insufficient for the removal of Governor Scott Walker. The failure of the campaign against Walker, while heartbreaking for Wisconsin union families and the great activist movement that developed to counter the governor and his policies, offers profound lessons not just for Wisconsin but for a nation that is wrestling with fundamental questions of how to counter corporate and conservative power in a Citizens United moment. Those lessons are daunting, as they suggest the “money power” populists and progressives of another era identified as the greatest threat to democracy has now organized itself as a force that cannot be easily thwarted even by determined “people power.”
The Wisconsin result — which followed upon a campaign that saw Walker outspend his Democratic challenger by perhaps 8-1, as the governor’s billionaire backers flooded the state with tens of millions of dollars in “independent” expenditures on his behalf — should send up red flares for Democrats as they prepare for this fall’s presidential and congressional elections. The right has developed a far more sophisticated money-in-politics template than it has ever before employed. That template worked in Wisconsin, on behalf of a deeply-divisive and scandal-plagued governor, and it worked. But the quick calculus that says organized money beats organized people misses the fact that those who sought to depose “the imperial Walker” were also experimenting. They made mistakes, particularly as regards messaging. They were let down by national Democratic players who never quite recognized that Republican National Committee chairman Reince Preibus and “independent” groups on the right were testing and perfecting strategies for November.
Yet, against overwhelming odds, Wisconsin’s recall movement fought its way to a dead heat, losing only narrowly in its effort to remove a “right-wing rock star” whose reelection became the top priority of the Republican party, the conservative movement and the 1% billionaires who made Walker’s reelection a national priority. For those who see democracy as a spectator sport with clearly-defined seasons that finish on election day, the Wisconsin results are just depressing. But for those who recognize the distance Wisconsin — and other states, such as Ohio, which used a veto referendum to restore collective-bargaining rights — have come since the Republicans won just about everything in 2010, the recall story is instructive.
Full Article: Recall Campaign Against Scott Walker Fails | The Nation.