Curiouser and Curiouser in Wisconsin

Republicans seem to have become their own worst enemy in Wisconsin.  Even in winning they lose.  They had the votes to win, they always have.  There was no reason to call for a voice vote and close it in seconds.  Twenty-eight members of the Assembly didn’t have an opportunity to cast their votes.  The Speaker knows that the country is watching.  He can’t possibly have believed that he was going to help his case by using parliamentary tricks to win a vote that he was going to win regardless.  Sure, 61 straight hours isn’t fun, but it democracy.  He lost the moment he called the voice vote.

The Senate Democrats are still in Illinois and it doesn’t appear that they are coming back anytime soon.  Governor Walker is not backing down.  The protesters aren’t going to leave the Capitol.  The Koch brothers will fight on too!  It’s fantastic political theater.

The Republicans have shown that they are going to play dirty and they are determined to move their agenda forward.  Even if it means that they lose power in the next election.  It’s admirable, in a way.  The Republicans won huge majorities in Wisconsin and they will use the power while they have it.  Sometimes there are advantages to not playing the “long game” and taking what you can while you can.  You might not win the next election, but you’ve profoundly changed things in the meantime. Republicans are very good at this.

The Friday deadline is going to pass without the Senate Democrats, which means that Wisconsin will not be able to push certain bond payments to the next fiscal year.  It will cost the state an additional $165 million.  The Democrats won this fight.  The Wisconsin Fourteen have said that they would come back and vote if the Governor would drop the union-busting part of the bill.  Governor Walker demurred and cost the state $165 million and thousands of jobs.  Earlier in the week I thought that it was time for the Democrats to go home and fight on the floor of the Senate.  I may have been premature.  They will have to go back at some point, but they may as well play chicken for a while longer.

This is has been a wake up call for liberals across the country and has been led by the unions and the Wisconsin Fourteen.  With Congress not in session Wisconsin has been the focus and it has been ugly for Republicans.  While President Obama has stayed strangely quiet, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty have backed Governor Walker.  Mike Huckabee got his facts wrong while attacking public employees.  Governor Mitch Daniels seems to be the only Republican, and potential Presidential candidate, who understands that the right has lost the public on this issue.

The protests at the Capitol have been so polite.  There was a knitting circle.  The niceness of the protests seems to have confounded the right.  Activists on the right are frantically seeking any proof of the thuggery, because they need something to de-legitimize the demonstrations. They’re getting in people’s faces at support rallies across the country, baiting sign holders for “violent” reactions.  They are looking for unfortunate signs to tag the entire protest with (turnabout is fair play, I guess).  Fox can’t even get their messaging straight – Shepard Smith, who always seems to be trying to get fired, called this bill out for what it is, union-busting.  It’s strange to see, normally media-savvy right, be at such a loss.  Republicans are confused.  What happened in the Assembly last night was exasperated desperation:  the parliamentary trick, the quick voice vote, even a few Republicans were allowed to vote no.

Republicans are on their heels.  They haven’t figured that they’ve lost just yet.  Liberals and Democrats need to push this advantage, which is something they are not traditionally good at.  Wisconsin is a flash point.  The Governor’s bill wasn’t about the budget.  The House budget is not about the budget.  Neither are about jobs.  Jobs are not a driver for Republicans right now.  From Wisconsin to Georgia to South Dakota to D.C., Republican efforts are about ideology.  It’s about using government to win elections, not winning elections to govern.  The one lesson that Democrats and liberals need to take from Wisconsin is that standing on your principles matter.  You can win on your principles.

The Tea Party may not be long for this world as a “legitimate” political force.  They may take the country with them, but if Democrats play this right 2012 is looking better than it did two weeks ago.  Can they play it right?


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