Thursday, January 19, 2012

Political Musings: Thoughts on Scott Walker's Recall and Rick Perry's Demise

For two of the more controversial governors in the United States. the last few days have been particularly eventful. They may be in the headlines for different reasons, but Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin) and Rick Perry (R-Texas) both are worthy of examination, and seem to make a fine pair to kick off this blog's political coverage as we gear up for yet another election year (it certainly feels like these happen more than once every two years, right?).

Beginning with Governor Walker, he is makings news for not one, but two different reasons, and both of them are of equal importance to the voters of his state. The first story came to light on Tuesday, when it was announced that organizers in Wisconsin had accumulated over 1 million signatures to trigger a recall election against the embattled governor. They needed slightly over 540,000 to succeed in their drive, so all indications are that a special election will be called for some point in the near future.

While the petition's supporters cheered their victory, Walker's supporters shot back with some words they will likely regret at some point. Brad Courtney, the chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, called the recall petition "shameful", and said it would accomplish "nothing but saddle Wisconsin taxpayers with over $9 million in unbudgeted costs."

Leaving aside the hysterical irony of a man ruing spending $9 million while his governor just turned down $37 million from the federal government (more on that in a moment), the real issue here is that this dolt apparently has some type of vendetta against what we in America like to call "accountability".

Public officials serve at the whim of the public. Granted, it isn't the majority of the public oftentimes, as the majority of people don't vote, but the whole idea behind the ability to recall a politician is that if they do something particularly heinous, the public has a tool with which to stop him or her from continuing in office. The Wisconsin recall drive did exactly that, because the public has grown dissatisfied with Walker's attacks on unions and other agenda items that have left a sour taste in the mouths of some of the most moderate voters in the country.

This doofus Courtney would be heaping praises upon anyone who signed a petition to unseat a Democratic governor. Railing against the people asserting their will based on some stupid grounds of "adding debt" is about as silly as you can get. When it comes to holding politicians accountable, cost should not be a factor.

The other bit of news relates to Walker's steadfast resistance to the Affordable Care Act, which originally was thought to be a crown jewel for the administration of President Barack Obama, but has instead been regarded as a heinous attack on the civil rights of Americans who "just want government to keep their hands off our Medicare," and may also be a potential weakness as Obama seeks re-election this November.

Late last year, Walker announced that his state would not implement a key component of the law, so-called "healthcare exchanges", until the Supreme Court rules on the Constitutionality of the law, a decision that will come before the Court's summer recess. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for late March, and there is no clear indication as to which way the Court is leaning on the issue.

Yesterday, Walker's administration also announced that they would be returning $37 million to the federal government that was supposed to go toward the exchanges. Walker had this to say when asked about the decision to turn down the money:

"Stopping the encroachment of ObamaCare in our state, which has the potential to have a devastating impact on Wisconsin's economy, is a top priority. Wisconsin has been a leader and innovator in health care reform for two decades, and we have achieved a high level of health insurance coverage without federal mandates." 
 Walker is right about one thing: according to data from 2009-10, Wisconsin has one of the lowest rates of uninsured citizens in the nation, with about 9% of its citizens living without healthcare coverage. He is also correct in lauding past administrations for their work in the area, including former Democratic governor Jim Doyle, who expanded Medicaid in the state (15% of Wisconsin's citizens are on Medicaid, while another 15% are on Medicare) and upgraded computer systems in the health care industry in the state, which saves money and was a central component of President Obama's push to reform the system.

Where Walker has started to run off course is his reversal on whether or not he supports the exchanges. Up until December, when it was announced the state was holding off on implementation, Wisconsin was all set to be one of five states to implement the new system that was a cornerstone of the ACA. According to Kate Nocera and Jason Millman of, Walker and his administration were actually in favor of setting up their own exchange, and modeling it after the one currently in use in Utah. That system is lightly regulated, and is restricted to small businesses.

With Walker seemingly joining the masses of Tea Party members and Republican representatives who have made it their life's work to see this bill undone, it's easy to lose sight of the plain and obvious truth: America's health care costs are the highest in the entire world, but we are also ranked #34 in the world in terms of the effectiveness of the care that money buys. The age of insurance-for-profit has ravaged our system, and while the ACA wasn't the most perfect vessel (a public option would have likely brought rates down as companies competed to put out a better product at a cheaper rate to compete with the federal government), it is at least a step in the right direction.

Much like auto insurance does, mandated health coverage would lessen the burden on everyone for the sole reason that everyone is paying into the system. The health care giants of this country wanted a mandate so that they could add new customers by the boatloads, but when that came with the string attached of having to cover everyone, regardless of pre-existing conditions and the like, they balked. Now, rates are going up even more, and little is being done to stem the tide.

Walker's refusal of this money doesn't just represent a shift in his mindset. It signals a move of most of the Republican party to fully ally against President Obama's agenda, and to fall in line with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's stated goal of ousting the President from office in 2012. This politicization of just about everything in Washington has done nothing to help the overall good of the country, and it will continue to hinder progress as we move further down the road.

Sticking with President Obama's failings on the health care bill for a moment, the biggest obstacle he is facing in convincing the American people that this bill was for their benefit is that he didn't do a good enough job of selling it when it was passed. People were up in arms about "death panels" and all sorts of other patent nonsense as the right wing of this country ran a masterful campaign to undermine the bill, while the left wing simply stood idly by and did nothing.

This indecisiveness and inability to sell what the President has actually done (stemmed unemployment, saved the auto industry, killed Osama bin Laden, removed troops from Iraq) is continuing to hinder progressives to this day, and will continue to hinder them as the 2012 election draws nearer. It's pretty sad when it takes a movie star like George Clooney to come to this conclusion, and to speculate that the party's best idea might be to just bring a bunch of guys like Harvey Weinstein and Jerry Weintraub to help them be able to sell their platform.

Yes, the President has had many failings that he should be rightfully criticized for (signing the Defense Authorization Bill that included provisions for indefinite detention of Americans, the failure to close Guantanomo Bay), but if he would just a do a better job of selling himself (something he is famously reluctant to do, at least if books by Jonathan Alter and Richard Wolffe are to be believed), then a lot of this backlash against him by people like Scott Walker would ring more hollow and would be met with scoffs instead of legitimate attention.

Speaking of governors who have generated their fair amount of scoffing in recent months, Rick Perry announced that he will be exiting the race for the Republican nomination for President, and throwing his support behind.....Newt Gingrich.

For starters, Perry's failed candidacy had everything to do with his inability to form a coherent thought, whether it was forgetting which Cabinet positions he would eliminate or trying to decry big government while defending his administration's decision to require young girls to get cervical cancer vaccines. Republicans simply did not see him as a winner after the initial buzz of his jump onto the national stage wore off, and that hampered his candidacy badly even in places like South Carolina, where his evangelical Christian appeal would have paid dividends.

Pivoting from the failed bid itself, Perry's endorsement of Gingrich plays right into the former Speaker of the House's strategy for defeating current frontrunner Mitt Romney. The hard-line elements of the Republican party do not believe that Romney is any different from the liberal Republican that pioneered one of the biggest healthcare overhauls in the country when he was governor of Massachusetts, and they also see a large amount of vulnerability when Romney talks about "enjoying firing people" and other less-than-satisfactory comments.

Gingrich may not be the perfect candidate, but it is pretty clear that he is the perfect candidate for a primary election. He appeals to the hard-line conservatives who frequent primaries, and even though that is usually a poor barometer for performance in a general election, when independents often end up choosing the more moderate candidate, that still hasn't stopped him from appealing to Perry and Rick Santorum to end their candidacies so he can pick up their supporters and battle Romney to the bitter end.

If Romney does end up being the nominee,  will alienate some voters because of his Mormon faith, but a bigger issue could be a lack of voter excitement on the right half of the spectrum. Sure, the desire to oust an incumbent president whom they don't agree with will be all the motivation some Republicans need, but that simply isn't enough to win an election.

Senator John Kerry ran into this obstacle in 2004, when his policies were constantly under attack, as he had a long record of switching positions on all sorts of issues, and even though the "Beat Bush" sentiment was strong, the sitting president was still able to get a majority of the vote and remain in office.

For another lesson on voter excitement, one only needs to look at the exit polling in the 2008 race. Nearly everyone who said they voted for Obama was happy to do it, but barely anyone could say the same for John McCain, and his dismal showing showed how bad it is when a candidate can't energize the base. Republicans stayed at home en masse on that day, and Obama romped to an enormous victory.

Obviously, the 2012 election will be much closer than that one, but Republicans are in a bit of a tricky spot when it comes to picking a nominee. Romney will appeal to moderates quite a bit, but his policy shifts on so many different subjects will make easy pickings for the Democratic National Committee, just like Kerry's waffling did in 2004. In addition, Romney's seeming to be the "rich candidate" may not play well in a time when a lot of Americans are still trying to recover from the Great Recession, and the animosity and backlash, including among arch-conservatives who feel like he isn't "one of them" could be a stumbling block big enough to keep him from the Oval Office.

In terms of Gingrich's candidacy, he is definitely going to appeal to a wide swath of the Republican base, but the real question for him is whether or not he will be able to pick enough independents off in the general election to defeat the President. His extra-marital affairs, still a hot topic after all these years of mockery because of his desire to burn Bill Clinton at the stake for similar sins, are still a huge issue to overcome as well, as conservative voters seem to take their Christian beliefs on sanctity of marriage a lot more seriously than their politicians do.

To sum up, both Governors Walker and Perry have been heroes at one point or another for their party, but as time has worn on, their act has worn thin on voters. Now, Walker will face a recall that could oust him from office, and Perry has been unceremoniously shut out of the field of contenders for the presidency. Both men need to alter their behavior if they are going to be relevant moving forward, but judging by how steadfastly they stick by their principles (Walker ignored people occupying the Capitol in protest of his anti-union bill, Perry has said he doesn't regret the execution of anyone in his state, in spite of evidence suggesting some of those inmates may have been innocent), I wouldn't bet on it.

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