Sunday, June 3, 2012

Thoughts on What a Scott Walker Win Would REALLY Mean

Even though the elections of 2012 are still five months away, arguably the second biggest electoral battle in the United States will take place this Tuesday. In the state of Wisconsin, known as a fairly reliable bellwether in terms of predicting the political mood of the country at any given time, a recall election will pit incumbent Republican governor Scott Walker against Democratic opponent Tom Barrett, the current mayor of Milwaukee.

While this duel in dairyland may not appear on its surface to be of much consequence to anyone else (who cares about who the governor of state X is anyway?), there is much more to it, and pundits on both sides of the political spectrum would gladly explain why to you. They have already begun comparing this to a litmus test for the rest of the nation, suggesting that the outcome of the race could signal whether President Barack Obama is headed toward re-election this fall, or if Mitt Romney is going to gain a decided edge.

Granted, other issues like the state of the economy, the outcome of the Supreme Court's decision on the Affordable Healthcare Act and SB 1070 (Arizona's bill against illegal immigration), and so many others will have a large impact as well. This race in Wisconsin, however, is going to have grave consequences one way or another, and not just because of what it could mean for the Obama/Romney race.

If Walker wins, all Republicans are going to do is crow about how it's a validation of their ideals. "People want small government!" they will shout from every rooftop they can find. "Unions are something that may have been necessary when we were sending children into mines in the 19th century, but now all they do is encourage people to not think for themselves, and they drain resources at the expense of taxpayers!" they will say in unison.

They will also call it a decisive blow against the notion that people should be forced to join unions (Walker signed legislation that would make it voluntary to join a public union in Wisconsin, thus diminishing the collective bargaining power of the unions considerably), and they will sing the song of doom for the long-standing Democratic love affair with groups like AFL-CIO and SEIU.

The reality of things, however, is that this won't be some hideous indictment against unions. What it will actually be is a signal to the rest of the country that the decision rendered in the "Citizens United vs. FEC" Supreme Court case, which ruled that corporations are considered "people", and that money is considered to be free speech. The ruling allowed groups like Super-PAC's to pump millions and millions of dollars into elections around the country, and nowhere is that influx of money more prevalent than in the state of Wisconsin, hence why this should be the overarching narrative should Walker defeat Barrett on Tuesday.

A Walker victory would confirm the worst fears of progressives who despise the Court's ruling. For starters, the notion that money can be used to wield exorbitant political power would be upheld in this case. Walker has gone around the country and has raised upwards of $30 million to fight back against this recall election, while his challenger has only managed to raise $4 million. These are both pretty impressive numbers considering that this isn't a November campaign, but the fact of the matter is that a $26 million disparity in fundraising is going to make the narrative awfully one-sided in terms of political ads and the ability to convey a message at a consistently high volume.

Before you start saying that the money gap could be explained by there being more enthusiasm among voters about what Walker stands for, consider this: of that $30 million that he has raised, an estimated $15 million has come from the infamous Koch brothers, who have bankrolled Super-PAC's across the country. These groups run negative attack ads going after liberal candidates, and often times they are accompanied by innocuous-sounding group names. Whether the content of the ads is true or not isn't the real issue. The real concern is that they help set the framework for the policy debate between candidates, and the fact that they can be anonymously bankrolled removes any sense of accountability for making false claims, and that is the antithesis of what a vigorous democracy is supposed to be.

This $30 million that Walker has raised doesn't represent the pinnacle of free speech in action. What it represents is affirmation that elections in this country can be easily bought in the days following the Citizens United ruling, and that is precisely why any liberal candidate worth his salt needs to come out vehemently in favor of a Constitutional amendment upholding the notion that corporations are not people, and therefore cannot raise inordinate sums of money to pump into political races.

What's more, the race in Wisconsin illustrates the need for there to be more stringent laws passed about people and organizations being able to donate money to campaigns anonymously. Arguing against a faceless opponent isn't a debate on issues. It's a losing proposition, because no apology is ever needed from someone who doesn't have a face. Perhaps no example is more potent than that of the organization Center to Protect Patient Rights, which sounds like a group dedicated to the repeal of President Obama's health care bill. Right? WRONG!

In reality, this organization is nothing more than a PO Box in a random post office in Phoenix, Arizona, a mere 10 minutes from the author's residence. This group doesn't have a website, no list of donors, no nothing, except for a reputation as funding conservative campaigns across the country. In 2010 alone, this group pumped $55 MILLION into campaigns, including that of Iowa Congressional candidate Ben Lange, who went up against Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley. It shouldn't have been a tight race, with Braley winning by more than 25 points in 2008, but thanks to a huge influx of money from this random PO Box group in Arizona, the final vote was in favor of Braley, but only by about 4000 votes.

The Center to Protect Patient Rights is exactly what's wrong with American politics. It is a shadowy group with no clear agenda other than to promote false attack ads in swing races, and even if a person wants to combat their ludicrous charges of "being in cahoots with Muslims who want to build a mosque near the World Trade Center site" (the subject of one of their attack ads against Braley), they are unable to do so because the group has no public face. This isn't the democracy that the American voting public has signed up for, and it's exactly what an amendment reversing the Citizens United decision is so desperately needed.

This should not be an issue that divides Americans on party lines. The issue of making sure that people's voices can be heard, rather than being drowned out in a cacophony of idiotic party rhetoric and infusion of millions of dollars from corporations and Super-PAC's, should be an issue that conservatives and liberals can rally around. A true democracy is one that encourages debate and compromise on the thorny issues of our day, not outspending your opponent into submission.

Yes, this current state of American political affairs does go against liberals in a big way, but the fact of the matter is that it adversely affects the country as a whole. If we do not get something done about this heinous decision by the Supreme Court, then the results are going to continue to be catastrophic. We will be stuck with the best government that money can buy, and the only people who will benefit are those that technically are people but who actually aren't people at all: high-brow corporations with deep pockets and a seething desire to crush all opposition in their path.

Is that really an America we want to live in? I don't think so. Please, for the love of God, I beseech you, citizens of Wisconsin. Do NOT let the money train derail the democracy of this nation. Vote against Scott Walker on Tuesday, and let the powers that be know that you value common sense over demagoguery, and that your voice cannot be silenced by the "ka-ching" of the cash register of American politics. If you don't, then you could be opening the can of worms on something that will fundamentally change the course of politics in this nation in a way that may never be overturned.

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