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Dems Shorten Their Lines in Wisconsin

When the German Army retreated from Warsaw in World War Two, it was the beginning of the end.  But the German press announcement did not mention the retreat from the city; it announced that the German Army had “successfully shortened its lines” thirty miles west of the city.

This is what we get in the New York Times today: the Democratic Party has successfully shortened its lines in Wisconsin. Chirped the editors:

Five months after Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin pushed through a law stripping public unions of their bargaining rights, the Republican Party has paid a price. Two of the state senators who backed the law were thrown out of office by voters on Tuesday and replaced with Democrats. Mr. Walker’s opponents did not succeed in turning over the Senate, but it was still an impressive response to the governor’s arrogant overreach.

More, the future looks bright.

Republicans will not admit this, but the numbers showed significant strength for Democrats even in the districts they lost — strength that could grow if lawmakers continue cutting spending and taxes while reducing the negotiating rights of working families.

Wow!  Look at those nice new short military lines, so much more conveniently placed than the old ones.

If control of the state senate in Wisconsin had shifted to the Democrats last night, the newspapers and airwaves today would be dominated by talk about the turning of the tide, the repudiation of GOP “extremism” and the death of the Tea Party.

As it is, they are dominated by — nothing.  The news from Wisconsin is reported, Democratic spin is given an airing, and we move on.

It’s possible to argue that this isn’t bias.  “No Change in Wisconsin” is not as big a story as “Change in Wisconsin.”  Journalism 101.

But there is a change in Wisconsin and it has significant national implications.  The labor movement, and especially the public sector labor movement, threw everything they had into reversing the Walker reforms.  They have failed narrowly but serially: in the original fight over the vote, in the fight over Judge Prosser’s re-election, and in last night’s recall.

They also failed on a level playing field; the amount of money from left and right wing outside groups in the election split more or less evenly, says a post on the Recall Scott Walker! website.

Wisconsin was going to be the first in a series of “fight backs”.  That isn’t going to happen now.  Wisconsin was going to be the model of a left grass roots movement that would replace the Tea Party as the face of American populism.  Not happening.  It was going to be the start of the great anti-corporate, anti-Republican march that would push Obama to the left and turn the whole country blue.  Again, not happening.

It was a massive and strategic failure of the left — and that is news. The left has successfully shortened its lines, thirty miles to the west of Wisconsin.

Through a solid generation of retreats and defeats, the left’s friends in the press keep doing it the same disservice.  By hiding harsh truths when they can, and saying only the minimum when they must, center left media outlets conceal the scale of defeat from those who need to understand it most.  They also short circuit what the left most needs: frank talk about what’s wrong.

The environmental movement has been crippled by the failure of the media to subject its policy claims and its ideological incoherence to critical scrutiny.  Labor has enjoyed something of the same free ride: while the mainstream press is rarely in the tank for labor the way it is for the greens, there are few hard-hitting, well-researched articles on the colossal generational fail of the US labor movement to manage the intellectual and political challenges of globalization.  Labor’s losses are attributed to inexorable outside forces; those are a factor, but so is the mediocrity and corruption of some in the labor movement, and the ideological blinkers worn by others.

Green and labor failures are among the most important facts of American life today.  As long as these subjects don’t regularly receive thoughtful and objective coverage in the mainstream press, neither greens nor unions have much chance to improve.

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  • WigWag

    Professor Mead continues his flights of fancy.

    What the Wisconsin recall elections prove is what everyone with any common sense already knows; the country is balanced on a hair pin. A few points in either direction spell victory or defeat. People who thought Obama’s election represented a decisive shift to the left were just as deluded as Professor Mead who thinks the recent elections in Wisconsin prove that a decisive shift to the right has taken place.

    It seems to me that the Professor is missing the forest for the trees. The world is shifting under our feet and if anything, it is shifting in a direction that should make proponents of the red state model very nervous (although in fairness to Professor Mead he’s not actually a proponent of the red state model; he’s a proponent of a new social model that so far exists only in his imagination).

    Whether it’s the turmoil in the Arab world, the massive demonstrations in Israel, the riots in Greece, the violence in London or the sit-ins in Madison, it is clear that there is an uprising afoot. As different as they are, what ties these mass movements together is a sense of grievance about an ever smaller circle of plutocrats monopolizing all the power and wealth in society. How long before even more severe explosions break out in France, Italy, Ireland, Spain or the United States?

    As the middle class in the United States continues to shrink, and as formerly middle class people join the ranks of the downwardly mobile, how long does Professor Mead think a social model based on dramatic increases in concentrations of wealth can survive?

    Recently Professor Mead has written about the potential for an explosion from what he calls the “lumpenproliteriat;” is it really so clear to Professor Mead that the remnants of what used to be the middle class won’t join the explosion? What Professor Mead fails to remember is that one of the prime motivations behind the New Deal was to save capitalism, which, if the Great Depression had continued, might very well have become extinct in the United States.

    Professor Mead is right about one thing; working class and middle class people who have seen their standard of living erode resent government workers who have, until recently, been immune to pay and benefit cuts. But after the current process of insuring that government workers become as downwardly mobile as the rest of American workers have become is complete, who else will remain to be blamed? Perhaps then attention will be focused on the tiny few who have been prospering while the rest of the nation has been suffering.

    The American tolerance for plutocracy may be great, but it would be foolish to assume that it is unlimited. Mead’s problem is that he seems incapable of understanding who the plutocrats really are. He thinks the plutocrats are middle managers working in corporate America or toiling away in the governmental bureaucracy.

    Mead’s tendency to conflate middle managers with the Lloyd Blankfeins and Jamie Dimons of the world is emblematic of why his views are so off base.

  • Mrs. Davis

    Watch the Verizon strike. The union has really botched its PR job and the rank and file are noticing.

  • Richard S

    Newspapers that are unionized, or that are partly unionized might feel pressure not to talk too much about the problems with modern unions.

    And in our day it might be that many reporters, particularly in Washinton, are connected by family or friendship with white collar union members in the government, which also might shape the questions reporters ask and the facts they choose to print.

  • Jim in KC

    This is the Dems’ Sicily campaign in the Peloppenisian war. A disastrous diversion and waste of resources.

  • Ann C Ellwood

    Professor Mead,

    Congratulations, you have your own troll! It’s a sure sign that your voice is resonating.


  • Scott

    The Democrats lost in the November elections. They lost the Supreme Court fight. And now, while they did win two seats in the Senate in the recalls, it wasn’t enough to turn control over to the Democrats.

    So, of course, they’ve had so much success so far that they want to nullify the November elections and recall the governor as soon as they can. They want to recall him not because he’s disgraced the state or the office. Not because he’s engaged in corruption. Not because he’s been accused of committing a serious crime. And not because he suffers from some previously unknown mental illness.

    No, they want to recall the duly elected governor simply because they lost the November election and want a do-over. They don’t like his policy. They remind me of spoiled brats who bang their cups on the high chair when they don’t get their way.

    I wonder how many Centrists/Independents, the great coalition that ultimately decide elections, feel the same way? I actually think there’s a decent chance that if they go forward with the threatened recall effort, it could backfire in a big way. It will be like telling the Centrists/Independents who voted Walker into office they made the wrong choice the first time in November and the brats are demanding they defend the vote at great cost to the taxpayers to administer yet another election. That could [really get their goat] and spoil any chances that Democrats have to make up lost ground in the 2012 elections.

  • Randy

    Dr. M,

    This sounds like another version of the Taranto Principle, named after James Taranto, the editor of The Wall Street Journal editorial page. The point is that lefties or lefty candidates are lulled into a sense of complacency by their willing accomplices in the lamestream media who minimize or outright ignore their shortcomings, to the point that when they run in a general election, they’re caught unprepared.

  • Michael Trigoboff

    The Dems “shortening their lines,” reminds me of a line from Eric Frank Russell’s great sci-fi novel “Wasp”:

    We retreat triumphantly before an enemy
    who advances in utter disorder.

  • Tom Holsinger

    Wig Wag,

    The left outspent the right $30 million to $15 million in these six special elections, but the GOP candidates overall got 53% of the popular vote.

    That says a very great deal to electoral specialists.

  • buzzardist

    The situation for unions is worse than this post describes. Of the two state senate seats that Democrats did claw back, one of them was won because the Republican incumbent was outed by his estranged wife that he was residing with his mistress on a permanent basis outside of his district. The scandal did this guy in…but he still got 49% of the vote. The other seat was in a Democratic district that Obama had won by over 60% in 2008.

    In fact, of the six districts that Democrats targeted, Obama had won all of them in 2008. Overall, Republicans still got 53% of the vote in these recalls.

    And spending wasn’t more or less even. Democrats and unions outspent Republicans by more than 2-1, and perhaps by as much as 3-1 when all of the numbers finally come in.

    Democrats had the advantage in demographics, organization, energy, money, and just about everything else, and they still managed a simply majority in only two out of six districts that they targeted. Ouch.

    At some point, Democrats are simply going to have to admit that people are not buying their message anymore.

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