The failure of the peoples movement to recall Scott Walker in Wisconsin has produced pessimism among some. Television news media and much of the press is feeding this pessimism by trumpeting the "defeat of the Democrats," the "failure of labor," even the percentage of union households that voted for Walker as a precursor of big troubles for the Obama administration.
In the process, a great deal is being omitted and even more distorted. What can we learn from the events in Wisconsin, as partisans of peoples movements and, to use Gus Hall's old phrase, to work to advance "bill of rights socialism."?
The first point, the obvious one made even by most of mainstream media, is the power of money in electoral politics. This is why most countries with representative governments have extensive restrictions on the use of money in elections---limiting the time that elections take place, limiting sharply the money spent on radio and television commercials, providing equal time access to candidates and parties to mass media.
As even a British member of the House of Lords said decades ago, not to take such "precautions" would mean that there would not be a free and fair election and that the "Tories"(meaning the Conservative Party representng the upper income groups and the corporations) would win most of the time.
We don't have a House of Lords but we don't really need one. We have billionaires free to spend anything they want in politics
In Wisconsin, conservative estimates are that the recall campaign was outspent better than eight to one by the Walker forces. In television ads, the spending was much greater than that.
The money came from the "front groups"(to use the term that red baiters used to use against mass organizations with CPUSA activists) of the most reactionary sectors of the capitalist class ,The billionaire Koch brothers have become their symbol but there are many more pouring money into "tea party Republicans, eliminate the dues checkoff for trade unionists, privatize public education, etc.
Progressive groups response has been to to call upon their supporters to donate more and more but their is no way in the world that this kind of spending can be matched.
What we can do through the labor movement and all peoples movements is to organize and educate for national legislation which will make U.S. elections both free and fair by the standards that exist in the rest of the developed world,
Just as we don't have a modern welfare state, the hall mark of which is a national public health system, we don't have a modern democracy either in terms of free and fair elections.
And the trend has been in the opposite direction-- organized voter suppression actions that would land the perpretators in jail in many countries;the "corporate personhood" doctine applied by the Supreme Court to remove all restrictions on money in politics in the Citizens United case, etc.
But it isn't only about money. The second myth perpretrated by mass media is that the "Democratic party" put major resources into this campaign and suffered a major defeat. All those involved in the campaign in the field know that this was simply false.
The National Democratic Party didn't put in either the money or the people that they were expected to, and the Wisconsin Democratic party played middle of the road politics, often standing between the labor led peoples movement and the occupy movement which brought about the recall in the first place and the well funded Walker campaign.
And of course, as I and many others who were involved in phonebanking for the campaign(and friends and comrades from or living in Wisconsin knew) Mayor Ted Barrett of Milwaukee, the candidate whom Walker beat to become governor, was a weak candidate, with no real support in rural areas who as an individual ran more as an unlooker than a militant and a partisan. Indeed, when Barrett addressed recall followers by offering an olive branch to Walker, he was roundly booed.
Another myth is that this was a huge defeat for labor, evidence that labor has no "political muscle" that it is finished. Frankly, it was the AFL-CIO which mobilized this campaign, trade union activists who weakened Walker by regaining control of the Wisconsin state Senate and in alliance with peoples movements who made the vote as close as it was. And, had the Democrats given more real power to labor in the campaign, the key issue, namely Walker's destruction of collective bargaining rights and the loss of jobs, which Walker was able to evade both by focussing on "tax reductions" and also on twisted statistics which proclaimed an improvement in jobs, would not have happened.
Without the 8-1 money gap, Walker would be history. With a better candidate, Walker would be history. With a national and state Democratic party either willing to fight or willing to turn over the campaign to labor and peoples movements who were willing to fight Walker would be history.
Those are the lessons we should focus on if we are to make Romney, the Kochs, the tea party Republicans, history