In 2011, Ohio voters overturned a law restricting collective bargaining rights for public employees unions signed by Governor John Kasich (R-OH.) In 2012, Wisconsin voters recalled their Governor because he passed a law all but ending collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin. The situations really are quite similar. Both laws were unpopular, but the net outcome was vastly different. Ohio voters decided the law went too far, Wisconsin voters decided that although the law may have been an overreach, so was recalling the Governor. This is a classic example of understanding the limits of power.
I had a teacher once who explained to me that just because you disagree with someone doesn’t mean you need to be entirely disagreeable. What he was saying was that just because you don’t like someone else’s position on something doesn’t mean that you need to crucify them for it. What does that accomplish? It doesn’t right the perceived wrong and in many cases it makes matters worse by using inflaming rhetoric and inciting personal attacks. This is to say that if you are going to detract from an argument, do so with the grace that you believe your argument has and with the zest that you’d like your opponents to believe you to possess. Only add your argument if it adds to the conversation.
As many have pointed out to me on Twitter, there is little good that can be attained by grieving over something you have no control over. In the same vein, there is absolutely no point (other than self-aggrandizement) to gloat and rub the result of a contest in your opponent’s face. It doesn’t gain you anything and usually only works to harbor animosity among your detractors. So when I went after Erick Erickson of Redstate.com for his excessive celebration in the post-mortem of the Wisconsin recall election, I wasn’t going after him for his position on the issues, rather I was pointing out that part of the problem in partisan politics is that one side doesn’t merely take a victory lap when they win an election, they take ten. Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, there is no reason for you to kick your opponent when he is down. It accomplishes nothing and only further alienates those who aren’t all that fond of you to begin with.
As I deflected attacks from Erickson’s conservative cohorts and explained my position that “just because one side did it once doesn’t make it okay” (a la ‘if your friend jumps off a bridge, would you do it too?) I realized that Democrats do occasionally do the exact same thing to Republicans after an election. We shouldn’t be doing this. Neither side needs to fan the flames of partisanship in order to feel better about themselves. All sides know how adept each is at the game of politics, however the best proving ground for your tactics is in the political arena and not as a coda to an election that has already been won decisively. Scott Walker’s advocates should be reaching out to Democrats in this time of triumph by showing humility and grace, instead they showed that they are just as ugly in victory as they were in their means of getting there.
Wisconsin made a mistake in recalling Governor Scott Walker, that much should be clear to all of us now. What we should have done was have a referendum on the collective bargaining law and dealt a blow to Walker’s administration and his legislative tactics of divide and conquer. This is a valuable lesson for Democrats that just because thumping your chest feels good doesn’t mean it’s the most effective way to deal with a problem. What happened in Ohio was that Governor Kasich was so debilitated by his defeat that he has had little luck passing anything else of major significance. This is the lesson of the Wisconsin recall and it’s a lesson that needs to be pointed out again and again until the organizers of the recall effort understand that their colossal error in judgement that they committed by recalling the Governor was just as much an overstep as the Governor’s reform efforts passed last year. You can continue to blame the spending, Citizens United, outside interest groups etc. But until you acknowledge that the number one reason you failed was that citizens simply didn’t believe in the recall (60% believed it should have never taken place) this lesson teaches us nothing.
As I watched the returns come in last night I remember feeling then exactly as I felt as I watched the election returns come in during the 2004 Presidential election. I didn’t know anyone who voted for Bush, so how could he have won? I remember sitting at the computer with my dad looking over various returns in Ohio trying to find a mathematical error of some kind, a 2000-like problem in the counting of ballots or something to stop Bush from serving another term. But now, as I look on and see our political system as it is now, I realize that to give John Kerry the victory in 2004 would essentially be to deny Barack Obama the historic opportunity to be America’s first black President. I am far too proud of the latter to wish the outcome of the former upon my country.
I was also reminded of something from the 1972 election (which, yes I realize I was not alive for) and it involved a young reporter at the Washington Post. The woman remarked that she didn’t understand how Nixon could have won because she didn’t know a single person who voted for him. A friend pointed out to her that she spent all her time in Washington and that all of her friends were liberal. Slowly this woman began to realize that it was almost impossible for her to know anyone who voted for Nixon because she refused to expose herself to that voting group. Both of these lessons are important here in the aftermath of the recall election in Wisconsin. Sure we got beat pretty bad, but a temporary setback doesn’t become permanent unless you let it become permanent. What you do in victory is every bit as important as what you do in defeat, so let’s show Republicans that they can gloat all they like because we will make the most out of our defeat and make sure that such a calamity isn’t allowed to occur again in November.