Was It Worth It?

August 10, 2011 6:41 a.m.

TPM Reader EA writes in …

I can certainly understand how the actions of Scott Walker and his allies in the Wisconsin Senate rankled working Wisconsinites and the larger union community around the country. I’m certainly glad that it activated what seemed like it had become a quite complacent movement. But was the recall movement worth it? More specifically, was it worth the incredible investment from outside non-union progressive groups? I swear I received an ungodly amount of email about Wisconsin but none about other states with threatening union-busting legislation that matter to me more, like PA or NJ.

Forgive me but it sort of seems like a lot of these groups decided to jump on the wave only to realize to late that a giant recall movement would be more time and money intensive than they had bargained for, that the country would move on, and that the whole thing was a giant distraction from what I think most progressive groups say they want to work on – namely, building a broad-based national popular movement organized around progressive policy goals.

Was Wisconsin really the critical front it has been made out to be or did it morph into something of a distraction?

TPM Reader EA is one of our most insightful readers. But in this case I think he has it wrong. There are different ways to see what happened last night. Legislative recalls are extremely, extremely uncommon in the United States. Winning two of them last night was a big victory. Both senators won in 2010 and in the big Obama year of 2008. And the Democrats came very close to knocking off two more. Still, let’s be honest: they wanted to steal away the GOP’s unitary hold on the state government. And they didn’t. They came up short. And there’s a lot of very real and merited disappointment over that.

But it’s wrong to see political energy and resources as finite and something to be marshaled. It’s not a zero sum game. This kind of effort doesn’t take away from something else. It adds to it. It builds organizational muscle. In fact, it’s like muscle. You build it by exercising it. I don’t lose part of my allotment of muscle by doing some bench presses. I build it up. And the exercise itself demonstrates that a political movement can bite back.

In the recent budget and debt battle I saw numerous readers write in to say, Hey, how’d this Norquist guy get all this power? Or, Why is it that every time they can get every last member of their caucus to toe the line? Yes, Norquist’s got tons of cash from various moneyed interests. But his power is based on working this issue for literally decades in out of the way races across the country. Again, building muscle through the exercise of muscle. How do Republicans enforce such crazy amounts of party discipline? Because they have a record of primarying people. And over time people get that message. So yes, the Dems and the unions in Wisconsin came up short. But two Republican senators already lost their jobs over this. And people will remember that.

Politics ain’t bean bag and it also ain’t easy. It takes time. It would be a mistake to see this as a distraction, a big mistake.

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