The risks of overreach

    When politicians and movements overreach, they often pay the price. Consider these three fresh examples:In Ohio last night, the voters slaughtered the Republican right. They took a crowbar to the new state law – enacted by anti-union conservative lawmakers and signed by unpopular Republican Gov. John Kasich – which severely weakened the bargaining rights of public workers. In a swing state in the industrial heartland, and in landslide fashion, the voters sent the message that zealotry will not be tolerated.And besides saying no to union-bashing, they also signaled to the Democrats that it might just be possible to gin up enthusiasm for Barack Obama in 2012, bad economy notwithstanding. Off-year elections are not always reliable leading indicators, but organized labor demonstrated that it’s still capable of grinding out a highly effective ground game. Obama can’t win Ohio without it.The thumbs-down verdict on the Ohio law was a stark repudiation of the conservative jihad against unions – and no wonder, because the Ohio law was even more extreme than its more infamous Wisconsin counterpart. When Wisconsin Republicans targeted the state’s public unions earlier this year, with the goal of draining labor’s clout, they at least exempted the cops and firefighters. But there was no such exemption in Ohio, and that’s one big reason why the repeal referendum was so successful last night.The labor forces – with some backstage help from the Obama re-election team – effectively worked the cops-and-firefighters angle. In TV ads, they surmounted the GOP-driven stereotype of unionized public workers (pencil-pushing bureaucrats in hock to Big Labor bosses), and instead reminded viewers that many of these workers are neighbors who put out fires, keep people safe, make them healthier, and teach their kids.The Ohio law barred the public unions from bargaining on health coverage, pensions, and minimum staffing levels. That provision became an effective weapon in the TV ads. One featured a three-year-old kid who had just been rescued from a fire; the girl’s great-grandmother appeared in the ad and said, “I don’t want the politicians in Columbus making decisions for the firefighters, police, teachers, nurses or any organization that’s helping people. Fewer firefighters can mean the difference between life and death.”On the eve of the landslide repeal vote, the polls showed that even one-third of Ohio’s Republicans favored repeal. That’s what happens when ideologues overreach; typically, voters say, “Whoa, you guys have gone too far.” If nothing else, the Ohio referendum results might prompt Democrats and their liberal allies to shake off the doldrums and stoke more enthusiasm for 2012, by welding the conservative attacks on unions to the current populist groundswell for the little guy. Or at least give it a try.——-Meanwhile, in a marquee Mississippi referendum, anti-abortion zealots on the religious right egregiously overreached. They figured that voters in this deeply conservative state would be pumped to make history by agreeing to bestow full legal rights to a fertilized egg. (I am not making this up.) Such was the thrust of a proposed “personhood” amendment to the state constitution, decreeing that because a fertilized egg was a person, then, ipso facto, all abortions under all circumstances were acts of murder.This referendum was expected to pass handily, making Mississippi the first state to define zygotes as people. All the opinion surveys said it would pass; the joke in Mississippi is that the citizenry is so ardently “pro-life” that there’s no point in polling on the issue itself. And yet, when the votes were counted last night, the personhood movement was trounced – by 16 percentage points. Turns out, even the pro-lifers thought the measure was way too extreme. It was so extreme that all impregnated rape victims and women with life-threatening diseases would have been forced to give birth; women would have been barred from using IUDs and morning-after pills (which are designed to thwart a fertilized egg from being implanted in the uterus); and Mississippi doctors would have feared prosecution for saving the lives of women with ectopic pregnancies (which occur when fertilized eggs become lodged in the fallopian tubes). Mississippians said, “That goes too far.” The national personhood movement, which is powered by a conservative Christian ministry, vows to try again in other states next year. Given voters’ preference for incremental change, those new efforts are likely to fail as well. But that’s what happens when ideologues overreach.——-And speaking of overreaching, we still have Herman Cain. He spent much of yesterday sliming his most public female accuser. That was an odious tactic when Bill Clinton’s people used it in 1992 (James Carville: “Drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find”), and it’s odious now.On the blog yesterday, I repeated what later proved to be an erroneous report (it had originated on MSNBC’s First Read website) that Cain had maligned Sharon Bialeck’s job credentials during a Monday stint on Jimmy Kimmel’s show. In truth, Cain had not maligned her on the show. My apologies, my bad. But as it turned out, I had merely spoken too soon – because yesterday Cain trashed Bialeck in an official campaign email. By the time he was done with her, Bialek was nothing more than a loser with no money, no stable family (she’s a single mom who had a paternity fight), and no real career. She had even held a lot of different jobs! In short, Cain declared at a subsequent press conference, Bialek is “a troubled woman.”And hey, maybe he figures that trashing women is the way to go, since it seemed to work so well for Clinton. The difference is that Clinton had rare political skills and a deep understanding of public policy. Cain knows squat, which is why he’s in danger of being defined by scandal and nothing more. Let’s see whether he overreaches with the next name-and-face female accuser, Karen Kraushaar, who’s due to weigh in quite soon. She appears to be successful at holding a job – she works in the Inspector General’s office at the U.S. Treasury – but surely Cain can find something that renders her “troubled.”

    And, yep, he found something. Sort of. Campaign manager Mark Block declared late yesterday on Fox News that Kraushaar is the mother of Politico reporter Josh Kraushaar…so connect those dots, America! The only problem was, (a) Josh Kraushaar left Politico in 2010, and (b) his mom is somebody else entirely. He is not even related to Karen Kraushaar. Kudos to the Cain spin team for giving us that episode of Amateur Hour.

    All told, Cain’s day of overreaching came to naught. As conservative blogger-activist Erick Erickson remarked on CNN, “I don’t think Herman was able to put this story to bed.”Erickson got that right – despite his…shall we say…unfortunate choice of words.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal