Wisconsin wisdom

    Scott Walker, the embattled Wisconsin Republican governor, survived last night. He won his recall election by 6.9 percentage points. I’m glad that he did.The bid by Democrats and their labor allies to throw Walker out of office was wrongheaded and hypocritical. Wisconsin voters were wise enough to recognize that. Whatever one may think of Walker’s conservative anti-union policies, he earned the right to make his own governing choices, and to pursue those choices over a full term, when he prevailed at the ballot box back in 2010. Ejecting a public official midway through his tenure, solely because of policy disagreements, is inherently destabilizing. That’s the big problem with recalls, which are permitted in 19 states. If they become a routine weapon in this era of politics as permanent warfare, a weapon to be wielded by whichever side is unhappy with whoever has the power, then normal elections will lose their meaning. Normal elections will have no finality. Normal elections will be viewed by the losing side as a mere speed bump. As University of California political analyst Bruce Cain once told me (and I agreed), recalls are symptoms of our instant-gratification culture: “Consumers are used to changing a product if they don’t like it….There’s a growing impatience now, and it carries over into our politics, a growing impatience with elections themselves. ‘Why should I put up with this turkey any longer?’ So you change the channel.”The thing is, Democrats were very ticked off in 2003 when Republicans sought to change the channel in California. The GOP forced a recall election and persuaded the voters to eject sitting governor Gray Davis, who had run up a big budget deficit. Democrats at the time thought that the recall tactic was outrageous; Davis strategist Chris Lehane told me, “the Republicans are trying to circumvent the electoral process.”Lehane was right. That’s exactly what California Republicans succeeded in doing. And that’s exactly what Democrats tried to do in Wisconsin yesterday.And Wisconsin voters recognized the recall tactic for what it is, a weapon that delegitimizes elections. Their thumbs-down verdict on that issue was unmistakable. Spare me the zillions of pundit words currently being expended on The Meaning of Wisconsin And What It Portends Nationwide For November. A recall election staged in June, affecting 1.9 percent of the American population, doesn’t mean squat for November. Mitt Romney put out a hilarious statement declaring that Walker’s win “will echo beyond the borders of Wisconsin,” when in fact it was clear that many Wisconsin voters voted for Walker not because they necessarily liked his policies, but because they disliked the recall tactic.The full exit poll, conducted by Edison Research and released late last night, told the tale: 60 percent of the voters believed that recalls should be staged only when the targeted politician has engaged in “official misconduct” – you know, like an alleged crime or documented ethical breach. Only 27 percent said that recalls were appropriate “for any reason,” such as policy disagreement.And if we drill down further, we find something even more interesting. A lot of conservatives are saying today that Walker’s June win will put Wisconsin in play for Romney in November. Yet the full exit poll doesn’t support that spin. Even though Walker survived his recall by 6.9 points (53.2-46.3) the voters yesterday said that they prefer Barack Obama over Romney in November by seven points (51-44).Why the big discrepancy? Because there was a huge pool of “Obama-Walker voters.” Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman and conservative hero, used that term on Monday, referring to those voters who backed Walker in the recall, but still plan to support Obama in November. As Ryan correctly anticipated, these people thought the recall was “wrong, improper, a waste of money and an overreaction,” and voted for Walker not to applaud his policies, but to boo the ouster bid. Indeed, according to the exit poll, 18 percent of Walker’s Tuesday voters said they will back Obama five months hence.So my advice is, ignore the commentary about how this failed recall supposedly foreshadows the presidential race. What we saw in Wisconsin was a foolish move by Democrats and labor people to seek revenge on a duly-elected governor whose biggest crime is that he’s governing more conservatively than he campaigned. The voters rightfully decided that this was no reason to oust the guy. As for the tearful anti-Walker activist who surfaced on CNN last night to declare that “democracy has died,” I would suggest to him (and to the perpetually haranguing Ed Schultz on MSNBC) that Walker foes still have a legit shot at throwing Walker out. It’s called a gubernatorial election, and it’s scheduled for 2014.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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