Friday, February 25, 2011


Josh Marshall on Scott Walker's Wisconsin union battle:

... Early on, from a position of relative strength, he could have compromised and really had his cake and eaten it too.

At the original point of breakdown, after the Dems hit the road and the unions agreed to all the financial concessions, he had his chance. He could have said, fine. You gave important concessions. I still think the changes in bargaining are right. But these are tough times. And we have to move forward together. Blah, blah, blah....

No doubt he would have caught some grief from the national right -- as Scott in Florida and Daniels in Indiana have. But those aren't the folks he needs to be successful in Wisconsin. And over time, I think it would have worked well for him across the board....

But as things escalated, that lack of any available course of action made him look weak. Even vaguely ridiculous. If he gives in now, the stakes are so high, it'll just seem obvious that he got totally rolled....

That's the weak link of the modern right -- and it may be the modern right's only weak link.

Today's right-wingers so fetishize toughness and refusal to compromise that every position a righty politician takes simply has to be defended to the death. You just can't compromise. You have to dig in, even if you're trying the patience of the general public -- you have to shut down the government, a la Gingrich; you have to stay the course in Iraq, a la Bush; you have to double down on every ill-conceived, rage-fueled thing you say, a la Palin.

The problem is, right-wingers don't overreach all that often. They tend to have a very fine-tuned sense of what the public will tolerate, even if it seems outrageous to a lot of us. The tea party movement? Not overreach, judging from the 2010 election results. The health care repeal movement? The Arizona immigration law? Chris Christie's somewhat-less-than-Walkeresque fatwa against public sector unions? Not overreach, according to public opinion polls.

If Walker really is losing, then we got lucky. It won't be the last time, because the right-wing toughness fetish means some future ideological soul mate of his will go too far and not dare to engage in a climbdown. But we can't wait for these overreaches to happen. We still need a strategy to win when the right doesn't overreach. We don't have one.


I'll add, though, that the toughness fetish is almost certainly what's going to save Barack Obama at the polls in 2012, no matter what the economy is like. Between now and the end of the primaries, GOP candidates are going to out-wingnut one another, and the news from off the campaign trail is going to create far-right litmus test after litmus test. It's all going to push the winner of the nomination so far to the right that he or she won't be able to pivot to the center without alienating the base, and possibly emboldening a third-party challenger who can peel off votes.

That may be part of the reason that Democrats have won the popular vote in four of the last five presidential elections, but haven't really controlled American politics since Reagan. In any case, it's why Obama will probably win again.

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