Tuesday, March 15, 2011


I'm supposed to think I'm reading right-wing journalism when I'm reading this Washington Examiner story by Byron York, but I feel as if I'm reading a Frank Luntz focus-group report rewritten in code:

Unions vs. the little guy in Wisconsin recall fight

Right there -- right in the headline -- I think I'm getting the right's chosen message for the recall.

If you're a Republican, it's a scenario straight out of "Alice in Wonderland." Fourteen Wisconsin state senators, all Democrats, flee the state for three weeks, bringing government to a halt in an effort to stop Gov. Scott Walker's budget bill. After three weeks, the fugitive Democrats return in failure. And then, when a rich and highly organized effort to punish lawmakers is launched, it's directed not at the Democrats who ran away but at the Republicans who stayed home and did their job.

That is precisely what is now happening in Wisconsin. Local and national labor organizations, enraged by the successful Republican effort to limit the collective bargaining powers of public employees unions, are pouring money and manpower into petitions to recall GOP state senators. At the same time, Republican drives to recall runaway Democrats, while rich in volunteer spirit, are working with far less money and organized support.

On the Democratic side are the AFL-CIO, the big public worker unions, party organizations and activist groups like MoveOn.org, which have already raised millions of dollars online. On the Republican side are a few Tea Party groups, taxpayer organizations and not a lot more.

Oh, give me a freaking break. If the Koch brothers and Karl Rove and the rest of the GOP money machine want to mount "a rich and highly organized effort" of their own, it's going to be a hell of a lot richer and more highly organized than anything the Democrats can put together. I suspect they don't want to do that in a highly visible way because arguing that they're outgunned and besieged by nasty, powerful outside forces is their strategy for winning over fence-sitting voters.

"They're off to a quicker start," Wisconsin Republican Party executive director Mark Jefferson says. "We have some structural disadvantages because taxpayer groups and volunteer organizations are more loosely put together than a union syndicate."

Nice word, "syndicate." See, if Democrats are winning, it's because they're criminals. Got it?

... Wisconsin law requires recall petitioners to gather thousands of signatures before an actual election is held.

... That's where the organizing strength of the AFL-CIO and its unions come in. Labor and its Democratic allies realize that Wisconsin is a critical battle and are desperate to make sure other states do not follow Wisconsin's lead. Republicans, meanwhile, seem less aware of the stakes....

The imbalance of power might be alarming to national conservatives, but it doesn't seem to worry the troops on the ground trying to recall Democratic senators.

"I think it's a huge advantage for us because we are really, really grass roots," says Dan Hunt, an out-of-business real estate developer in the Kenosha area who heads Taxpayers to Recall Robert Wirch....

O, plucky underdogs of the Murdoch/Koch/Rove party! How naive you are -- and yet how valiant! Surely, if God is just, you won't be crushed by union thugs! And yet I have fear....

... The conservative drive to recall Democratic senators began in outrage over the Democrats' flight from the state. How could lawmakers who took an oath of office do that? The liberal drive to recall Republicans began as an effort to pressure those senators to vote against Walker's budget bill. Now that the bill has passed, it's an effort to make examples of the senators who supported it.

For Hunt, it's about principle.

"I'm doing it because my senator didn't represent me in Madison," Hunt says. "He left, and I think that is the worst thing that can happen in a legislative democracy. People who choose to leave their post on purpose, just to avoid a vote on a bill -- that's an egregious act that requires citizen reaction." ...

Unions are very good at things like gathering signatures and chartering buses to take people to the polls. But don't rule out the team that's fighting on principle.

Got it? Only one side is fighting for principle. The other side is just engaged in politics as usual.

I think the messaging is going to be like this all the way through the recall campaign, whether or not any Democrats are actually in danger of being recalled as well: Democrats have all the muscle (and it's thuggish muscle). Republicans, gosh darn it, simply can't marshal the resouces needed to keep up. That's because Republicans are the purely grassroots party.

Can the SOBs really sell this codswallop to Wisconsin voters? Can they sell it to the national media? I'm betting the answer to the second question is yes. I worry that the answer to the first question could also be yes.

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