I remember two things about a memo I wrote for the Dukakis campaign in early 1988 entitled Robert LaFollette and the Progressive Spirit in Wisconsin. First, Dukakis speech writer Ben Dobson carved out the juicy LaFollette quotes and discarded the rest, and second, the memo somehow ended up in the hands of Lee Atwater, who told me at our one and only meeting that it was an impressive piece of intelligence on Wisconsin’s brand of politics, and that it targeted a method of campaigning that the Republicans couldn’t muster in that state.
Until yesterday. One of the things that struck me about the recall election is that the Democrats completely ignored all of the lessons that the party has learned in the past thirty years about populism and politicing in the Dairy State. First, while Wisconsin has long been a union state, it is not a public union state. Second, people in Wisconsin give a lot of benefit of the doubt to people who try to do their best, and who seem able to find a public purpose for their contrariness. Third, folks in Wisconsin look at what people accomplish, not what they say. This final observation is something that I’ve noted several times–that Nixon, Ford, Reagan and H.W. Bush are remembered as conservatives in speech, but their records contain liberal achievements of lasting value.
One of the things that has struck me about Romney is that he fits the same mold. For a Republican, he presided over a solidly democratic state that experimented in health care revolution and legalized gay marriage. Romney is a Massachusetts liberal Republican, perhaps even progressive, in his actions, if not his words. So is Scott Walker. Walker won yesterday because he understood this and because the unions in Wisconsin did not. Just as I have been seeing a lot of the Dukakis campaign in the Romney campaign, I saw Walker steal the play book from the democrats, and he pummeled them to death with its hardcover spine.
NPR was predicting a landslide punishment for Walker yesterday morning. This morning, NPR barely gave the story any coverage, except for a sudden reversal of the idea that the recall election had any real meaning. This week has seen a remarkable repudiation of Obamism–first with the Edwards verdict, then the rehabilitation of George W. Bush and now the resurgence of Republican populism in Wisconsin that rejects the Obama vision of big government and big spending.
it was a a bad day for O’Bama, so it was a very good day for Wisconsin and America.