President Obama and his campaign team have decided to sit out the epic battle in Wisconsin, a fight to oust a sitting Republican governor who has waged war on unions and working class men and women in his state, even as he has taken in tons of cash from billionaires. Those rich folks want to see Gov. Scott Walker finally thrash a champion of what’s left of the middle class, the public employee unions.
There are plenty of good political reasons for the President to have stayed out of this fight. But there is one decisive reason he should have been in the middle of it: because it was the right thing to do.
If the Democratic challenger, Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, goes down in Tuesday’s recall election, it won’t be because Mr. Obama stayed away. After all, this is a local fight and the folks involved should not need
any outsider, even if it is the president of the United States, to motivate them.
But it is important that Democrats, particularly those affiliated with unions, understand that Mr. Obama has their back, even when it might cost him something.
The fact that Gov. Walker may retain his office is stunning enough, for those of us who had hoped that the people of Wisconsin would reject the Tea Party, Koch-backed Republican. But I find it even more stunning that President Obama, who can’t win in November without the help of organized labor, public and private, would essentially stand by and watch Democrats in Wisconsin fight without so much as a quick presidential visit that might serve to boost the morale of those in the trenches.
But as Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake at The Washington Post put it this morning:
In the end, Obama, like all of us, is shaped by his own experiences. And roughly two years ago, Obama gave in to pleas for him to make a last-minute campaign stop for Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (D), who was struggling to hold the seat of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. Obama’s trip changed nothing. Coakley lost to now-Sen. Scott Brown (R), and the president had to endure a series of stories about whether he had lost his mojo.
Seen through that lens, Wisconsin looks like a no-win situation for Obama. As one Democratic consultant closely following the race put it: “From his point of view, (there’s) not much to gain and something to lose.”
With 155 days left before what is expected to be a very close general election, Obama and his team simply weren’t willing to risk being too closely associated with a defeat in what is widely expected to be a critical swing state this fall.
It’s not lost on some of us that Mr. Obama campaigned in 2008 partly on the idea that he was a different kind of politician who didn’t necessarily make the kind of political calculations like those outlined above. Afraid of losing his “mojo“? “Not much to gain and something to lose“? “Weren’t willing to risk being too closely associated with a defeat“? What happened to the audacity of hope? There isn’t much boldness in sitting on the sideline while your team is gutting it out on the field.
Finally, and to be fair, there are those who believe that Mr. Obama’s presence in Wisconsin wouldn’t have helped Barrett with a key constituency. The Washington Post article quoted a “Democratic operative who was granted anonymity to speak candidly about strategy”:
Barrett’s problem is is white men, lots of them union members, and Obama doesn’t cut much ice there.
What a shame that many union members will vote for the anti-union Walker on Tuesday. Such shame I know well, as I would bet ten thousand Mitt Romney dollars that way more than half of my own local union members would not walk but run to the polls in order to cast a vote for Walker and against Obama, if they were given the chance.
So, maybe there is a good reason Obama stayed away, but that reason is still not good enough. There are those of us out here who admire a fighter, even if it is a fighter of seemingly lost causes. And isn’t victory the sweetest when defeat is expected? What if Mr. Barrett pulls off an upset?
Audacity, Mr. President, audacity.