The Hesitancy Of Hope?

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.



  1. ansonburlingame

     /  June 4, 2012

    I like Duane’s call to arms for his side. But of course I disagree with his side, particularly the public unions.

    I saw clips of public unions in CA recently demonstrating with strength. They were carrying large RED signs calling for communism. Sure that is their right to do so, all they want. But I don’t happen to believe the communism, even is a “mild” form is the way to solve our problems, either.

    So I am not surprised that some union members might reject such calls for changing government. Such union members have some fundamental ideas about America that transcend labor issues, I hope.

    But consider this. Unions primarily demonstrated with great strength last year, taking over the legislature chambers to express their views at one point. Some Americans thought that was going too far, just like the felt that Dem legislators hiding in another state was not the correct way to achieve political goals, whatever the goals might be.

    Some well meaning Dems as well MIGHT be revolted by calling the GOP candidate “despicable”, as both a politician and a man.

    For sure well meaning conservatives do not like some earlier signs shown at Tea Party rallies as well.

    But in Wisconsin I am looking at the results that I have heard of from Walkers reforms, good results from what I hear in terms of jobs, new industry, etc. as well as getting rid of a $3 Billion plus shortfall in government budgets. I would hope that folks in Wisconsin examine the results of Walkers policies and not just the theatrics surrounding the election tomorrow.

    Maybe it is those results that caused Obama to stay our to fhis particular fight.

    But I suppose stating such a view will start a fight over “results” as well. Here come the major league curve balls again.



  2. Anson,
    According to new data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (4/27) Wisconsin saw the largest decrease in jobs over the last year of all the states in the nation.

    Wisconsin jobs dropped by nearly a full percentage point.


  3. 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.

    I’m curious about that. Any idea why, what would be their basis (the union members) for supporting a union-hater over Obama?


    • KABE

       /  June 4, 2012

      Hellen, I can offer a little glimpse of our local politics that may help you to understand why union members here in the Ozarks might do that. My daughter, who was 10 during the 08 election came home from school the day of the election and we talked about her day. I asked if they learned about the election or discussed it. She said that they had discussed it and held a mock election. McCain won by a landslide, she said. But then she asked me a question. She asked, ” Dad,why does everyone say that Obama kills babies?” Apparently, this was the reasoning for her 10 year old classmates voting for McCain.



    • Helen,

      Unfortunately, KABE is right. Around here what is most important for many folks are the social issues like abortion and homosexual rights (or lack thereof). One union member has said that he would willingly lose his job in order to stop the “babykilling.”

      We live in a culture here in southwest Missouri in which most people assume everybody believes in God and Jesus and holds a worldview that includes biblical inerrancy and authority, the Bible being the source of most of the hard-core opposition to abortion and gay rights.

      Not too long ago I was down at the union hall and a representative in the laborer’s union and I were talking about this very subject. I remarked that conservative religion is mostly responsible for people voting against their own economic interests. The conversation soon turned to personal faith and he simply could not believe that I didn’t share his Christian dogma.

      I’m sure the situation is the same in a lot of rural parts of the country, but one just doesn’t expect public employee union members–with the GOP threatening their very existence–to be quite so enthusiastic about cutting their own throats.

      Needless to say, it was endlessly frustrating when I was the president of our local union. Made me want to pull what’s left of my hair out some days.



  4. ansonburlingame

     /  June 4, 2012


    And yet there is a claim being tossed around that since the changes brought about by Walker a net INCREASE of over 50,000 has taken place.

    Like I said, some major league curve balls are in play in that matter and frankly I don’t know who to believe.



  5. I would think turnout among Mr. Walker’s opponents might be much larger than for his supporters. Irrepective of merit, that could produce an upset, I’d think.


    • KABE

       /  June 4, 2012

      An interesting recall for sure. Overlooked is the fact that 4 Repub. Senators are being recalled as well. The Senate is currently even, so only 1 Dem victory will changes things. What if Walker wins and the Dems take the Senate back? That would be interesting and would not give a clear picture to either party entering Nov.

      To your upset call, I did see one report that says the most potential votes by people that did not vote in the original election are in Dem controlled Milwaukee. Very interesting scenario, money v. grass roots.



  6. ansonburlingame

     /  June 5, 2012

    To both,

    I have not followed, closely the Wisconsin recall buildup. Thus I make no predicitions whatsoever. But we will all know late tonight or early tomorrow the results, in the Governor, Lt. Gov and Senatorial recall races.

    After all is said and done today in the Wisconsin ballots, I do wonder what the overall effect will be however. For sure the fight will continue no matter who wins or loses. And of course the outcome will have many pundits using that outcome to predict the general election in Nov. Boring!

    No one, however can accuse Walker, et al of NOT exerting strong leadership to achieve his goals. He put forth incremental changes and made them happen, painful changes to many. Now we will see how democracy in Wisconsin reacts to such changes in policies, not overall outcome.

    NO ONE in Wisconsin can predict that overall outcome due to Walker’s changes in policies, yet. They can argue about it until the cows come home, but again, no one will know for sure whether they were good or bad, ulitmately for all citizens in Wisconsin.

    And of course if Dems sweep in Wisconsin (I doubt that will happen but who knows for sure) predicitions of doom and gloom will be forthcoming from the right as well.



    • KABE

       /  June 5, 2012

      AB, One complaint I have seen by some in Wisconsin is that Walker did not campaign on the fact that he wanted to get rid of collective bargaining rights and now many feel duped. I would say that this would not qualify as a strong leadership quality and now this whole thing is taking away from the job he was chosen to do. Had he made his intentions clear and was voted into office, I would have no problem with that.



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