Wouldn't it be awful if an important election hinged on some fat cats outspending the opposition? That was the liberals' excuse for the failure of Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to unseat Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in Tuesday's recall election.
The Washington Post's Dan Eggen used figures from the "nonpartisan" Wisconsin Democracy Campaign to report that Mr. Walker raised $30.5 million to Mr. Barrett's measly $3.9 million. Wow, what a spread. Too bad it's not the whole picture, as Ben Shapiro pointed out at Breitbart.com: "As it turns out, labor unions spent an additional $21 million on the recall election."
Instead of 7-1 or 10-1, the "spending gap" was closer to $30 million-$25 million. Also, in a recall election of several GOP Wisconsin senators in September, "Democrats outspent Republicans $23.4 million to $20.5 million."
White House press secretary Jay Carney, who has arguably the toughest job in Washington, gamely addressed the Wisconsin debacle, saying, "I certainly wouldn't read much into yesterday's result beyond its effect on who's occupying the governor's seat in Wisconsin." Mad magazine's Alfred E. "What, me worry?" Neuman could not have put it better.
When a controversial Republican governor handily prevails despite a massive union campaign in a historically progressive state, why should a Democratic president in a failing economy get nervous? Also on Tuesday, California voters in San Jose and San Diego, not exactly bastions of conservatism, approved measures curbing public-employee union power. Uh-oh.
Not to worry, though. Mr. Obama still has the national media. Like an army of programmed zombies, they obediently lurched forward with the "big spending" theme in Wisconsin. CBS, NBC, ABC and MSNBC all harped on the fact that Mr. Walker's campaign and PACs supporting it raised far more than Mr. Barrett's supporters, the Media Research Center reported.
I don't recall similar alarm when they reported on President Obama's reputed goal of a $1 billion national war chest for November. But the GOP's fundraising success in Wisconsin sure cheesed them off.
On election eve, Peter Alexander said on Monday's "NBC Nightly News" that the state had "been flooded with a record $64 million in campaign spending." He declared: "Many voters have had enough."
They sure have. Mr. Walker won with 205,509 more votes than he got when beating Mr. Barrett back in 2010. Thirty-eight percent of union households voted for Mr. Walker, an increase of one point from 2010. Apparently, balancing the budget, reducing taxes and preventing state employee layoffs is enough dirty pool to ensure survival of a recall.
Sensing a train wreck, Mr. Obama skipped Wisconsin, leaving Mr. Barrett to twist in the Badger State winds. Mr. Obama at least flew near the state on the way to fundraisers in Minnesota before a two-day swing through San Francisco and Los Angeles, where dollars gaily flowed into his coffers like Napa Valley wine.
Following Vice President Joseph R. Biden's lead and pretending two men are a real marriage plus refusing to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act sure opens the wallets in La-La Land. A $25,000-a-plate dinner at the Los Angeles home of "Glee" creator Ryan Murphy after an LGBT Leadership Council gala at $1,250 a ticket, plus a $35,800-per-plate luncheon and other events earlier in San Francisco helped raise at least $5.3 million.
Meanwhile, back in Wisconsin, where the GOP also retained Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and three Senate seats, Democrats clung to the hope that a tightly contested recall of a fourth Republican state senator may swing that chamber back to Democratic control. If so, perhaps they won't flee the state the next time a difficult vote comes up.
Democrats also took heart in exit polls that had Mr. Obama beating Mitt Romney by seven points, half the margin by which Mr. Obama beat John McCain in 2008. Like Mr. Obama, Mr. Romney skipped the Wisconsin contest.
Public-employee unions are trying to pick up the pieces, but Tuesday's vote had to be sobering. It's one thing for Mr. Walker and a GOP-led legislature to curb their power; it's another for 54 percent of the electorate to say they agree.
Lots of lessons can be learned, not the least of which is that the recall system worked. Ideally, recall elections are a tool to remove corrupt or out-of-control politicians. They are not supposed to be partisan means to punish elected officials for policy differences. We have regular elections for that. Conversely, a failed recall can demonstrate public support for an incumbent's policies and smear huge amounts of egg on certain deserving faces. For more information on all things recall, see recalltherogues.org.
According to exit polls, 6 in 10 Wisconsin voters said recall should be used only to punish "official misconduct." Mr. Walker may be hated by the unions, but he's not a crook, and voters acted accordingly.
Harsher elements of the political left vow revenge, of course. Mr. Walker is receiving death threats and other vitriolic tweets, as reported by The Washington Times' 24/7 blog. Occupy Milwaukee was out in full force Thursday, calling police "pigs" and brandishing signs saying "Public jobs program now!" and "Stop the war on women."
It's doubtful any of this will intimidate a guy who didn't blink when his opponents threw the kitchen sink at him.
Speaking of the unions, even if he thought the recall was a loser, Mr. Obama might at least have gone through the motions for a major Democratic constituency. Perhaps it's more fun hanging around with celebrities.
In New York on Monday, after Mr. Obama's Broadway fundraisers with Bill Clinton, the hapless Mr. Carney was asked if "glitzy" celebrity events might hurt Mr. Obama's populist message. He responded that Mr. Obama has "vast numbers of small donors. ... And I think that the fact that the president enjoys that kind of support speaks to what his policy priorities are. He's out there fighting for the middle class."
Unless you're a middle-class union member in Wisconsin, that is.
Robert Knight is senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a columnist for The Washington Times.
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