I mentioned yesterday that one of the overlooked consequences of this debt deal is the timing. It came one week before recall elections in Wisconsin that actually represent the best of the progressive movement and a backlash against the forces that won a landslide in 2010. Consider what happened there. Republicans, after winning full dominance of the state political system, tried to institutionalize that dominance by attacking worker’s rights and the labor movement, in an attempt to kill off a key source of money for Democrats in elections. Instead of meekly going along with this, Democrats in Wisconsin actually used the tools at their disposal to a unique degree. They walked out of the state and stayed there for weeks. They encouraged and supported mass public displays, rallies for worker’s rights, that drew hundreds of thousands to the state capitol, occupying the Capitol building. There was a seamlessness between the grassroots and a responsive Democratic Party. When Republicans used illegal tricks to subvert the state’s rules and get their attack on workers into law, backed up by a nakedly ideological judicial system, Democrats took the next step – holding those who made this happen accountable through recall elections. Those elections against 6 Republicans culminate next Tuesday.

But progressives nationally, who could be energized by an actual grassroots movement that politicians have listened to, are instead rightly depressed by the business in Washington. And this could have legitimate consequences for the recall elections:

“There may be some who are sad to the point that they’ll stay home,” Charles Chamberlain, political director for Democracy for America, told TPM. DFA has spent well over a million dollars on the recall races, and expects to spend a lot more as the get-out-the-vote work begins in earnest.

The trouble is, Chamberlain said, the deal cut by President Obama and the Republicans to raise the debt ceiling has many of the same aspects as union-busting budget Walker passed through the Wisconsin legislature, firing up what has become one of the most active progressive battlefields in years […]

The real parallel here is we’ve got a Democratic party in Wisconsin that’s doing exactly what people want their Democrats to be doing,” he said. Chamberlain said the Wisconsin Democrats’ willingness to shut Wisconsin down over Walker’s legislation offers voters a chance to send a message to national Democrats about how they want them to behave.

I actually don’t think that Wisconsinites will stay home, I think that the lesson that could be learned from Wisconsin simply won’t resonate beyond the state borders in the way it should. Chamberlain is right that the situation in Wisconsin represents more of an ideal for Democratic action than anywhere else in the country. I don’t necessarily agree with everything that’s going on in Wisconsin. I’m fairly shocked about the degree to which the advertising against Republicans in the recalls have represented fairly routine class-based critiques rather than the actual issue that caused the uproar in the first place – the attack on worker’s rights. But if a campaign that’s still sharply populist and class-based can succeed in Wisconsin, it can resonate nationwide. Only progressives have a cocoon mentality in the Age of Austerity.

One thing I know is that conservatives won’t give up. Americans for Prosperity are sending out ballots in Wisconsin with the wrong return date on them to deceive voters. The ballots aren’t even addressed to the county clerk or board of elections, they are addressed to the Wisconsin Family Center, a conservative group. Right-wing money is pouring into the state. One thing that elites count on is the surrender of the masses. Wisconsin is the one place right now where the masses can make a stand.

So discouragement, I would argue, should breed determination, and the desire to get involved to support representatives who give that support in return. That happens to be the case in Wisconsin, and we’ll have the results in just a week.

David Dayen

David Dayen