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Wisconsin and the Case of the Dogs That Didn’t Bark

My heart goes out to the brave, democratic citizens in Wisconsin who worked tirelessly to recall six Republican State Senators, managing to depose two and coming agonizingly close (barring fraud) on a third. They deserve our respect and thanks and our continuing support as they move to the next phase to protect Democratic State Senators.

Those who’ve been paying attention know how important these races are, both to slow down the vicious anti-government, anti-worker movement in Wisconsin and to signal to other states and Congress that they do not have to submit to a group of extremist thugs stripping away their rights, their livelihoods and their dignity. They can fight back.

If there were a worthy national party lending its full support to their Wisconsin counterparts, it might have made a difference. We will never know. Sure, the national organization helped in various ways. But it’s obvious that what the state folks did not want was heavy national presence, and in particular, the “help” of this supposedly Democratic President. Why was that?

I believe that what the folks on the front line in Wisconsin needed most was a united national movement amplifying their grievances and demands. They needed a strong national voice framing a very different, more supportive message than the one they’ve been getting from their President and national Democratic leaders. What they got instead can only have hurt Wisconsin’s efforts.

The consistent message from the national Democratic party and President Obama is that “this is the era of austerity.” The President repeatedly told the nation that government had to tighten its belt, that government debt was a serious problem standing in the way of economic growth and jobs. He said we needed a “grand bargain” that reduced government spending on important programs by trillions of dollars with only limited contributions from the wealthy and corporations. Although he claimed to favor worker rights, he unilaterally froze federal worker salaries. And then he told the elderly that they needed to accept “adjustments” in their pensions and health care after extending tax breaks for the wealthy.

With such a profoundly misguided and destructive message coming from the President and national leaders, it must have been particularly difficult for Wisconsin citizens to explain why voters should recall Republican State Senators for taking positions their President and party were embracing in Washington. To be sure, Wisconsin’s Tea-Party Governor is a fraud, and his party’s actions have been abusive and excessive in slashing state programs and benefits. But Walker’s budget goals and methods are consistent with those of his national counterparts whom Mr. Obama and Democratic leaders have now promised to meet half way in slashing federal programs and benefits. There are few at the national level, and none at the top, making the counter argument about how offensive and obscene this is.

The Republicans in Wisconsin and other battleground states claim they’re on a holy mission, to rid society of the unworthy and profligate, that ripping away public workers and functions is both fiscally necessary and morally righteous. It’s a false economic theory, a worse creed.

Our national leaders should have been reminding those fighting in the states that they were not to blame for the budget crises in their state capitals. Instead, men like Greenspan and Bernanke and Geithner and dozens of other federal regulators who were supposed to be watching the financial/banking sector either fell asleep on their jobs or willfully looked away, while Congress passed laws pretending that fraud and looting were okay if it was called “financial innovation” and “market making.” The regulators failed the country and the looters plundered, but thanks to this President, they’re still in power or presuming to lecture us on television. And now men like Boehner and Cantor and McConnell — and yes, Warner and Durbin and Lieberman are preventing desperately needed federal money from helping the states deal with the damage.

The truth is that President Obama and the national Democratic Party undercut the Wisconsin fighters by adopting harmful Tea-GOP talking points and repeating them night after night on national television. While the national Tea-GOP reinforced their state counterparts’ message at every turn, the national Democrats sabotaged the Wisconsin Democrats’ message.

Wisconsin Democrats didn’t need the President or Senate Democratic leaders to come to Wisconsin. What they needed were national leaders fighting for their cause, for their pro-government principles, for recognition of their rights — in Washington. They needed a President making that fight in Washington and carrying that message to the nation.

But the President and his party have abandoned that fight in D.C., and so abandoned those fighting in Wisconsin. And that’s why, despite heroic Wisconsin efforts, the good guys fell short. No one should count on or follow these corrupt leaders again, ever.

If you’re looking for new leaders, look to Wisconsin and other states under siege, where working people understand what’s going down and aren’t afraid to fight back.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley