The battle for the Midwest is transforming American politics. Issues of class inequality and union influence, long dormant, have come back to life. And a part of the country that was integral to the Republican surge of 2010 is shifting away from the GOP just a few months later.
Republican governors, particularly in Wisconsin and Ohio, denied themselves political honeymoons by launching frontal assaults on public employee unions and proposing budgets that include deep cuts in popular programs.
Democrats in the region are elated at the quick turn in their fortunes. A few months ago, they worried that a region President Obama dominated in 2008 was turning against him. Republican triumphs in Wisconsin and Ohio, as well as in Indiana, Michigan and Iowa, all pointed to trouble for the president.
Now, for reasons having more to do with decisions by GOP governors than with anything the president has done, many voters, particularly in the white working class, are having second thoughts.
“We certainly addressed the issue of Reagan Democrats,” said Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, referring to the blue-collar voters who began drifting Republican in 1980. Barrett lost to Gov. Scott Walker in November by 52 percent to 46 percent, but recent polls suggest he would defeat Walker if the election were rerun. In Ohio, the approval rating of Republican Gov. John Kasich, who won narrowly in 2010, has fallen to as low as 30 percent in one poll.
In telephone interviews last week, Democratic politicians across the Midwest avoided premature victory claims. “I don’t think we’ll know until November of 2012,” Gov. Mark Dayton of Minnesota replied when asked if the Republican moves against public employee unions would turn out to be a major error.
It’s a political irony that Republicans clearly believed unionized public employees were so unpopular that taking them on would play well with voters.
“It was part of an intentional strategy on the part of the right-wing Republican ideological machine to split private-sector workers from public-sector workers,” said Dayton, a Democrat who beat back the 2010 Republican tide. After decades involving “a giant transfer of wealth to the very top,” Dayton said, the campaign against public unions was “a way to distract attention” by creating “a fight over who is getting a dollar an hour more or less.” The effort, he added, “has not worked as well as they thought it would.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, said that even union sympathizers were surprised at the degree to which the Republicans’ approach “blew up in their faces” and that “the poll numbers of support for collective bargaining for public-sector workers are stronger than even most labor supporters expected.”
Another surprise: the extent to which Democrats, long wary of being accused of “class warfare,” are now more eager than ever to cast the GOP as the party of the privileged.
Barrett recounted a parable making the rounds among Wisconsin Democrats, telling of a room in which “a zillionaire, a Tea Party person and a union member” confront a plate of 12 cookies: “The zillionaire takes 11 of the cookies, and says to the other two, ‘That guy is trying to steal your cookie.’ ”
Still, Democrats are aware that the flight from the Republicans is also a reaction against ideology. Dayton saw the GOP’s heavy-handed methods in Wisconsin as playing badly in a region proud of its tradition of consensus-building and good government.
And Brown said that while joblessness was the most important issue in last year’s election, one of the most effective Republican arguments was the claim that “Obama was governing by ideology.” That charge has been turned on its head because “now, they are so overdoing governing by ideology.”
Sen. Al Franken said he saw this reaction against ideology playing out in Washington’s budget battle as well, citing the example of leading Minnesota business people, including Republicans, who have been appalled at cuts in effective job-training programs.
The first electoral tests of the new class politics will come in Wisconsin. David Prosser, a conservative state Supreme Court justice, is facing a surprisingly tough challenge April 5 from JoAnne Kloppenburg, who has strong backing from anti-Walker forces. Later this year, several Republican state senators could face recall elections.
The tests for the longer run will be whether echoes from the heartland’s struggles over economic justice are heard as Congress debates budget cuts — and the extent to which Obama, who has already benefited from fights he did not pick, decides to join the battle.
By: E. J. Dionne, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 27, 2011
The economy is reeling and we’re in three wars, but Republicans across the country are focused on…abortion?
When Republicans profited from the miserable economy to sweep up huge wins in last fall’s election, most political watchers figured they knew what was coming: budget cuts, privatization of more government functions, and tax cuts for the wealthy. The push to dismantle public sector unions has been a bit of a surprise, but not a jarring one.
But what seems to have thrown everyone — save for a handful of embittered and neglected pro-choice activists — for a loop is the way Republican lawmakers at both the national and state levels have focused so intently on the uteruses of America. Republicans appear to believe that the women of America have wildly mismanaged these uteruses in the four decades since the Supreme Court gave them control over them — and now that Republicans have even a little bit of power, they’re going to bring this reign of female tyranny over uteruses to an end.
After all, the Republican House speaker, John Boehner, has identified limiting women’s access to abortion and contraception as a “top priority” — this with the economy is in tatters and the world in turmoil. Boehner’s and the GOP’s abortion fixation raises an obvious question: Why now, when there are so many other pressing issues at stake?
There isn’t just one explanation. The assault on reproductive rights is intensifying now because of a convergence of several otherwise unrelated events that have created the perfect moment for the anti-choice movement to go for the kill.
Republicans have managed to score a couple of major victories against women’s rights in the past few years. Both of the main obstacles to dismantling reproductive rights — the Supreme Court and the Democrats — have buckled under anti-choice pressure, emboldening the movement to demand even more, including rollbacks on contraception access.
In 2007, the Supreme Court, with a 5-4 vote, upheld the Partial Birth Abortion Act, which not only set a precedent of the court validating a ban on an abortion procedure necessary to preserve some women’s lives, but also introduced a new justification to limit women’s rights. Justice Anthony Kennedy argued in the majority opinion that the D&X procedure could be banned in order to save women from the possibility of regret down the road. After this ruling, anti-choice bills sprung up like weeds, many of them rooted in this same assumption that women are too silly to be trusted to make their own decisions. Waiting periods, ultrasound requirements and forced “counseling” all make accessing abortion that much harder — even as each step is dressed up as protection for women against their own flightiness and inability to make good decisions.
But the bigger victory was getting a Democratic president to sign an executive order barring insurance companies from offering abortion coverage to customers who are using federal subsidies to pay for insurance. Barack Obama signed the order under duress; there was no way to pass his healthcare reform bill without doing so. But the lesson for Republicans was clear: When it comes to reproductive rights, they don’t actually need to be in charge to get their way. If reproductive rights can be exploited to nearly derail healthcare reform while the Democrats control Congress and the presidency, think of how much leverage the issue gives them now that they’ve gained control of the U.S. House and a bunch of new statehouses.
It’s hard to overstate how much Republican energy is invested in bringing the uteruses of America under right-wing control. The House went into an anti-choice frenzy upon being sworn in in January, passing two bills that would eliminate private insurance funding for abortion, one that would dramatically cut funding for international family planning, and the Pence Amendment, which would ban Planned Parenthood from receiving any federal funding. And in case the Pence Amendment doesn’t work, the House also zeroed out all funding for Title X, which subsidizes reproductive healthcare for low-income patients, in the continuing resolution that funds the federal budget.
For the right, rolling back reproductive rights is considered a worthy goal in its own right, but since the issue could also provoke a budget showdown that could result in a government shutdown, it’s also a useful tool in their effort to force Democrats to blink. As with their push to bust unions at the state level, Republicans stand to gain electorally by wreaking havoc on the pro-choice movement and undermining its ability to get out the vote for Democrats.
On the state level, an unprecedented number of anti-choice bills are being introduced in response to the perceived anti-choice bent of the Supreme Court. Florida alone has introduced 18 separate anti-choice bills. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas has declared mandatory ultrasounds for abortion patients an emergency priority, and fast-tracked it through the Legislature. Three separate states have introduced bills that could legalize domestic terrorism against abortion providers, though a bill in South Dakota was withdrawn under pressure. Instead, that state’s Legislature moved on to pass the most draconian abortion law in the country, one that would require a woman to wait 72 hours for an abortion and listen to a lecture from an anti-choice activist before having an abortion. These examples represent just a tiny fraction of the anti-choice bills percolating through state legislatures.
Maybe this is all surprising. After all, haven’t we heard for the last two years that the Tea Party is more libertarian and less socially conservative? If you bought that line, congratulations — you’re ensconced in Beltway wisdom. The truth is that a new name for the same old conservative base hasn’t changed the nature of that base. Just as before, the “small government” conservatives and the religious right have a great deal of overlap. With gay rights waning as a powerful wedge issue, keeping the religious right motivated and ready to vote is harder than ever. Reproductive rights creates new incentives for church-organized activists to keep praying, marching, donating and, most important, voting for the GOP.
By: Amanda Marcotte, Salon War Room, March 27, 2011
Recently William Cronon, a historian who teaches at the University of Wisconsin, decided to weigh in on his state’s political turmoil. He started a blog, “Scholar as Citizen,” devoting his first post to the role of the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council in pushing hard-line conservative legislation at the state level. Then he published an opinion piece in The Times, suggesting that Wisconsin’s Republican governor has turned his back on the state’s long tradition of “neighborliness, decency and mutual respect.”
So what was the G.O.P.’s response? A demand for copies of all e-mails sent to or from Mr. Cronon’s university mail account containing any of a wide range of terms, including the word “Republican” and the names of a number of Republican politicians.
If this action strikes you as no big deal, you’re missing the point. The hard right — which these days is more or less synonymous with the Republican Party — has a modus operandi when it comes to scholars expressing views it dislikes: never mind the substance, go for the smear. And that demand for copies of e-mails is obviously motivated by no more than a hope that it will provide something, anything, that can be used to subject Mr. Cronon to the usual treatment.
The Cronon affair, then, is one more indicator of just how reflexively vindictive, how un-American, one of our two great political parties has become.
The demand for Mr. Cronon’s correspondence has obvious parallels with the ongoing smear campaign against climate science and climate scientists, which has lately relied heavily on supposedly damaging quotations found in e-mail records.
Back in 2009 climate skeptics got hold of more than a thousand e-mails between researchers at the Climate Research Unit at Britain’s University of East Anglia. Nothing in the correspondence suggested any kind of scientific impropriety; at most, we learned — I know this will shock you — that scientists are human beings, who occasionally say snide things about people they dislike.
But that didn’t stop the usual suspects from proclaiming that they had uncovered “Climategate,” a scientific scandal that somehow invalidates the vast array of evidence for man-made climate change. And this fake scandal gives an indication of what the Wisconsin G.O.P. presumably hopes to do to Mr. Cronon.
After all, if you go through a large number of messages looking for lines that can be made to sound bad, you’re bound to find a few. In fact, it’s surprising how few such lines the critics managed to find in the “Climategate” trove: much of the smear has focused on just one e-mail, in which a researcher talks about using a “trick” to “hide the decline” in a particular series. In context, it’s clear that he’s talking about making an effective graphical presentation, not about suppressing evidence. But the right wants a scandal, and won’t take no for an answer.
Is there any doubt that Wisconsin Republicans are hoping for a similar “success” against Mr. Cronon?
Now, in this case they’ll probably come up dry. Mr. Cronon writes on his blog that he has been careful never to use his university e-mail for personal business, exhibiting a scrupulousness that’s neither common nor expected in the academic world. (Full disclosure: I have, at times, used my university e-mail to remind my wife to feed the cats, confirm dinner plans with friends, etc.)
Beyond that, Mr. Cronon — the president-elect of the American Historical Association — has a secure reputation as a towering figure in his field. His magnificent “Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West” is the best work of economic and business history I’ve ever read — and I read a lot of that kind of thing.
So we don’t need to worry about Mr. Cronon — but we should worry a lot about the wider effect of attacks like the one he’s facing.
Legally, Republicans may be within their rights: Wisconsin’s open records law provides public access to e-mails of government employees, although the law was clearly intended to apply to state officials, not university professors. But there’s a clear chilling effect when scholars know that they may face witch hunts whenever they say things the G.O.P. doesn’t like.
Someone like Mr. Cronon can stand up to the pressure. But less eminent and established researchers won’t just become reluctant to act as concerned citizens, weighing in on current debates; they’ll be deterred from even doing research on topics that might get them in trouble.
What’s at stake here, in other words, is whether we’re going to have an open national discourse in which scholars feel free to go wherever the evidence takes them, and to contribute to public understanding. Republicans, in Wisconsin and elsewhere, are trying to shut that kind of discourse down. It’s up to the rest of us to see that they don’t succeed.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 27, 2011