From the new July-August 2012 issue of News & Letters:
“For Sale” signs for public offices will be popping up all over the country following Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s stunning victory this month over the effort to recall him from office. Walker’s revoking the right of public unions to negotiate contracts created national and statewide protests that rocked the nation for months.
The recall campaign pitted Walker against Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee. It focused the nation’s attention on the power of the union movement against the power of Republican “super Political Action Committees” (super PACs).
Buying elections is nothing new in the U.S. The political history of the nation is replete with examples, but most were marked by secrecy and under-the-table conspiracies that were exposed after the fact. Not any more.
Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that corporations as persons had the right to free speech gave them the green light to contribute unlimited campaign money for elections, the floodgates of unfettered corporate funding opened—and the money has not stopped flowing. This was disclosed during the Republican primary race, most dramatically by GOP candidate Mitt Romney, who overwhelmed his opponents with super PAC money.
The same thing happened in Wisconsin. Just a few weeks before the recall election, all the polls pointed to Walker’s defeat. However, the effort to recall Walker had gained national attention. His recall would have been a victory for liberal pro-labor, pro-union forces in Wisconsin and throughout the nation, putting the brakes on reactionary officials in many other states who had enacted anti-labor legislation.
On the other hand, a Walker victory would not only embolden anti-labor officials to propose even more repressive anti-worker measures, it would encourage those officials who were not considering anti-labor legislation to do so to try to reduce their burgeoning financial crises, which virtually all states are experiencing.
Money from Republican super PACs began to pour into Wisconsin—a total of $45.6 million, seven times more than Walker’s opponent was able to raise. It resulted in victory for Walker. The reactionary forces in the nation will certainly become more aggressive in their efforts to eliminate all of the progressive gains made in decades of struggles by workers, women, youth and oppressed minorities.
The Democrats did not think the recall election was worth an all-out effort. President Obama was not there to support Barrett—a decision that alienated many workers who knew a Walker defeat would help them collectively, as well as individually.
DEMOCRACY DROWNED IN CASH
Right now, the outlines for the coming presidential election are becoming clear: Who can raise the most money? Capitalist corporations have such an overwhelming financial advantage with their super PACs over what union and liberal forces can raise, that Romney, even with his reactionary anti-labor and anti-progressive social positions, has hopes of defeating President Obama, now that many find themselves in a worse economic condition.
Moreover, the future is looking increasingly dim for the working class (that all politicians now call the middle class—horrors, to think that there is a class war in this country). The simple fact is that as state and local governments keep laying off public workers, unemployment cannot drop lower than 8%. There is no prospect of change in the foreseeable future.
Hundreds of thousands of workers are nearing the end of their unemployment benefits. Hundreds of thousands more have already exhausted theirs and are existing under increasingly destitute conditions. Occasionally, the daily press will have a feature article describing the horrible plight of an individual jobless family, but such conditions exist for millions of families.
This is the specter that is haunting all politicians. They are increasingly aware that the millions who are suffering are seething with revolt, determined to change their lives.
SIGNS OF REVOLT
It is this revolt born of despair that is threatening to explode. It shows itself in many forms: increasing robberies and burglaries, more drug and alcohol addiction, increasing divorces and escalating murders and suicides. These are individual expressions, and it is when these individual expressions coalesce that the seeds for revolution are watered and can flower into a society based on human needs and aspirations.
But there is also a cautionary note, that with the birth of revolt there is the threat of counter-revolutionary forces that must be confronted. How well-organized the forces of revolt are will determine the outcome, and the crucial element is a philosophy that gives the revolt its direction.