February 19, 2011

Why Wisconsin is important:
Madison has not had demonstrations like this in years, perhaps not since the Vietnam War. Obama's Organizing for America, an offshoot of the Democratic National Committee, has claimed some credit for helping to mobilize the protesters, but the demonstrations have been more bottom-up than top-down. Labor unions have been in the forefront, joined by other progressive groups and angry citizens.

The demonstrations in Madison and the reaction to the House budget measure raise an important question. Have Republicans, in their desire to move boldly and swiftly to deal with state and national budget problems, aroused the progressive wing of the Democratic Party? Through much of the Obama presidency, progressives have been quiescent, lethargic or disappointed. Now they are awake. And not just labor unions. There is a similar reaction among other groups - not just to events in Wisconsin but to some of the cuts in the House bill, such as the amendment to cut funding for Planned Parenthood.

If the progressive movement is truly awakened, Republicans could pay a significant price politically. Obama couldn't rouse it in the fall, at least not enough to avoid historic losses in November's midterm elections. Labor leaders couldn't, either. Labor unions spent heavily to try to defeat Republican candidates for governor. Now they see Wisconsin as part of a do-or-die struggle. But if they lose there, and in other states, the movement could be permanently weakened.
The revolt in Wisconsin is the 1995 Gingrich shutdown of the federal government for President Obama, a chance for him to push back against extremists while allowing him a quick and easy way to garner support from one of his beleagured constituencies. Better yet, it discredits the Deficit Fetishists, since Gov. Walker's thuggish and heavy-handed tactics have revealed their true motive: to transfer wealth from the poor and middle class to the wealthy by prioritizing tax cuts and business subsidies over public investment. For liberals, it's win-win.