Rick Perlstein on Wisconsin: Activists wanted a fighter; Dem leaders offered a hug

I wrote recently about one explanation for the surprising (to me) loss in the Wisconsin recall election — serf-on-serf violence.

Here’s the other explanation, offered by Rick Perlstein. This rings true to me; I think he nails it. Both explanations may well be correct; this one certainly is (my emphases and some reparagraphing):

And therein hangs a tale: about grassroots Democrats who act like activists, who hold that slaps are sometimes what it takes to get the political job done, and Democratic leaders who act like you can solve all political problems with a hug.

Which, pretty much, was Tom Barrett’s entire election platform.

A pause here. This is going to be two stories. The first, above, is about the hapless Dems and their frustrated progressive compadres.

But the second is far more pernicious — it’s about frustrated progressives without power, constantly aced out of their dreams by NeoLiberal Democrats with power.

Only the motive is in question. For me, it looks like the Clintonistas and Obamanauts are playing against us; that the Rs are their secret partners.

One could at least be forgiven for thinking this, given the constant string of identical outcomes. One could even say, Hmm, on reflection.

Back to Perlstein and his great research:

As I explained here in May, the leading candidate in the primary to face Walker in the recall ran with a take-no-prisoners strategy to restore union rights: she pledged to veto any budget that didn’t restore collective bargaining. That meant that if she won the statehouse, Republican legislators in Madison could hold on to their anti-union law only on pain of shutting down the state.

Then, out of nowhere [!], little more than two months before Election day, a new candidate announced: Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Two days earlier, he’d had a $400-a-plate fundraising luncheon, closed to the media, hosted by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Here was a signal: Barrett was the Democratic Party Establishment’s man.

And the Democratic Establishment, in this age of Barack Obama, does things in a very certain way: it never takes any prisoners, never takes the most gutsy path (this is even true for the vaunted “tough guy” Rahm Emanuel, whose standing orders as White House chief of staff was never to take on any fights unless victory was assured in advance).

There’s a whole lot more in this good piece; you owe it to yourself to read on. Check out the paragraph starting: “Barrett immediately announced…”. I’d rather send you there than stall you here.

Perlstein is less conspiratorial than the geniuses here at La Maison Chez Nous. He thinks, I think, that the Dems are just accidentally playing to lose, and face a far superior opponent. I credit his good sense. (Search on the phrase “nut cutting” — yes — to read his actual thoughts.)

Me? I’m a little less sensible. I think they’re throwing the game, those NeoLiberal Dems — so that no New Baron should pay for any New Baron’s error. But maybe that’s just me. (Click to see why I think that.)

Am I right? I guess we’ll find out when the statute of limitations elapses on political malpractice, and their daughters write their memoirs.

Either way, folks — we get to the same sad loss. The lesson: Progressives, stop getting aced, or it’s tick-tick-tick for sure.

GP

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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States. Click here for more. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook.

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