Well, the Great Wisconsin Recall is over. The winners are joyful and the losers are sore. At least some of the dust has settled so maybe it's time for a calm postmortem analysis. Full disclosure: I am a card-carrying Republican and voted accordingly, making a morning hike to the Wales Community Center to cast vote number 353. I also plunked a "We stand for Walker" yard sign on my front lawn. For the record, Wales turnout was 86%, going for Walker 3:1. Nevertheless, I will attempt to be at least nominally objective.
If noise level won elections, the recall side would have won hands down. For sheer raucousness this one was unprecedented, at least since the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations of the 60's. Fortunately, elections are decided at the polling place, not in the Wisconsin Capitol rotunda or the streets outside.
Incidentally, the true losers in this one may be the teachers, not because of the weakening of their union or the increased cost of their benefits, but because of the indelible image of teachers leaving classrooms to wave rather undignified signs and scream insults at the top of their lungs, all caught on camera. I have to admit, I did not buy the argument that this was a "learning experience in democracy." I'm sorry, but I lost a considrable amount of respect for teachers, even though only a limited number were involved. The recent spectacle of a significant number of teachers petulently quitting the New Berlin School System because they felt "unappreciated" by their administration certainly doesn't help.
There regrettably is still a considerable level of rancor, mostly in the losing camp, over the result. In most elections, the losing side grumps a bit and then goes back to commenting on blogs and gets on with life. What is different this time is the tremendous amount of protracted effort that went into the recall campaign. The collection of over 800,000 (valid) signatures was an amazing accomplishment. The effort went on for months and involved many hundreds of people putting in countless hours. The greater the investment, the more painful the loss. I fear this wound will be a long time in healing.
This Wisconsin experience is a microcosm of a national problem: the extreme polarization of politics in this country. It appears no one knows how to lose any more. Or for that matter, how to win. This is sad and more than a little worrisome.
We are a polyglot nation, which has been and still is, unfortunately to a lesser extent, one of our great strengths. Diversity, as it brings divergent constructive viewpoints, is a great and unique advantage that we possess in this nation. I fear that polarization has deleted the word "constructive" from that statement. If we are to survive as a cohesive and diverse constitutional republic, this has got to stop.
The problem is agendas. Political leaders have agendas that in too many cases do not include a benefit to society. The goal is re-election or election at any cost. Much has been made of the Koch brothers support of Scott Walker. (They support many other conservative causes as well.) On the other side is George Soros and MoveOn.org. I would call that at least a wash. Union support of the recall was based largely on self-interest, not the welfare of their members.
So, what have we learned from this $20 million exercise in futility? Very little I'm afraid. The militancy is still there on both sides. This upcoming national election will feature much of the same on a grander scale. The winner likely will be the side that smears the opposition more effectively than the other. I have a faint hope that there is a glimmer at the end of the tunnel. The financial crisis that exists in this country just might be the catalyst for change, this time constructive. At some point, maybe, just maybe, both sides will realize that we have a problem that threatens the survival of our life style as we know it. Perhaps there will be a sufficient number of realists with enough common sense of survival to hunker down and focus on the real problems facing us, realizing that their own well-being is at stake.
"The pessimist sees only the tunnel; the optimist sees the light at the end of the tunnel; the realist sees the tunnel and the light, and the next tunnel." Here's to light.