Demobilization in Wisconsin?

As I wrote a few days ago regarding a potential debt deal like the one just passed, “Obama’s approach may be about to demobilize the left.”

Some people have told me that I am wrong.  The activists, they say, will forget about the details of the deal by 2012.  Whether or not this is true, I believe the deal will add to the sense that had already developed that Obama is too weak or insufficiently supportive of Democratic ideas.  As findings from cognitive psychology show, new evidence of a perspective is easily integrated into that view, making it stronger. With so many articles portraying a deal as a win for Republicans and a loss for Democrats, Democratic activists’ view of Obama is being cemented, and not to his benefit.

This does not mean that Obama won’t have people volunteering for him in 2012. A Republican nominee from the Tea Party portion of the party, by providing a rather stark contrast, would encourage such activity.

But there is concern among activists on the left that the debt ceiling deal would have consequences much sooner and would affect the Wisconsin recall effort. Democrats are trying to flip the state Senate from Republican control, thus providing a check on the power of Governor Scott Walker.  Doing this would encourage them to try to recall the governor himself and would be seen as a signal of national trends.

National policy may undermine this effort.  

In an article in Talking Points Memo, Charles Chamberlain, political director for Democracy for America, frets, “There may be some who are sad to the point that they’ll stay home.”

The trouble is, Chamberlain said, the deal cut by President Obama and the Republicans to raise the debt ceiling has many of the same aspects as union-busting budget Walker passed through the Wisconsin legislature, firing up what has become one of the most active progressive battlefields in years.

“No real protections on entitlements. Dramatic cuts out of education. No shared sacrifice,” Chamberlain rattled off. “That’s exactly what happened in Wisconsin.”

DFA’s research has shown voters in the recalls motivated by cuts to programs like Medicare in Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) House budget (which has been the subject of more than one ad the group has run in contest). Behind that, they’re moved by the potential for cuts in education programs as well as policies that adversely affect the middle class workers like librarians and teachers.

Progressive critics have said the deal to raise the debt ceiling could have many of the same effects. And the fact that voters just watched Obama get behind the deal could have a chilling effect on turnout.

On the other hand, if voters distinguish between the path taken in Washington and what Democrats in Wisconsin want, Chamberlain believes turnout could be enhanced.

The real parallel here is we’ve got a Democratic party in Wisconsin that’s doing exactly what people want their Democrats to be doing.

If this is the dynamic, some Democrats may decide that their best political bet is to separate themselves from President Obama.  With fully half of House Democrats having voted against the debt ceiing deal, those office-holders are well-positioned to adopt that strategy in 2012.

One final note: Ohio has had similar political upheaval to Wisconsin, with a Tea Party Governor putting into place policies undermining collective bargaining and cutting many programs along with tax cuts.  All of their Democratic House members voted no on the debt ceiling deal.  And, if you’re wondering about the Wisconsin delegation, I can tell you, just one of their three Democratic House members voted yes, compared to every Republican.

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Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.