Democratic Party leadership has learned nothing from 2010

When a party suffers a substantial defeat at the polls, one might expect it to re-examine the candidates it offers voters, and the program it commits to. But it usually does not. Hubris runs high among both Democrats and Republicans. In 2010, Republican House leader John Boehner said his party would go right back to what it was doing before its shellacking at the polls in 2006. When spontaneous citizen action offered the unparalleled opportunity to recall and replace Governor Scott Walker, surprised Democratic Party big-wigs began touting that the strongest candidate to challenge Walker would be Tom Barrett – the Milwaukee mayor who inspired voters so well in 2010 that Walker was elected running against him.

Say what? The way to win a recall is to re-run a loser? Dave Obey said so. Obey had the good sense to know it was time to quite in 2010, but having withdrawn from politics, he suddenly appointed himself the expert on how to unseat Walker when citizens rebelled against the new governor’s utter duplicity in office. Barrett may not have really wanted to run at all. It was pathetically obvious he didn’t, in 2010. Senior party leadership poured into his ears the facile assumption that only he could lead them to victory. He had long lists of big-name endorsements. What he lacks is an inspiring new program to offer the tiny fraction of voters who decide elections: those who are genuinely uncommitted and want a good reason to vote for one candidate or the other.

At this point, Barrett is the nominee running against Walker. Those who are committed to recalling the incumbent have no choice but to vote for Barrett. Many will, even if they have to hold their noses to do so. But will enough voters do so to turn Walker’s 52 percent victory in 2010 into a 49 percent loss in 2012? Barrett is spouting little except pious platitudes. Voter turnout in 2010 was low. It may be higher in the recall. Recalling Walker may depend upon bringing voters to the polls who sat out 2010, asking “How can I choose between two people I don’t trust? Has Walker’s performance been frightening enough to answer that question? Or has Barrett’s name on the ballot reinforced that cynicism?

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