The Nation's Pulse

Wide-Left in Wisconsin

Liberals tried, but they can't turn back the clock.

By 5.4.11

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In their recall attempt of a state judge, Wisconsin liberals aimed, fired, … and missed. State Supreme Court Justice Prosser was supposed to be the left's first major reclamation project following last November's conservative resurgence. Instead of being the "shot heard across the country," it didn't even resonate across the state. It well reminds that liberals remain "more bang than bullet" in most of America.

Wisconsin has become the center of America's political crosswinds. Last November, Republicans took control of the federal congressional delegation, defeated an incumbent Senate Democrat, won the governorship, and gained majorities in both state houses. Flush from these victories, Governor Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled state legislature moved to make good on their campaign promises to get Wisconsin's finances in order.

Rather than stand and fight, state senate Democrats chose to cut and run -- literally. Making discretion the better part of valor, they left the state altogether in hopes of denying Republicans the numbers needed to conduct legislative business. In the meantime, the Left turned Madison into a madhouse -- a cross between a campus sit-in and a Renaissance festival -- that drew national attention.

After life on the lam failed, they undertook a recall campaign to try and undo what last November did by seeking to unseat lawmakers and judges who support the cost-cutting agenda. Enter Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser. Or as liberals had hoped: exit Justice Prosser. Their strategy was to replace him with Democrat JoAnne Kloppenburg, flip the court's majority, and declare unconstitutional the Republican reforms.

The problem with the second liberal strategy is the same as the first: they keep losing.

Of course liberal apologists are no more willing to accept the people's will a second time than they were the first. So if they are somehow unable to overturn it, they will explain this race's closeness indicates dissatisfaction with the new Republican majority's policies.

We should not be too quick to let liberals claim even a moral victory here. Despite large sums of outside money, an enraged liberal establishment, and apparent liberal momentum, the Democrat lost by over 7,300 votes. And all happening in a place that, until last November, had been pretty favorable to them.

Obama won Wisconsin 56%-42% in 2008. Until last November, Democrats controlled the state senate 18-15 and the state house 52-46. They also controlled Wisconsin's congressional delegation -- holding both Senate seats and five of the eight House seats.

On the other side, conservatives were in the worst possible place in their reform process. They had endured the pain that always comes from changing the status quo, but had not received any of the benefits from savings. It was all the pain, with none of the gain. Once the legislation's reforms have time to take hold, its benefits will accrue and support will grow. Liberals of course knew this, which is why they seek to forestall its effects for as long as they can.

Political warfare, like the real thing, moves in ebbs and flows. It is the nature of both that one side rises, becomes over-extended, and allows the other side to return. November's large conservative victory immediately had many focusing already on the pendulum's next swing. Even before Wisconsin, the question was: Will liberals reclaim their 2008 heights in 2012?

Wisconsin does not give the Left an optimistic answer. Its outcome really underscores how impotent liberals are nationally. According to exit polling (by Edison Media Research/Mitofsky International of over 17,000 respondents, MOE +/- 0.7%) over the past four national elections, liberals have averaged just 21.5% of the electorate, while conservatives have averaged 35.5%. Only by receiving disproportionate moderate support can liberals win in most places.

This does not mean that they will not fight tenaciously to defend government. They will because they have to. Conservatives, on the whole, flourish in the private sector. Liberals, on the whole, do not. They seek state-run solutions because they receive a larger proportional return from them. The Left's disproportionate return means they will mount a disproportionate defense of it.

Wisconsin tells us, that while the political pendulum will continue to swing, it has not turned back the clock. Liberals took their best shot at a time when conservatives presented them an inviting target in an inviting location. And still they missed -- wide-left.

No one said that enacting a conservative agenda would be easy. Just that it is necessary. Wisconsin's recent experience contradicts neither point. What Wisconsin does say is that enactment is possible. Even here.

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About the Author

J.T. Young served in the Department of Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget from 2001 to 2004 and as a Congressional staff member from 1987 to 2000.