College dropout and governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker has exempted police and firefighters from his proposed legislation to strip government workers of their right to collectively bargain. These are the more highly paid public sector workers and they have considerable political clout with Republicans whom they generally support and to whose campaigns they contribute. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest outside political contributor in the 2010 elections, outspent both the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO and backed the Democrats in a last-ditch failed effort to stave off a Republican victory. The police and firefighters negotiate separately and do not fall under the penumbra of the Democratic Party organization.
What Walker is doing is punishing the Democratic union members and rewarding the conservative, Republican-leaning cops and firemen. This is a political shot across the bow, a warning to the AFSCME not to do the same thing in 2012. Republican governors across the country are following him. This reminds me of a conversation I had with an important Republican operative about budget-cutting in bankrupt Nassau County on Long Island. I said they had to get rid of a lot of county jobs, many of them patronage positions. His eyes popped open as he replied, “Not Republican jobs!” And not for nothing have the Republicans refused to cut the sponsorship of NASCAR since the fans and the drivers are all on the right. It would be one thing if these Republican governors meant it but they don’t. They are doing what they always do–playing hardball and rewarding their supporters.
As someone who has followed the Republicans for some time, having at one point served as Special Counsel to the late Perry Duryea, who served as both speaker and minority leader of the New York State Assembly and was an unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor, I learned how utterly congenial they were when amongst their own. If you met any of them at a social gathering you would be charmed by their informality and good-natured banter. But when it comes to the interests of the Grand Old Party, watch out. Only in Chicago do the Democrats play a similar brand of hardball. Next to the Republicans, Democrats are patsies, which is why they were trashed in 2010 and why Nixon and Reagan beat them soundly and why George W. Bush managed to sneak in thanks to the Republicans on the Supreme Court and the machinations of Karl Rove. George H.W. Bush had Lee Atwater who ran the Willie Horton revolving-door ad against Michael Dukakis that enabled Bush to overcome a sizeable deficit in the polls. In case you don’t remember, Willie Horton was a black convict who was released early in Massachusetts and then committed a murder.
The only time in my memory when the Democrats pulled out all the stops was when Lyndon Johnson’s campaign ran an ad against Goldwater with a little girl plucking the petals of a flower as a nuke was going off. The add suggested that you certainly wouldn’t want Goldwater’s finger on the button because he had once suffered a nervous breakdown. More recently Bill Clinton played hardball in that way with his negative ads against Bob Dole which were classics in their way. The Kennedys played hardball but they didn’t run ads like that.
The Obama campaign has said it expects to raise and spend a billion dollars in his reelection campaign. It will be run out of Chicago, which should tell you something. Obama’s new chief of staff, Bill Daley, a son of the late Richard Daley who ruled Chicago with an iron fist, is likely to add a new dimension to the Democratic stance nationally. He was a high executive at J.P. Morgan Chase and has close ties to the Chamber of Commerce. His bother Richard Daley, Jr. is retiring as mayor of Chicago where he governed much as his father had. Rahm Emmanuel is likely to succeed him and will be in a position to take his own brand of hardball to the mayor’s office in Chicago.
All of this means that 2012 will see much blood spilled as the Democrats try to play catch-up with the Republicans in the hardball election politics department. Karl Rove will be back at it after helping the Republicans take back the house with attacks that were left mysteriously unanswered by the Democrats. They were unprepared for the virulence of the onslaught that drove them from power, which suggests that they didn’t deserve to be there in the first place.
While spending and the budget will be big issues, Americans are going to want to see the benefits of belt-tightening in the form of jobs. If the situation does not get better, voters will be hard-pressed to determine who should take blame, when the answer will quite obviously be all of them.