By keeping his distance, has Obama played Wisconsin right?
With the battle of Wisconsin reverberating in union halls across the country, Obama has refrained from weighing in forcefully on a core Democratic issue. Analysts say he has played it right.
(Page 2 of 2)
Obama’s new message discipline can be attributed partly to his staff shakeup – a new chief of staff, William Daley, and new top political adviser, David Plouffe, both of whom are seen as more organized than their predecessors. Obama has also learned from experience.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Mr. Fenn agrees that Obama has handled Wisconsin correctly. He’s made it clear where he stands, but has not jumped in with both feet.
“Obama’s approach from the State of the Union on has been, ‘Hey, we have to grow this economy, we have to compete in the international marketplace, we have to invest in education and science and technology, and we have to get businesses going and get the money off the sidelines and into hiring, and I’m going to be focused on that,’” says Fenn.
Disappointment on the left
Though some on the left have expressed disappointment that Obama hasn’t done more in support of the unions, such as visiting Madison, the capital of Wisconsin, the president is following his pattern of keeping his liberal base at arm’s length, on the theory that it has nowhere else to go come election time. Still, there is some risk in Obama’s approach. In the 2008 elections, unions spent some $400 million to help Obama and other Democrats get elected, not to mention the countless man-hours union members spent on get-out-the-vote.
And of course, a serious threat to collective bargaining rights, a fundamental function of unions, can’t be taken lightly. Analysts have likened Governor Walker’s effort to break his state’s public-sector unions to President Reagan’s success in breaking the air traffic controllers’ union, or PATCO, in 1981.
“It could be even bigger than PATCO,” says Mr. Zelizer. “You could see the ripples throughout the states, because of the economic situation. Even though polls are on the side of the unions, you could see that turning quite easily, if the governor said, ‘Would you rather we shut your school or get rid of the union?’ ”
But for now, most states are not following Walker’s lead. Other new Republican governors anxious to eliminate budget deficits have refrained from going after collective bargaining, even as they ask for other concessions from unions. Govs. Chris Christie (R) of New Jersey and Rick Scott (R) of Florida have both said they can live with collective bargaining.
A story in Politico notes that Walker’s fellow Republican governors have praised his approach, but few are following his lead, opting for a more conciliatory demeanor. Of the nation’s 29 Republican governors, only four have written blurbs for a website created by the Republican Governors Association called “Stand with Scott,” Politico writes. Two are possible presidential candidates (Rick Perry of Texas and Haley Barbour of Mississippi) and one has expressed interest in being vice president (Bob McDonnell of Virginia).