Scott Walker's Future and Obama's Past

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 2 2011 9:04 AM

Scott Walker's Future and Obama's Past

So, here's the scenario. A politician wins an election with around 53.5 percent of the vote; a solid number, enough to claim a mandate. His party is swept into power, too, with margins in both houses of the legislature that are big enough to push through his entire agenda. But in the first months, he overreaches. He tries to ram through a piece of legislation that he didn't really campaign on. It sparks protests from angry voters, most of whom voted against the new guy, but were not this energized. When it gets to the lower House it's unanimously opposed by the opposition party, and even a few members of the new guy's own party oppose it.

I'm talking about Scott Walker in Wisconsin. I'm also talking about Barack Obama in those long-ago days of January and February 2009. I remember when Obama's push for the stimulus package and the bailouts of the auto industry, two things he had not campaigned on, inspired the first wave of Tea Party activists to protest him. The Tea Party critique of Obama and the left-wing/union critique of Walker had a few similar themes; the key one is that Obama/Walker are exploiting a crisis to get partisan victories they never could have gotten otherwise.

Advertisement

The partisanship problem is a big one. In his profile of Mitch McConnell, Joshua Green got the minority leader to explain why it was important for Republicans to deny any bipartisan cover to Obama initiatives.

We thought—correctly, I think—that the only way the American people would know that a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan. When you hang the 'bipartisan’ tag on something, the perception is that differences have been worked out, and there’s a broad agreement that that’s the way forward.

It's hard to get less bipartisan than a situation where Democrats in one House are screaming at Republicans when they pass a bill and Democrats in the other House are living on the lam to block a vote. The conventional wisdom was that Democrats were making themselves look fringe; no one wins a PR battle with the executive, with all the news-making power he has. Except Republicans won the PR battle with Obama, by denying him votes on the stimulus then denying that the stimulus created any jobs.

In the early days of the Wisconsin standoff, some pundits speculated that Scott Walker was becoming a new Chris Christie, a folk hero who'd take on unions and julienne them with common sense. Hey, Walker could still win this thing. But for now, he seems a lot more like the early, unsteady Obama. He has not spoken in public, outside the confines of news conferences, since the impasse started; when he tried to go to a Madison restaurant, he was recognized and heckled. There haven't been great polls yet, but the polls we have show Walker slipping below 50 percent support and up to 48 percent support for a 2012 recall election. The "Feingold for Governor 2012" signs I saw in Madison looked fairly silly. But you would have said the same things about "Scott Brown for Senate" signs in September 2009.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

TODAY IN SLATE

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

Republicans Want the Government to Listen to the American Public on Ebola. That’s a Horrible Idea.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

I Am 25. I Don’t Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 11:40 AM The U.S. Has Spent $7 Billion Fighting the War on Drugs in Afghanistan. It Hasn’t Worked. 
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 1:12 PM The Global Millionaires Club Is Booming and Losing Its Exclusivity
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Oct. 21 2014 12:40 PM Asamkirche: The Rococo Church Where Death Hides in Plain Sight
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 1:12 PM George Tiller's Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Doctor, Claims Right of Free Speech
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 21 2014 12:05 PM Same-Sex Couples at Home With Themselves in 1980s America
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 10:43 AM Social Networking Didn’t Start at Harvard It really began at a girls’ reform school.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.