What the Recall Today Is Really About

The Obama campaign just released a Wisconsin Get Out the Vote video Titled "It's time, Wisconsin: Own Your Vote," it's a nice piece featuring a young woman narrator urging people to knock on doors and make calls and get people to the polls. Would have been a bit more effective if it came out BEFORE Election Day, but OK . . .

The President also tweeted last night that he is "standing by Tom Barrett" and that Barrett would "make an outstanding governor."

That didn't do much to stem the snide commentary on the fact that Obama has not visited the state. Even Scott Walker mentioned the President's tepid support, noting that he's been in Minnesota and Illinois recently, without ever crossing the border into Wisconsin:

To progressives, it seems downright lame that the Obama campaign did not take better advantage of the incredible, grassroots outpouring of democracy in our state over the last year and a half.

Despite conventional national media analysis that treats today's election as a horse race in a divided state, with equal passion on both sides, the Wisconsin recall is really a referendum on democracy itself.

In the immortal words of billionaire Walker backer David Koch, "We've spent a lot of money in Wisconsin. We're going to spend more."

David Koch's group, Americans for Prosperity, recently poured $3 million into defending Scott Walker in the Wisconsin recall, putting more than 75 staff members on the ground to organize volunteers. AFP ran a bus tour of ten cities around the state, bringing AFP members from Illinois to hold rallies and canvass the state. Around the country, state AFP chapters are participating in Freedom Phone Banks to call Wisconsinites and urge them to “stand with Walker"--that catch phrase, developed by AFP, became Walker's ubiquitous campaign slogan--on yard signs and radio and TV ads all over Wisconsin.

On the other side are the teachers, the firefighters, the cops and snowplow drivers and ordinary middle class folks who started this whole thing when they reacted with outrage to Walker's plan to "divide and conquer" workers in our state.

It's true that our state is divided. Walker deliberately divided us. It is a winning strategy for the right to stir up resentment among insecure, nonunion workers against their neighbors who have better benefits and more secure jobs. But Walker and his billionaire backers don't offer them anything--just an ideology that says we need more tax breaks for the very rich, but we can't afford to continue giving public employees good health care and retirement benefits and job security in their public-service jobs.

Even when public employee unions agreed to all of Walker's cuts, he stuck with his plan to destroy collective bargaining power. That shows that this is a political, not a budget, fight.

The Americans For Prosperity line is that Walker needed to disempower public employee unions in order to balance the budget and create jobs.

But Walker did neither. He borrowed money to make it look like he had a balanced budget. And he compiled the worst job creation record of any governor in the nation.

The only part of his divide and conquer agenda he made good on was the divide part--stirring up resentment and animosity among ordinary working folks.

If he wins today, he will declare that he has achieved the conquer part, too.

But we will not be conquered in Wisconsin. This is our state, and we are not going to stop fighting for it.

Let's remember who started this recall effort and who it is really all about.

I got tears in my eyes yesterday as I drove past my own kids' teachers at Lake View Elementary School, standing at a busy intersection holding up their handmade signs. Kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third, fourth and fifth grade teachers were each holding up one letter of Barrett's name.

It reminded me that it was the Madison Public School teachers who led the walkout that triggered the massive, historic rallies in Madison a year and a half ago. We joined those protests, and my kids were wowed to see their teachers there.

When ordinary citizens poured into the Capitol building to protest the late-night, sneak-attack passage of Walker's union-busting "budget repair bill" in the state assembly, the governor had the building locked. But my kids' gym teacher wiggled through a first-floor bathroom window to join the other citizens protesting inside.

That incredible citizen energy is what brought us to where we are today.

This recall election is not about the Democratic Party. It is not about Tom Barrett. It is certainly not about the Obama campaign.

It is about Wisconsinites standing up against the hostile takeover of our government and our community by a radical rightwing network fueled by massive quantities of corporate cash.

The Democratic Party did not know what to do with this citizens' movement.

The 30,000 volunteers who ran the historic recall petition drive, and the 1 million Wisconsinites who signed those petitions, would make a formidable ground force for Obama in this toss-up state come November.

But the political consultants thought a recall election was a dangerous idea. What if we lose? The money on the other side is overwhelming. The latest figures show Walker outfundraising Barrett 10-to-1. The Governor's $30 million, 70 percent from out of state, and the support of well-funded, national rightwing groups like Americans for Prosperity, make a daunting foe.

What if the recall takes away resources from the Obama campaign? Under Wisconsin law, there was no way to ensure the election would happen in November, on the same day as the Presidential race.

So the political strategists shied away.

But the citizens were more concerned about what was at stake here in Wisconsin than they were about political consultants' plans.

That's why we are going to the polls on June 5, and the President is tweeting his tepid support from far away.

This is not about Obama. This is about us.

Every parent in this state who has a child in the public schools knows what's at stake, as we face the largest cuts to public education in our state's history.

Students at our great university and technical colleges know what’s at stake. Walker cut our tech colleges by 30 percent. Coincidentally, the size of that cut was about equal to the money Wisconsin is losing since Walker reopened the "Las Vegas loophole"--a tax dodge that allows Wisconsin corporations to hide their profits in no-tax states like Nevada, and thereby avoid paying any corporate income tax at all.

Our model environmental protections have been slashed by Walker's DNR secretary--a rightwing hack from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce who used to write a blog about the evils of regulation. She has presided over a historic drop in environmental law enforcement and recently allowed a friend at a company that dumped illegal levels of human sewage in a residential area, imperiling neighbors' health, to get away without being prosecuted.

And, of course, there is the criminal aspect.

The score so far in the John Doe investigation of Walker's closest aides and associates: 6 indictments, 15 felony charges, 2 convictions, 13 people, including the governor's spokesman, granted immunity.

Over the weekend we learned that Walker is likely the target of both state and federal prosecutors in a case that involves campaigning on the taxpayers' time, misuse of funds, and obstructing justice.

One of Walker's closest aides, Tim Russell, who has been implicated in some of the sleaziest aspects of the John Doe investigation, now appears to be cooperating with prosecutors.

Win or lose today, Walker may leave office under a legal cloud.

Win or lose today, the people of Wisconsin are going to keep on fighting the fundamental ideological battle of this election: money versus people in our democracy, solidarity versus the divide-and-conquer strategy that leads workers into a race to the bottom, clean and open government versus corruption and cronyism, protecting the environment versus selling it off, our future, our children's future, the future of our community.

We are in this fight because we have no choice. The stakes are too high. We are going to have to go ahead and make history, as we have been doing so well—and so much to everyone's surprise all along.

If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "What’s at Stake in Wisconsin."

Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter