The more I watch things out here, from Madison to Milwaukee and the restaurants to the courtrooms, I realize that the money — as stupefying in its amounts as it undoubtedly is — is also a great distraction. The easy narrative is that this election has been about "the air war and the ground war." (I swear, another week, and Ed Schultz was going to start sounding like Rommel.) That it was about "owning the airwaves" against "boots on the ground." But what I've come to realize is that, from the first moment the first protester stepped onto the lawn of the capitol in Madison 16 months ago until the polls close tonight, the Great Wisconsin Recall has been an extended argument against narcotic centrism and anesthetic civility. This has been a brawl, from start to finish. The local papers are full of stories about families that have divided up over the recall, about divorces that have been sought because a Walker husband found that having a Barrett wife — or, to be fair, vice versa — amounted to an irreconcilable difference. The money and the boots on the ground are only the media through which the two campaigns have carried on an angry and divisive debate. And, for all Barrett's talk about ending the "civil war" that he says Walker started, the anger and divisiveness were perfectly appropriate, and I thank god for them. For once, anyway, all the talk about how Americans don't care about politics, how disengaged and removed from our obligations to the political commonwealth we've become, have been refuted for the moment by what's gone on in Wisconsin.When our star pundits like David Brooks - or his liberal sparring partner Mark Shields - moan about the decline of civility and partisanship and how they miss the good ole days with Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan drank beers with each other, they mainly mean that Democrats should just shut up about protecting union rights and stop moaning about the Grand Bargain to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits and put both programs on the phase-out track in exchange for some cosmetic tax reforms.
What we have here is a fight, out in the open, without nuance or euphemism, between two ideas of what self-government should look like, who it should serve, and how, and how wide the parameters of participation will be. That is serious business. It ought to be contested fiercely and to the last and without cosmetic conciliation. Scott Walker made a firm stand against public-employee unions, and did so in a way that ran contrary to a proud tradition of progressive politics in a state that takes those politics very, very seriously.
There are real issues out there worth fighting for. It doesn't matter if a millionaire Pod Pundit or two, or even all of them, get their feathers in a flutter over the uncivility of Democratic voters demanding a decent progressive government.
Tags: democratic movement