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The Age of Nothing’s-Ever-Over

While awaiting results from Wisconsin, think about some comparisons raised by the gang at MSNBC’s “First Read” this morning.

Gubernatorial recalls are rare in U.S. political history, and starting a recall drive in the immediate aftermath of an election (as Walker’s opponents did) is even rarer, maybe unprecedented. Of course it doesn’t break any formal rules, but it’s also one more example, in the age of polarization, of the parties doing things that, while technical allowable, used to be barred by the norms of U.S. politics. Like once someone you oppose is elected, you continue to oppose him (in the good old loyal opposition sense) but you wait until the next election to try to get rid of him.

By the guys at First Read think this elections-don’t-settle-anything attitude is not so much new in the Walker case as a continuation of recent trends:

“… It’s worth noting that today’s recall in Wisconsin is just the latest chapter in this current Age of Polarization, where the ballot box doesn’t end political debates. It started, in our eyes, with Bill Clinton’s impeachment; carried over into the Bush-vs.-Gore recount, the 2003 California recall, and the aftermath of the 2004 presidential election; and it continued with the collective efforts by Republican state AGs to get the Supreme Court to ultimately rule over the health-care law.

And in Wisconsin, Walker didn’t want just to balance his state’s budget by reforming pensions; he wanted to crush organized labor and the Democratic Party. Meanwhile, after winning the PR battle last year, labor and state Democrats decide to punish Walker, not just by tying his hands legislatively but with this recall. It’s political combat — and the fight doesn’t end. And it won’t end regardless of tonight’s result.”

I’m not in the habit of citing Richard Nixon as an example of good sportsmanship, but it’s quite possible that the Dems stole the 1960 election with a combination of fraudulent and tricky actions in Illinois, Texas and a very strange manipulation of electoral vote in Alabama. Nixon was under considerable pressure to contest the election, but declined. Whether this was an act of magnanimity by a man who (as Nixon himself later wrote, didn’t want to leave the fate of the executive under a cloud for a possibly months-long period of investigation/recount, or whether Nixon made a pragmatic decision that votes rigged in Texas and Chicago were very unlikely to ever unrigged, is a matter of continuing debate among the very few who care. But in today’s climate, where the idea of allowing a Democrat to take the Oval Office if it could possibly be prevented would be considered cowardice, treason or worse, one wonders what the 2012 version of Nixon might have done.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Ross Williams on 06/05/2012 - 06:19 pm.

    Conspiracy Theories

    “It’s quite possible that the Dems stole the 1960 election with a combination of fraudulent and tricky actions in Illinois, Texas and a very strange manipulation of electoral vote in Alabama.”

    No, it not quite possible. Its a silly conspiracy theory. Kennedy won the electoral college in 1960 with 303 votes to Nixon’s 219.

    Illinois’s electoral votes were irrelevant to the outcome without another large state. And Kennedy won Texas by over 40,000 votes, far more than any alleged improprieties. There have been various versions of how Kennedy “stole” the election since 1960, but they are really just sour grapes.

    Kennedy only got 5 electoral votes from Alabama, but those 5 electoral votes made no difference at all in the outcome. And all eleven electors who won were chosen in the Democratic primary. Six refused to vote for Kennedy and voted for Byrd or Virginia instead as a protest. But Kennedy won the state by about 100,000 votes. How was that stealing the election for Kennedy?

    This is just more nonsense repeated by the media as if there was some substance to it. Kerry didn’t challenge Bush in 2004 either, despite being urged to by some people. There are always people who refuse to accept the outcome of an election.

    The 2000 election was unique. Gore won the popular vote and almost certainly would have won Florida and the electoral college if not for voting irregularities. And the final decision was made by a partisan majority on the US Supreme Court. There is simply no real historic precedent for that election.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 06/06/2012 - 07:44 am.

    This trend of “nothing is ever over” is a profoundly anti-democracy. While I may not agree with Walker, he won the election. The legislature that supported him was likewise elected. Protest their votes on issues, but the real answer becomes the next election.

    At the point where it is decided that the next election is not soon enough, that is when the abandonment or overturning of democracy becomes a viable option.

    I personally believe that sometimes the best option is to give the politician, party or policy enough rope to hang itself (as in the dismal employment record of Wisconsin).

    Whether you like it or not, this is democracy in action. Your vote, and perhaps more importantly, your attention to issue matter.

    At some point, it will become clear that a whole lot is being given away for very little.

  3. Submitted by Alex Bauman on 06/06/2012 - 09:36 am.

    When did the recall effort begin?

    Did the recall effort start right after the election? I thought it was after Walker crammed through an unpopular, unannounced anti-labor bill and used a marginally-legal process to do so.

    As for nothings-ever-over politics, I’m trying to understand how getting people interested and active in the political process more than once every four years could be bad for civics or democracy. In Wisconsin it has likely resulted in the highest turnout ever, probably significantly higher than any non-national election.

    • Submitted by Alex Bauman on 06/06/2012 - 09:47 am.

      2008 turnout was higher

      Nevermind, the 2008 turnout was higher. Looks like the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections had higher turnout than this recall election as well. It did get higher turnout than the 2010 gubernatorial election though.

    • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 06/06/2012 - 11:24 am.

      Voter Turnout

      There are more important things than how many votes are cast. When politicians are not allowed to actually govern, the ideals of representative government are undercut. All that this particular election proved is that most of the people who voted against Walker in 2010 would do so again. That isn’t particularly enlightening.

  4. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 06/06/2012 - 11:35 am.

    How Do We Change It?

    So what can we do to get to a place where things cool off and election results are simply accepted? If the Clinton impeachment was what led to this, well, that was fifteen years ago. At some point we should get past that. (Though I see upstream that the *1960* election still brings passion so maybe we’re just doomed to this treadmill.)
    Some ideas; we could try and fix the filibuster. The balance of power in the next Senate is still up in the air. If both sides publicly decided what they would accept whether they were in the majority or the minority, that would help.
    We could also tone down the wild rhetoric about the motivations of voters for the other party. Tens of millions of people will vote against your candidate this November. The overwhelming majority of them will do so for good faith reasons. Once you accept that, you can start to understand where they are coming from.
    While I believe that second suggestion, I don’t know how far it gets us as it will be ignored by the people who really need to hear it. I’d love for more constructive suggestions.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 06/06/2012 - 08:36 pm.

      As long as “compromise” is a dirty word . . . .

      it’s going to be tough. Because once you lose the art of governing through compromise in favor of “my way or the highway”, then the “losers” are not going to be willing to graciously accept their defeat and hope to do better the next time.

      And I’m not sure when we lost compromise, but it feels relatively recent. I know that I’ve been in discussion threads where the other person literally said that compromise=capitulation and seemed to be completely unaware of the concept of “give a little to get a little” (or challenged such moves as “weak”).

      Compromise indicates a “grown up” perspective. It says “I accept that I can’t always get everything I want, but the other guy can’t, either, so I’ll try for as much as I can wrangle and then live with the outcome”.

      Living with the outcome. Compromise. How do we get those back?

      Will we ever?

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