It's easy to overgeneralize what the results from Wisconsin yesterday mean in terms of the 2012 national elections, but it's still important to begin thinking about what the defeat of the public sector unions indicates in terms of political engagement.
This certainly changes Scott Walker's profile, but the underlying issues that are at stake are more important. In The New York Times, Ross Douthat cautions against overreactions but notes that with Wisconsin's battles, we're seeing a new way of doing politics. While most of our fights in the last few decades have been waged during a time of surplus, as Jay Cost has so nicely pointed out, what we're beginning to see is how we handle our political battles during greater constraints. Ross notes:
That’s obviously what the organizers of the recall hoped to do to Walker – to punish his union-busting and spending cuts as thoroughly as House Democrats were punished in the 2010 mid-term elections for the votes they cast on the health care bill and the stimulus. The fact that the labor unions and liberal activists failed where the Tea Party largely succeeded sends a very different message, though: It tells officeholders that it’s safer to take on left-wing interest groups than conservative ones (the right outraised and outspent the left by a huge margin in the recall election), safer to cut government than to increase revenue, safer to face down irate public sector employees than irate taxpayers.
A similar message is currently being telegraphed by the respective postures of the two parties in Washington. The House Republicans have spent the past two years taking tough votes on entitlement reform, preparing themselves for an ambitious offensive should 2012 deliver the opportunity to cast those same votes and have them count. The Senate Democrats, on the other hand, have failed to even pass a budget: There is no Democratic equivalent of Paul Ryan’s fiscal blueprint, no Democratic plan to swallow hard and raise middle class taxes the way Republicans look poised to swallow hard and overhaul Medicare. Indeed, there’s no liberal agenda to speak of at the moment, beyond a resounding “no!” to whatever conservatism intends to do.
It seems fair to say that liberals had some comparative advantages over conservatives during the times of surplus. Now that we're dealing with unsustainable entitlement programs and economic struggles, do conservatives hold that comparative advantage?
Even David Frum, most recently seen celebrating Nanny Bloomberg's soda ban, suggests that might be the case:
An electorate that has seen its standards of living corrode will not pay taxes to sustain superior pay and benefits for its public sector employees... Say what you will about the Tea Party, it collected scalps. The unions plus Occupy plus the remnants of the '08 Obama campaign have not.