"Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it."
~Rule 13, Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals
"Never go outside the experience of your people."
~Rule 2, Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals
Scott Walker won a decisive victory over Tom Barrett and the public service unions last night. Given the raucous protests in 2011 from Madison to the Occupy movement and the supposed retreat of the Tea Party, folks on the Left are wondering how Walker could possibly have own. The straw they are latching onto is that Walker's spending advantage, bolstered by the Citizens United decision, is weak. Ask yourself, when was the last time you voted for a candidate because of how much money they spent? Have those 30 second ads ever swung your vote? Possessing a large war chest is more often a symptom of popularity rather than its cause.
So what went wrong for the unions and their OWS prototype protest? They followed Saul Alinsky's most famous rule to a T. Scott Walker was their target, they painted him as evil incarnate (often literally), and made it clear that supporting the governor was morally unacceptable to anyone who would listen. The negative rule 13 tactic has rarely been carried out as ruthlessly as against Walker. It pumped up union members and liberals to nearly hysterical levels. They remained focused on portraying collective bargaining as a basic human right to stay within Alinsky's second rule, to not go outside the experience of your people.
But those folks misread Alinsky and America. Middle class Wisconsinites were the people to be organized and they play by rules very different from those of the radical Left. Trashing the Capitol and war monuments, screaming obscenities, drum circles; these are poison to average John Q. Public III. He is revolted by them. "The failure of many of our younger activists to understand the art of communication has been disastrous. Even the most elementary grasp of the fundamental idea...would have ruled out attacks on the American flag." The OWS types can scream that they are the 99% until they are blue in the face, it just isn't so. Both the Wisconsin Democrats and OWS made the incredible mistake of assuming Middle America resembles the protesters!
What does Middle America actually see when it comes to Scott Walker? A challenge to a privileged class. Note not "the" privileged class, but certainly a class with privilege. My step-dad would fit in with most middle class Americans. He is 59 and is a supervisor of a few dozen employees, but started decades ago at the bottom. Retirement is a fading dream for him; likely as not, he will work until he physically cannot out of financial necessity. There is no love for Wall Street bankers, that's for damn sure, but they rarely show up in our part of the world. What burns his ass on a daily basis are "public servants" complaining about not getting a bigger raise, chipping in for their own health care, or the travesty of retirement at 55.
Again, my step-dad is 59, retirement is a fading dream, his property taxes are skyrocketing to pay for others to retire at 55...and they are ungrateful.
The wonder isn't so much that Walker won as it is that Middle America has not smashed this machine until now. "Fairness" should never leave the mouth of anyone retiring before 60 on a public pension, if not for moral reasons than just out of basic tactical considerations. But the unions and the Democrats pushed this issue. They were resoundingly defeated and every governor in the nation facing budget troubles (nearly all of them) knows now that public sector unions are not invincible machines. They can be beaten, and more importantly, there is a huge groundswell that wants to see them beaten that extends far beyond the Koch Brothers.
If Republicans are smart, they will tie the President to these unpopular public unions and force him to declare where his loyalties really lie. If the Democrat Party renounces their top financial and organizational support structure, both could find themselves estranged from each other and significantly weakened for years to come. Their strength lies in reinforcing each other; the unions provide votes and cash for the Democrats, who in turn provide privileges to the unions. But apart from each other, they both lose. The unions are unquestionably unpopular and it is easy to point out their privileges to those paying the bill. Let's make Obama lose his union support or that of those disgusted with union privileges. I think this is something we absolutely must focus on. Unemployment and the bad economy hurt Obama for sure, but they are complicated enough for the average American or Harvard economist not to fully understand, which makes assigning responsibility difficult. Supporting union privileges, on the other hand, is straightforward.
Perhaps the most important takeaway is that the Left is in a bubble, a point noted by many conservative bloggers. The Tea Party is extreme, public pensions are popular, Walker was weak, ObamaCare is popular and unquestionably constitutional, Occupy would play a large role within our political system, etc. It's frustrating to deal with somebody who just cannot see a damn wall in front of their own face, who is adamant that the wall doesn't exist. But I'm long past done trying to convince those people of their own weaknesses (though I still love creating cognitive dissonance wherever possible). Keep telling yourself that people who face a lifetime of working for no retirement will support paying higher taxes to hear the recipients of tax money, retiring with color still in their hair, bitch about how hard the public servant's life is. Don't work within the experience of the very people you need to convince. When you skip right to Rule 13, it is your own cause you freeze, personalize, and polarize. We'll make every election a Pickett's Charge in which you assault our fortified positions with actual Middle America.