If it’s a day ending in “y,” that means it’s time for more crappy political advice from the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart. Beinart’s kind of a one-trick pony on the subject—I’ve noted before how, no matter the situation, he advises Republicans not to govern like conservatives lest they face certain electoral doom (the right electoral strategy, coincidentally, happens to be to govern exactly like Peter Beinart would). Today, he argues that the Wisconsin GOP’s victory over public-sector unions will ultimately ensure a second term for Barack Obama:
In 2010, Republicans successfully accused Obama of abetting the extremism of Nancy Pelosi. In 2012, Obama will ask Americans if they want a president who abets the extremism of Scott Walker. By so successfully shifting the ideological debate to the right, Republicans have reframed Obama as a man of the center. And by terrifying liberals, they are helping ensure that Obama gets the large Democratic base turnout he needs […]
The 2012 Republican nominee will likely face the same problem. Embracing Scott Walker will alienate independents; rejecting him will alienate the conservative base. Parties usually win elections when their partisans are pragmatic enough to nominate candidates with crossover appeal but desperate enough to turn out for them nonetheless. Today’s GOP isn’t that kind of party. The Democrats, especially after last November, are.
There are two major problems with Beinart’s analysis. First, if one’s stance on public-sector unions is to be our new barometer for “extremism,” comparing Obama and Walker is hardly an open-and-shut case, even on the Left’s own terms—consider that government employees at the federal level can’t collectively bargain over wages or benefits, whereas Walker’s bill still allows some bargaining over wages. Assuming the GOP’s next presidential nominee isn’t totally asleep at the switch (which, admittedly, isn’t all that safe an assumption), he or she will challenge Obama on that very point.
Second, the polls don’t look great on Walker’s policies right now, and whether or not they get any better will depend largely on whether or not he and other Republicans start doing a better job on the public relations front, but that’s certainly a winnable battle. You don’t need to be an “extremist” to be persuaded that private-sector unions have been steadily losing the membership of American workers, that teachers’ unions make schools worse in many ways, that only about half of the states give government employees broad collective bargaining rights, or that Walker’s bill still leaves public-sector workers pretty well off and prevents unions from extorting money out of teachers for partisan causes.
The biggest deciding factor to the political fallout will be what effect the bill actually has…and whether or not the average people perceive that effect accurately. Sure, right now people have been whipped into a frenzy about “attacks” on the working class and the impending collapse of education as we know it. But there’s a big risk inherent in predicting the apocalypse—when the planet keeps on turning, people are usually gonna notice. Sure, the left-wing ideologues and union zombies will stick with Obama (no matter how many federal pay freezes he calls for), but conservatives never had them anyway. Among more moderate and truly independent voters (rather than people who simply call themselves “independent” because they think it sounds better than picking a side), there’s a greater risk that they’ll abandon the union ship the more they realize that perception and reality don’t match.
That brings us back to the point about the PR war: Scott Walker and those who stand with him are hardly doomed to suffer the “extremist” label, but overcoming it will require the fortitude and savvy to counter left-wing propagandizing at every turn. This battle’s a necessary one, and winnable, too—though victory will require the Right to bring its A-game.