What a difference a week makes.
The polls showing Gov. Scott Walker six points up on Mayor Tom Barrett and the buzz that the Democratic National Committee had decided not to put money into the Wisconsin recall election cast a pall over Democrats and progressives last week.
Seven days later, Barrett and Walker were even in the polls, money has come pouring into the state to put nearly as many Barrett as Walker ads on TV, and the John Doe criminal probe of Walker's closest aides and associates is finally getting the attention it deserves. Russ Feingold is traveling the state with Barrett, firing up the base, and the recall looks possible again.
No doubt, the recall roller coaster will take us for a few more loops before June 5.
But we didn't come all this way to spend the last days before the election reading tealeaves and wringing our hands about what national polling firms and Democratic Party officials in Washington tell us about Wisconsin. Remember that what was so poignant and compelling about the last year and a half was the spontaneous, grassroots nature of the early protests and the petition drive. The recall movement was neither sanctioned nor directed from above. It is a rebellion by the middle class against the politics of greed and social destruction.
You know the facts:
- The whole Walker regime is orchestrated and financed from out of state. Walker has raised 60% to 70% of his $31 million outside Wisconsin, in large part from the same billionaires who supported Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.
- The sheer corruption of the Walker administration is hard to overstate. Ron Seely did an incredible investigation for the Wisconsin State Journal on how our Department of Natural Resources allowed a corporation with ties to regulators to get away with dumping three times the allowable limit of human sewage near a residential area, exposing neighbors to the risk of serious illness. Alongside the article, the State Journal ran a startling graph showing how enforcement has plummeted to near nonexistence at Walker's DNR.
- The John Doe criminal probe shows a pattern of contempt for Wisconsin's clean government laws: fundraising and campaigning on the taxpayers' dime, shaking down Milwaukee businesses for donations and swag for Walker's campaigns, not firing an aide long after it emerged that he was stealing money intended for the widows and orphans of Wisconsin's war dead and using it to pay for his vacations. Who are these people?
- Walker's policies as governor reflect the same contempt for ordinary Wisconsinites: massive cuts to our schools, university and technical college system, and huge tax cuts for corporations.
The entire 30% cut to our tech colleges could be restored just by closing the Las Vegas loophole - the tax dodge Walker reopened that allows Wisconsin corporations to hide their profits in states like Nevada that have no corporate income tax.
For years now, the Republicans have done such a good job of selling a quasi-religious worship of the so-called job creators that half of our middle-class voters believe cutting taxes on corporations and imposing austerity on schoolchildren and college students will somehow help us get ahead.
But things are changing.
One bellwether: Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer recently gave the most controversial TED talk in history. He said that the very rich are not actually "job creators." It's middle-class consumers who drive growth and create jobs. Employers don't hire people because they get tax cuts. They hire people when consumers buy things and business expands.
What Hanauer said is so conventional, it's actually incredible that it was controversial at all. "The annual earnings of people like me are hundreds, if not thousands, of times greater than those of the average American, but we don't buy hundreds or thousands of times more stuff," he said. "It's just crazy to believe that [lowering taxes on the wealthy] is more beneficial to our economy than hiring more teachers or police officers or investing in our infrastructure."
The very fact that Hanauer's common-sense speech was considered too hot to handle at the TED conference is evidence that we are at a tipping point. People are waking up.
On June 5, Wisconsin could send a powerful message. As in the Progressive era, when a grassroots movement in Wisconsin turned back the power of corporate greed and ushered in progressive changes, ordinary people are determined to take back control of our government and our lives.
Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive.