Politics & Policy

The Recall Rationalization

Enraged leftists blame Citizens United for their loss.

The recall of Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker didn’t fail; it was only outspent.

This is the considered verdict of the Left after a year and a half of trying to smite Governor Walker with its terrible swift sword. What began as a crusade to vindicate the rights of public-sector unions ended in a pathetic bleat of a complaint against spending in political campaigns.

“It hurts too much to laugh, and I’m too big to cry,” Abraham Lincoln said after he lost his Senate bid to Stephen Douglas. Too earnest to laugh and too proud to cry, the Left can only rationalize. If the anti-Walker forces hadn’t been so badly outspent — and especially if the Supreme Court hadn’t unleashed the forces of darkness in its Citizens United decision — Wisconsin voters assuredly would have rejected his reforms.

For the Left, Citizens United has practically supplanted Dred Scott as the worst Supreme Court decision of all time. It held that political spending is a form of speech, and therefore corporations and unions can spend freely in elections. The decision came down in January 2010. If its vicious logic made it impossible to recall Scott Walker, everyone determined to do so had fair warning.

In reality, Citizens United had nothing to do with the outcome in Wisconsin. Yes, Scott Walker outspent his opponent, Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, by a margin of roughly 8 to 1. This wasn’t the handiwork of the highest court in the land. A provision in Wisconsin law going back to 1987 gives the target of a recall a window to raise unlimited funds. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the provision arose when Democratic state senators fighting recalls needed to raise more money for legal expenses, and it passed with bipartisan support.

#ad#If the organizers of the recall had done more thinking and less shouting into bullhorns, they might have realized that Walker would have a period of free and easy fundraising not available to his eventual Democratic opponent; that he could marshal his resources while Democrats might have to fight it out in a primary until a month before the recall vote; that their assault on Walker had elevated his national profile such that he could raise money from all around the country.

In other words, they might have realized Walker had natural advantages that had nothing to do with Citizens United or any other bogeyman. Sure enough, Walker garnered millions in donations from rich people living outside Wisconsin. Is there something wrong with out-of-state money? Certainly not in such a nationalized race. The whole world was watching, remember?

Of course, outside groups played in a big way in Wisconsin, too. The biggest, the Republican Governors Association, existed prior to Citizens United, and the group’s fundraising hasn’t been affected by it much. David Koch could give it $1 million as easily prior to the decision as he can now. The RGA spent $9 million in Wisconsin — defending a Republican governor. What else is a governors association for?

In the end, all the money in Texas couldn’t have saved Walker if the Wisconsin public hadn’t favored his reforms. The exit polls say 52 percent of Wisconsinites approved of Walker’s measures. Rather than grapple with this highly inconvenient fact, the Left rages against a Supreme Court decision. 

Its beef isn’t so much with Citizens United per se, but with the entire line of reasoning — evident in follow-on court decisions — that says free people in a free country should be able to band together and spend to advance whatever cause they like. After all, it wasn’t corporations that flooded Wisconsin with money, but engaged individuals interested in the outcome of a momentous contest. The Left will now set out to shut down as much of this political activity as possible. Nancy Pelosi is already proposing to amend the First Amendment so that a crackdown on spending passes new-and-improved constitutional muster.

The Wisconsin recall was ill-considered petulance; the second act will be a deliberate assault on liberty.

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. © 2012 King Features Syndicate

Rich Lowry — Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

Most Popular

U.S.

The Gun-Control Debate Could Break America

Last night, the nation witnessed what looked a lot like an extended version of the famous “two minutes hate” from George Orwell’s novel 1984. During a CNN town hall on gun control, a furious crowd of Americans jeered at two conservatives, Marco Rubio and Dana Loesch, who stood in defense of the Second ... Read More
Religion

Billy Graham: Neither Prophet nor Theologian

Asked in 1972 if he believed in miracles, Billy Graham answered: Yes, Jesus performed some and there are many "miracles around us today, including television and airplanes." Graham was no theologian. Neither was he a prophet. Jesus said "a prophet hath no honor in his own country." Prophets take adversarial ... Read More
Film & TV

Why We Can’t Have Wakanda

SPOILERS AHEAD Black Panther is a really good movie that lives up to the hype in just about every way. Surely someone at Marvel Studios had an early doubt, reading the script and thinking: “Wait, we’re going to have hundreds of African warriors in brightly colored tribal garb, using ancient weapons, ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Obstruction Confusions

In his Lawfare critique of one of my several columns about the purported obstruction case against President Trump, Gabriel Schoenfeld loses me — as I suspect he will lose others — when he says of himself, “I do not think I am Trump-deranged.” Gabe graciously expresses fondness for me, and the feeling is ... Read More