If what's happened in Wisconsin tells us anything, it's that the power of the Tea Party has been grossly overstated. If Republicans did well in the last elections, it's because Democrats and dem-leaning Independents stayed home, disappointed by the constant capitulations of Democratic leadership and the Obama administration. Polling always shows that compromise is popular, but this is generally true only in the abstract; show someone an actual compromise -- you know, where they give up something they want -- and they don't like it. As I pointed out in a conversation recently, there are no statues to heroic centrists in public squares. The middle of the road, in actual practice, is only popular with pundits. Well, those and politicians with no real convictions.
But conviction isn't enough. Wisconsin Republicans have convictions and those convictions have made them about as popular as a stubbed toe. Yet, they're inarguably Tea Party convictions. If the Tea Party is a popular movement, then why isn't it -- um -- popular?
There's a lesson here for Democrats: be about something. No one other than a Broderist pundit or a TV talking head is impressed by anyone's centrism.
[E.J. Dionne, Washington Post:]
In Wisconsin, by contrast [to the Washington Democratic establishment], 14 Democrats in the state Senate defined the political argument on their own terms -- and they are winning it.
By leaving Madison rather than providing a quorum to pass Gov. Scott Walker's assault on collective bargaining for public employees, the Wisconsin 14 took a big risk. Yet to the surprise of establishment politicians, voters have sided with the itinerant senators and the unions against a Republican governor who has been successfully portrayed as an inflexible ideologue. And in using questionable tactics to force the antiunion provision through the Senate on Wednesday, Republicans may win a procedural round but lose further ground in public opinion.
Dionne argues that if Washington Democrats want to win back the public, they're going to have to be a lot more like Wisconsin Democrats. "For the first time in a long time, blue-collar Republicans -- once known as Reagan Democrats -- have been encouraged to remember what they think is wrong with conservative ideology," he explains. "Working-class voters, including many Republicans, want no part of Walker's war."
In other words, stand for the middle class, stop pretending that "trickle-down" economics has any basis in reality, and stop putting low prices on the shelf (i.e., global free trade) above good wages for workers. Sure WalMart has low prices -- which is good, because we've shipped all our jobs to China and now WalMart is all anyone can afford. To return to a theme I visit often on this blog, tell Blue Dog Democrats to take hike. We don't need Blue Dogs, we need blue collars. A constant impulse to compromise only gets you played by Republicans. I mean, look how well that's been working so far.
Take a cue from the Wisconsin 14. When they finally come back home, don't be surprised if the voters of Wisconsin throw them a freakin' parade. You've got a backbone for a reason. Maybe it's time you used it.