Meaning of Wisconsin Recall Vote

The Wisconsin vote for Scott Walker should make liberals think. Democratic commentators, as on MSNBC, try to dismiss this vote as due entirely to the funding differences, which will not be as great in the Presidential race. But the WI voters are among the most union-friendly and progressive of all in the US, Walker is a certifiable villain, and despite Walker's 71/2:1 spending advantage the ground campaign that the Democrats waged surely provided all voters with plenty of information. I think, therefore, that the result accurately expresses an actual voter preference--not just a triumph of rhetoric, framing, or advertising.

But what is that preference? Let me suggest that many voters are siding with Republicans because they don't think government is giving value for their money. It's not that they object to most government programs, but that they don't think government carries out any programs very well (except for military and, perhaps, police functions, for which they have little information). They question Obamacare not for insuring people, but because it's a government program, and while few people have had a bad experience with a health insurer, almost everyone has experienced frustration and waste when dealing with a government agency.

In saying this I do not mean to minimize the role of Republican propaganda and policy. Since Reagan, Republicans have starved the government of the money it needs to do its job well, and then blamed government bureaucrats for functioning badly. I am sure this trickery, along with propaganda, has played a substantial role in the public perception that the government isn't performing well. But there is also a real problem of government accountability. Government is a monopoly, and we all know how difficult it is to deal with such an entity. With only one mayor, governor, or President, and hundreds or thousands of government departments, the problem of making government truly responsive and accountable is a very difficult one to solve. In the experience of most voters, it hasn't been solved, and Republican propaganda takes care of any doubts.

Bottom line: I think the vote in Wisconsin, and the amazing support that Republicans have gained despite the lunacy of their ideology and the horrible track record of their leadership, owes more to the fact that only Republicans are saying "enough" about government, and less to any support of their actual policy objectives.

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