President Obama, as I have observed before, has a great talent for both offending moderates and infuriating the left. He lacks Bill Clinton’s charm and the cultural affinity with average Americans to sell center-left policies to center-right Americans, as Clinton so ably did. Instead Obama looks perpetually weak and indecisive.
This was certainly the case throughout the Wisconsin recall ordeal. When first confronted with the protests over Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining reforms, Obama vacillated between embracing the protestors and trying to distance himself from increasing unlawful and irresponsible behavior by union members in February and the Democratic legislators who decamped to Illinois.
The White House, it seems, realized sooner than the public pollsters and the labor bosses that the recall effort was destined to fail. So Obama stayed outside the state, infuriating recall backers. Okay, he tweeted his support for the recall on election eve. Can’t say he didn’t help out!
The result is that recall proponents know he sided with the public-employee unions and union members know he didn’t lift a finger to help them.
But he won’t be able to duck this issue much longer. Other governors will likely follow Walker’s lead in seeking to curtail the power and benefits of public-employee unions. Mitt Romney is surely going to side with fiscal hawks and taxpayers over liberals and public employee union bosses when it comes to reining in public employee unions. Romney wasted no time last night putting out a congratulatory statement that included a prediction: “Tonight’s results will echo beyond the borders of Wisconsin. Governor Walker has shown that citizens and taxpayers can fight back – and prevail – against the runaway government costs imposed by labor bosses. Tonight voters said ‘no’ to the tired, liberal ideas of yesterday, and ‘yes’ to fiscal responsibility and a new direction. I look forward to working with Governor Walker to help build a better, brighter future for all Americans.”
What about Obama? Well that gets tricky. Offend his Big Labor patrons or give more fodder to Romney?
Let me suggest (because I am confident he’s unlikely to take it) a way out of the box. This involves the right’s rock star, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. During the days of the labor demonstrations in Wisconsin, Christie remarked that he had no problem with collective bargaining. With a mischievous grin he asserted, “I LOVE collective bargaining.” In other words, he was going to get the state’s finances in order by, if need be, force feeding the union bosses some better medicine. He’d negotiate with them certainly, but he was also going to force them to pay more for their benefits.
I realize this approach would work better for Obama if he had spent time governing and showed some spine in standing up to his base. But, frankly, if he attempts to run on anti-Walkerism, he’ll lose the center, and if he offends his union backers, his fundraising problems will get a whole lot worse. It’s about time he tried some “Third Wave” moves.