JONATHAN COHN NOVEMBER 9, 2011
[with contributions from Matt O’Brien and Darius Tahir]
Tuesday was a good day for liberals – maybe the best in quite a while. In Ohio, voters decided to give public employee unions the bargaining rights that John Kasich and state Republicans had taken away. In Mississippi, voters rejected a ballot measure that would have declared conception the beginning of legal “personhood,” rendering illegal not just common IVF practices but also, potentially, many forms of birth control.
The margins were strikingly lopsided. In Ohio, 62 percent of the electorate voted to give public employees bargaining rights. In Mississippi, more than 55 percent voted to reject the personhood amendment.
Before the campaigns had played out, it was easy to assume conservatives would have prevailed in both contests. Don’t Ohio voters blame public employee unions for government waste and high taxes? Don’t Mississippi voters have extremely conservative views on abortion? The answer appears to be no.
Or, at least, the answer became no in these two instances. And it’s not hard to imagine why. The two measures are very different but both polarized the electorate along lines highly favorable to progressives.
Harold Meyerson tells the story of Ohio in a dispatch for the American Prospect: Kasich didn’t exempt police and firefighters from the anti-union measure. Police and fire fighters are popular. So are teachers, come to think of it. Your average voter in Ohio may not imagine the well-being of a bureaucrat at the state department of records affects his life. But, as Jonathan Chait notes at his new blog, the average Ohio voter can certainly imagine what his community would be like without enough first-responders – or lousy teachers. That’s going to affect his life.
I’m less familiar with the polling in Mississippi – and why, exactly, voters rejected that initiative so resoundingly. But Irin Carmon, who has followed this issue for Salon, notes that the liberals had some powerful spokespeople on their side – including a rape survivor who warned about the lack of exceptions for rape and a mother of three, through IVF, who warned about restrictions on the procedure. I suspect that most Mississippi voters, even the ones who oppose abortion rights, could imagine themselves or their loved ones in similar situations – and that, as a result many perceived the ballot measure an assault on their own rights.
Of course, strategists try to polarize the electorate into “us” and “them” all the time. And in my adult lifetime, conservatives have generally been quite good at doing it in ways that will help their favored causes or candidates. That’s what’s so fascinating about these two efforts. Conservatives managed to divide the public – but in a way that put conservatives at a disadvantage. And liberals were able to exploit the situation.
Will the same thing happen nationally? It could.
The whole point of the “other 99 percent” is to draw a line between the very rich, who have been doing so well, and the rest of the country, who have not. If the polls are indicative, the public sees the world in similar terms. Occupy Wall Street isn’t getting 99 percent support, obviously, but it’s consistently getting strong majorities. Obama’s job proposals, meanwhile, have also been popular – by drawing the same sorts of lines, pitting the interests of millionaires (who would pay higher taxes) versus the rest of the country (who would get targeted tax relief and jobs).
Republicans and their conservative allies complain that Obama, Occupy Wall Street, and everybody else talking about inequality is engaging in “class warfare.” They are -- because a class war has been going on for quite a while, with the upper class winning and the other classes losing. The catch, for conservatives, is that the numbers don’t favor them. At the ballot box, they can’t win this fight, polarized in this way, without a lot of help and a lot of money.
They have both, I know. Think Fox News and the Koch brothers. But Tuesday’s results show that it won't always be enough. The outcome of next year’s election will depend, in part, on making sure the debate over domestic policy plays out along the same lines.
Note: Sorry for the long absence. I finally finished that feature story that’s preoccupied me for the last week. Expect blogging as usual this week. But maybe I should think about changing the name of this feature, since it has been neither daily nor on deadline.
Speaking of Mississippi… is there a Bradley effect for abortion at the polls, at least in conservative stats? Pema Levy, also of the American Prospect, makes the case.
On the home front: Joe Nocera thinks the numbers on housing tell a clear story: We’re not going to solve the housing crisis until we start writing down principal. John McDermott of FT Alphaville agrees.
Can Obama fix Head Start? Maybe, but he’s got to do more, says Time’s Kayla Webley.
Hysterical man disrupts congressional town hall. Yes, it’s a familiar scene. But this time the hysterical man was the congressman himself – Joe Walsh. OK, “hysterical” is a bit overstated. But only a bit. Eric Kleefeld has the details.
Video dedication of the day. It’s Ohio, so it’s The National.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons