Now that baseball season is upon us, you usually find the best hitters are not the ones who always swing for the fences, but those who can consistently get on base with singles and doubles. As is true in baseball, so too in politics.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker certainly swung for the fences with his Budget Act bill which took away most collective bargaining rights for the state’s public employees back in February. Walker’s bold step was predicated on reducing state spending with a lower-paid public workforce while also taking a rival force out of state politics altogether. Now we’re in April and the result of his action was to galvanize and unite what was a dispirited and divided opposition; cause massive demonstrations at the state capitol; cause the recall election of at least two Republican state senators (although there are Democrats who are being recalled as well), which could put their majority in jeopardy before the year is out; the law itself is held up in court, owing to the dubious way it was passed; it caused the loss of conservative county board executive candidates in Dane, Outagamie (Joe McCarthy’s old stomping grounds) and Walker’s former post in Milwaukee County and turned what was supposed to be a routine state Supreme Court election, where incumbent justices rarely lose, into an electoral cliff-hanger that’s now turned into a farce, with voting fraud allegations being turned right back on conservatives.
Last week’s Congressional hearings showed Walker is a polarizing figure. Some people prefer our politics to be polarizing, but had Walker not written in anything about collective bargaining in the Budget Act, his conservative reform agenda would be sailing quickly through the state legislature, his approval rating would be much higher, and the Republicans’ majority in the state house would be less threatened. But Walker swung for the fences instead of getting the easy base hit. Now he’s down to his last strike.
Likewise in Washington D.C., fellow Wisconsinite Paul Ryan swung for the fences with an ambitious budget outline with a proposal to privatize Medicare. Unfortunately the plan is complex and requires an un-conservative government handout (which is what a voucher is). The amount of explanation it requires will rival the Obama healthcare plan, meaning it’s akin to a hanging curve ball for the Democrats to take swings at. This is why many Republicans on the presidential campaign trail are reluctant to give their support and why many GOP pollsters fret it could sink the party’s chances to retain control of the House of Representatives.
Had Rep. Ryan gone for an easier base hit, like making entitlements like means testing Medicare and Social Security, he probably would have more enthusiastic support, perhaps even bipartisan support. Now he has to defend a plan Obama and the Democrats are united in running against, all because he swung for the fences with his proposal. A swing and a miss.