Left-Wing Protests in Wisconsin: Full of High Hopes and 'Positive Energy' for 2012

Times reporters are determined to wring victory out of the defeat by public-sector unions in Wisconsin, celebrating the filibustering Democratic politicians returning as "folk heroes" and the "positive energy" at the defeat rally (never mind those "dead man" chalk outlines with Gov. Walker's name). It's not quite how the paper portrayed Obama's health-care win that turned into crushing electoral defeat in 2010.
The New York Times over the weekend was still insisting the defeat of public-sector unions in Wisconsin actually heralds the revival of the Democratic Party.

Saturday's "Political Memo" teamed tea-party beat reporter Kate Zernike (pictured below) with Monica Davey for "Democrats See Wisconsin Loss As Galvanizing." It came on the heels of Friday's pro-union coverage, including "In Wisconsin Battle on Unions, State Democrats See a Big Gift."

Even as the Republican governor of Wisconsin was signing a bill Friday that all but ended collective bargaining for state employees, Democrats nationally had put out advertisements and letters to use his own success against him.

In a push to raise money for their candidates, Democrats hope Wisconsin will be for them what the health care overhaul was for Republicans in last year's midterm elections: a galvanizing force for their base, and an example of overreaching that will win them crucial independent voters, not just in Wisconsin but also in Congressional races and the presidential election next year.

That's not exactly how the Times covered the passage of Obama-care. Adam Nagourney's front-page "political memo" of March 23, 2010, "For G.O.P., United Stand Has Drawbacks, Too," strongly suggesting Republicans could pay a political price for opposing Obama-care. (Oops.)

Zernike and Davey continued:

Polls and the impassioned crowds who have jeered Mr. Walker and the Republican-led Legislature outside the Capitol in Madison, Wis., offer some evidence to lift Democrats' hopes.

But for all the trumpeting of how Mr. Walker's bill has awakened a sleeping giant of once-dispirited Democrats and union members, it will undeniably weaken labor, historically a key voting bloc for the party. And even some Democrats say that whatever the energy now, that will hurt the party long term.

(Some of that "trumpeting" came from Times reporter Michael Shear in a Friday nytimes.com post: "But Mr. Walker, by sparking the Wisconsin fight over collective bargaining, may have awoken the sleeping giant, not only in his state, but across the nation.")

The Times portrayed Republicans as nervous in victory:

Still, reactions among Republicans suggest that they, too, recognize that their party might suffer, given national polls showing that most Americans support collective bargaining rights. While fights over the cost of public workers and collective bargaining have emerged in a number of states, some Republican governors appear to be drawing careful distinctions between their own plans and Mr. Walker's.


But the level of dissatisfaction that has greeted Mr. Walker's moves might also spread to other states. "They object to what he's doing even though he's cutting taxes," Mr. Malloy said. "Think about that - it's extraordinary."

An issue in Wisconsin or Iowa might seem unlikely to resonate in a Congressional race in California or Connecticut 18 months from now. But Democrats argue that the recall campaign against Republicans in Wisconsin would keep the issue alive.

Zernike and Davey let Democrats quickly rebut every "extremist" point Walker and his allies made:

Mr. Walker has said the entire episode in Wisconsin would be forgotten by most people once the state budget was balanced and new jobs had arrived, but Ms. Greenberg said the way Republicans forced the vote would turn off independent voters.

"We've had three change elections in a row, and in every instance, people would say what we want is for politicians to come together and get something done," she said, adding that Mr. Walker was "dealing with this in a way that has really inflamed people, and Wisconsin has become symbolic."

Mr. Jordan agreed. "Independents are the most sensitive to overreach and ideological extremism," he said.

Reporter A.G. Sulzberger contributed to the festivities on Sunday by covering the "tractor brigade" of farmers celebrating the runaway Democrats as "folk heroes," in "For Absent Lawmakers, A Hero's Homecoming - Wisconsin Legislators Return From Hiding."

They are the unlikeliest of folk heroes.

But this group of once-obscure lawmakers - a dairy farmer, a lawyer and a woman who is seven months pregnant, among others - that fled this capital nearly a month ago, returned Saturday to the cheers of tens of thousands who once again packed the streets in protest.

Many in the crowd wore buttons or held signs bearing admiring nicknames for the group: the "Fighting 14," the "Fab 14" or, simply, "the Wisconsin 14." They chanted, "Thank you" and "Welcome home."


The size of the crowd, which the Madison police estimated at around 100,000, and the amount of positive energy was striking, coming a day after the long battle over the bill was lost, though legal efforts were under way to keep it from taking effect.

For weeks the rhythmic chanting of protesters has filled this city like a heartbeat, proof that despite the lack of legislative power, the political left in this state is still a visible, and audible, presence. At the very moment that the noise was expected to fade in disappointment, that thumping proof of life - the staccato refrain of "This is what democracy looks like," was the most popular of the chants - continued with renewed vigor.

Some of the "positive energy" missed by the Times: Chalk outlines, the kind drawn at murder scenes, with Gov. Walker's name on them. Time magazine reported, oh so neutrally, on Saturday:

The state capitol of Wisconsin had taken on an eerie quiet on Friday. Gone were the throngs of protesters who occupied its marble floors like a campground in summer. The midnight honking of cars circling the white building had ceased. The chalk "dead man" outlines etched with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's name on the sidewalks remained in dismembered parts, incompletely washed away by clean-up hoses.

There was even a picture of some benign "chalk art" in a photo accompanying Sulzberger's story, but no reference to the "dead man" chalk outlines of Walker. Hard to imagine the Times ignoring a similar stunt at a Tea Party rally.