Sunday June 3, 2012

If American voters are uncomfortable with impeachment proceedings and recall elections they have reason. These actions may be seen as threatening to the cherished stability of American democracy and bring to mind images of unruly mobs in turbulent nations where the leaders du jour hide behind democratic principles while transparently violating them. This is why the extended farce of the 2000 presidential election and its dangling chads shook the nation so severely.

On Tuesday, voters in Wisconsin will vote on whether to recall Republican Governor Scott Walker, who triggered state-wide protests last year when he and the legislative majority curtailed the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers, in favor of Demo cratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Bar rett. Polls indicated that the governor has a slight advantage, and if he triumphs the vote will be interpreted as a referendum on his policies and, because this is a national election year, a referendum on the policies of President Obama. It may also be seen as a referendum on the recall process itself.

The failed attempt to remove President Bill Clinton from office through impeachment blew up in the faces of congressional Republicans, who suffered losses in a 1998 off-year election that was in part a referendum on the impeachment process. The pursuit of a president the GOP had twice lost to at the polls over an affair with a White House intern and a supposed cover-up only served to make Washington Republicans appear politically spiteful.


Advertisement

They would only look worse in the years ahead when special prosecutor Kenneth Starr acknowledged he never should have expanded his probe of Whitewater -- another overhyped controversy -- into the Lewinsky affair, and it emerged that sanctimonious Clinton critic Newt Gingrich, then the House majority leader, was cheating on his wife at the time.

The Walker recall is at least about a legitimate issue -- his attempt to negate the hard-won rights of public workers violated the sense of fairness of many and the unions collected enough signatures to trigger the recall. It is debatable, however, that a duly elected governor should be removed from office because of misguided politics, as opposed to corruption, for example.

Democratic Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was impeached nearly unanimously and is serving a 14-year jail sentence for among other things attempting to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. There is no evidence that Mr. Walker has enriched himself personally, although his campaign has collected large contributions from corporate interests that support his policies.

Walker foes argue that by attempting to fracture the unions his actions were politically motivated because unions traditionally vote Democratic and financially support Democratic candidates. In this sense, they claim, he was willfully disenfranching voters, a legitimate reason for recall. However, those who voted to elect Governor Walker to office can just as legitimately claim that they will be disenfranchised if he is removed from office Tuesday.

Reince Priebus, a Wisconsin native who formerly chaired the Republican National Committee, says a Walker victory will bode ill for President Obama in a state that traditionally goes Democratic in presidential elections but is polling evenly at this point. Mr. Preibus, however, also acknowledges that many Democrats who will presumably back Mr. Obama are uncomfortable with the recall effort. A Walker victory may not tell us much more than that voters don’t like removing office-holders before their terms are up.