It only took one panel discussion at Netroots to reveal just how divided the left is in its narrative over how to handle Wisconsin.
Audience member Lisa Graves from The Center for Media and Democracy’s PRWatch, upset with the panel’s analysis of Obama’s interaction with the Wisconsin recall, called it “astonishing Monday-morning quarterbacking.”
Prior to my attempts to speak with Elizabeth Warren this past Thursday at Netroots, I attended a panel entitled “Talk a Walk, Scott: Post-Mortem of the Wisconsin Recalls.” The (perhaps prematurely titled?) panel was led by Kaili Lambe and included panelists Emily Mills, Josh Orton, and Harry Waisbren.
During the Q&A session, I asked the panelists if they felt abandoned by Obama during the recall fight. Obama had neglected to visit Wisconsin, instead tweeting out a last-minute endorsement of Barrett –despite being just a few miles away in Chicago in the last days of the campaign.
I asked, “Why did Obama abandon you, or do you feel Obama abandoned you, by not showing up [in Wisconsin]?”
Emily Mills responded that she didn’t feel abandoned at all:
I don’t. Me personally, I don’t feel that it was an abandonment. It was a choice of a national democratic party and that campaign and I have no idea why this maybe wasn’t a priority or not. There were people in Wisconsin who expressed real frustration and being upset with that. I honestly think if he had showed up it would have played right into a certain narrative, and not necessarily have been helpful.
Kaili Lambe went even further, saying “I think some of that disappointment was manufactured as well. I didn’t talk to a single person on the ground who was actually upset about it.”
At which point, audience member Lisa Graves, standing in line behind me, abruptly cuts in:
I disagree. It wasn’t manufactured. The fact that Obama tweeted the day before the election his support of Barrett was an insult. Quite frankly took many people who were out there fighting to get the vote out. And quite frankly, we covered it through PR Watch.org, we covered extensively what was happening on the ground. And the apologist sort of approach that’s being taken by some, and the blaming labor when they knocked on doors to get people out, it’s sort of astonishing Monday-morning quarterbacking quite frankly.
A better quality video of the panel is here, my question starts at 1:05:00.
Graves’s comments brought to light the fractures that are growing within the left, which Wisconsin served to make more visible to the rest of us. Politico wrote today that the Wisconsin shadow hung over the entire Netroots conference.
At one point, panelist Waisbren went so far as to state that he viewed what happened in Wisconsin as a victory: ”In the end, we didn’t lose, we won….Walker can’t just do what he wants.” (Though his fellow panelists didn’t feel quite as comfortable with that rosy assessment.) The Huffington Post reported on the same panel:
Fresh off their bruising defeat in Wisconsin’s recall election on Tuesday, grassroots activists blamed the buckets of money that conservative donors spent to keep Gov. Scott Walker in office for their loss and decried the Democratic Party for turning a people-powered movement into a traditional partisan electoral coalition….
…Rifts between the grassroots organizers represented at Netroots Nation and Barrett’s Democratic backers began months before the election during the party’s nomination battle. Barrett refused to promise to veto any budget bill that didn’t restore collective bargaining rights. The friction deepened when he ran on a traditional Democratic Party platform.
So the left is having trouble deciding how to communicate some uncomfortable facts (Walker’s win) and fissures (revealed as a result).
Was Wisconsin a victory or a defeat? Did Barack Obama abandon the grassroots activists or not? And was Barrett abandoning the grassroots also, by embracing the democratic party too closely? If these rifts do all exist, as Thursday’s panel would indicate, that means the grassroots disagrees with the national Democratic party, even as the national party (as represented by Obama) doesn’t want to endorse the state-based candidates. (Remember that snafu over sending funds to Wisconsin?)
If the left’s representatives on this panel at Netroots can’t even agree about Obama’s abandonment, how can they expect to help their Netroots audience out with this “post-mortem?”