You Never Can Tell

Mar 16, 2011

The governor’s made some decisions that are wildly unpopular. Unions are upset. Taxpayers are upset. His own party isn’t too sure he is right.

Behind closed doors, leaders of the opposition party are rubbing their hands in glee. They think they know a one-term governor when they see one.

That’s what’s going on right now in Wisconsin, to be sure, and also, to a lesser extent, in Lansing. Democrats are convinced that if Governor Snyder indeed manages to tax pensions, cut education, and end the Earned Income Tax Credit, he’ll be toast.

Well, maybe. But also, maybe not.  One of my more sensitive students asked me this touching question recently: “Isn’t it a drag being old?”  To which I said, “no, not really.”

To which he said, “why?”

What I wanted to say was something like, “because we Baby Boomers and Generation Xers have sucked up all the the available jobs, that’s why, and most of us aren’t leaving anytime soon.

“Which means you can look forward after graduation to fifteen years as a Wal-Mart associate.” I didn’t say that, because I am a mature adult.  So I said I didn’t mind being old, because ... being old means you know stuff. And one thing I know is that politics is sort of like the weather. If you don’t like the way things are going now, wait ten minutes, or maybe ten months.

Twenty-eight years ago, we had another economic crisis and a new governor named James Blanchard temporarily raised taxes through the roof.  Well, he was widely regarded as politically dead, especially after voters recalled two state senators.

But guess what. The tax hike worked; the budget got balanced; the economy picked up, and Blanchard was re-elected by an astonishing margin of more than two to one. That wasn’t all that surprising. Two years before Blanchard’s tax hike, we had a president who angered organized labor big-time by firing every striking member of the Air Traffic Controllers union in the country. If you thought the unions are mad at the governor now, you weren’t alive back then. But three years later, many union members voted to re-elect Ronald Reagan.

Eight years later, we had a new Republican governor who began doing controversial and unpopular things. He closed clinics and mental health facilities and chopped benefits. There was an uproar almost like the one now.

But the next election was a long time away. When it came, John Engler was reelected by a huge landslide, getting more than sixty percent of the vote against a respected former congressman.

Now it’s possible things will be different this time. If  Snyder gets his budget passed, and the economy doesn’t turn around relatively soon, he and the Republicans could be in deep trouble. But his next election is more than three and half years away.

Michigan also seems to like divided government. We voted for Republican presidents and Democratic governors throughout the 1980s. We voted for Democratic presidents and Republican governors throughout the 1990s. In politics, it ain’t over till it’s over, and there really are no final victories. Those out of power should be a little cautious about measuring the drapes for their expected return.