by Mike Nichols
Norm Sonju is a Texan who has no real connection to Wisconsin other than the fact he used to spend some time in Williams Bay during the summer back when he was a little kid. He's also a Scott Walker supporter who recently sent the governor $1,000.
Saul Halpert is a 90-year-old Californian who used to be a TV reporter in Los Angeles. He has sent two different donations to Tom Barrett that amount to a modest but important $43.
They're just two of the countless Americans — including many who couldn't have told you a year ago if Madison was in Minnesota or Montana — with their eyes trained on our once quiet, demure little state. Walker has already raised an astounding $25 million for his recall campaign. The Democrats have far less money but every bit as much deeply entrenched support.
Halpert says he donated because Wisconsin is a "focal point" and defeating a governor like Walker "would have repercussions all over." Sonju, a former general manager of the Dallas Mavericks, casts the election in big-picture terms as well. He is "very concerned about where we are going financially, the debt we are accumulating."
Walker has become a nationwide symbol of something far bigger than Act 10, which scaled back collective bargaining rights. He has become the center of a historic clash over the size of government and what it means to be a democracy.
Here in the center of the maelstrom most of the debate long ago devolved into simplistic name-calling. Just about everyone and the neighbor they no longer talk to has already decided who to vote for. The race is so close that some guy in an apartment on the outskirts of Howard will probably cast the deciding vote and help change America.
OK, maybe that's going a little too far. It could just as easily be a grandmother in Portage. Or a last-minute voter in Poplar.
The part about America, though, is wholly possible. The Wall Street Journal has written that the upcoming June recall could be "the most important non-presidential election in a decade." There will, regardless of who wins, be an impact on politics and policy and economics nationwide.
It will do much more than that.
The recall election in Wisconsin, he said, "sets the template for the fall campaign." If Walker wins, he predicts, "you'll never see Obama defending unions." And, he suggests, public-sector unions will gradually lose support. "Out of site," he said, "out of mind."
Much to the relief of many conservatives, the recall election could be a tipping point.
It's hard to overstate the significance of the election, no matter which side you're on. The protesters in Madison weren't just fighting for cheap health insurance and cheap pensions. When they chanted, "This is what democracy looks like," they believed it. Says Lichtenstein, "The growth of democracy and the growth of unions were joined at the hip from the 19th century forward."At least one of the conjoined twins, goes the counterargument, would likely be a lot healthier and nimble alone. What we're in the middle of right now is a pivotal, historic debate over whether the most important twin ought to get that chance.