There was no shortage of hype, anticipatory analyses and predictions leading up to Tuesdays recall election of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and the post-mortem reflections and divinations after the recalls failure are sure to continue for the foreseeable series of news cycles, if not well into the general election season. Ranging from the power of labor unions, to the notion of public debt, to the political tide in Wisconsin, to the influence of money in elections, Tuesdays recall held for pundits no shortage of opportunities to apply the referendum label on the elections impact. And any one of those interpretations could be true or not.
There is perhaps a kernel of truth to each analysis, perhaps more in some cases, but the range of options suggests a larger truth is in play: In a hyper-partisan political climate, any interpretation has some relevance and any prediction stands as much a chance of coming true as the next.
The attempt to recall Walker resulted from his legislative push to limit collective-bargaining rights for state workers an action he took promptly upon entering office in 2011, enraging unions in the state.
The bill passed the Wisconsin Legislature, but not without fomenting significant division among lawmakers and residents concerned about workers rights, budgetary issues or political process.
Each of these issues persevered through the ensuing recall attempt, and there is no shortage of analysis claiming the election was a referendum on each. Some observers say the recall is endemic of global political unrest and has parallels to the protests that made up the Arab Spring in 2011. Others say it is a sign of voters growing distaste for state budgets bleeding red ink, or that labor unions are becoming less influential and politically relevant.
In the heat of the general election cycle, though, the Wisconsin recall is being picked apart by pundits and political operatives on all sides for signs of what it means for the contest between President Obama and his presumed Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Obama won Wisconsin handily in 2008, when he beat Sen. John McCain by a 17-point margin. By surviving the recall effort, Walker, a Republican, is considered by some to be a bellwether of a new political mood that might not be so friendly to Obama in November.
Conversely, exit polling that shows voters still favor Obama over Romney offers an alternative interpretation that is less scary for Democrats in Wisconsin and across the country.
Perhaps the most hopeful analysis to be taken from Tuesdays failed recall attempt is that voters are not interested in short-circuiting the election process based on a single issue, regardless of the partisan nature of that issue.
Instead, they would rather that the mandate to lead extended to Walker when he was elected play out for better or for worse throughout his term, at which point voters can decide whether he performed adequately. That is how the democratic process should work, and in voting not to sanction the temper tantrum that Walkers position on collective bargaining evoked, voters affirmed that concept.
Whether his collective bargaining legislation was fair or appropriate is a different discussion; the process by which he was slapped for it, it seems, was not.
What that means for Obama, Romney, labor unions, state budgets or the price of tea in China is for anyone and everyone to continue to guess.