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John Nichols on the Fight to Recall Extremist Gov. Scott Walker: It's Money-Power vs. People-Power

What to watch for in next week's historic recall elections.

Photo Credit: Suzanne Tucker /


John Nichols, a longtime columnist for the  Nation and associate editor of the Madison Capitol Times , has chronicled the dramatic fight for the future of Wisconsin over the past two years in his book, The Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest from Madison to Wall Street . With all eyes on next week's attempt to recall bought-and-paid-for governor Scott Walker – and four Republican state senators – Nichols appeared on last Sunday's AlterNet Radio Hour to give us the latest developments. 

Below is a lightly edited transcript of our interview. (You can also listen to the whole show here.)

Joshua Holland: John, let’s put this effort in context. The uprising in Wisconsin was a little more than a year ago. While some on the right condemned it as an assault on democracy, in your book you argue that it was in keeping with the best traditions of America. Can you unpack that for us a little bit?

John Nichols: Sure I’ll do my best. The founders of the American experiment, who were certainly imperfect men but they got a lot about how you create a democratic republic – they were very conscious of the fact that the most dangerous thing for America would be a sense that elections were it-- that the scheduling and holding of elections would end the democratic responsibility. The thing that Jefferson and Madison spoke a lot about, especially at the time of the drafting of the Constitution, was the notion that it would be terribly dangerous if Americans came to think of the presidency as an elected monarch. If they began to think the elections were for the purpose of creating a king for four years.

This is a deeply rooted, American concept. Unfortunately in recent decades we’ve lost sight of it. It isn’t that we haven’t had protests; it isn’t that we haven’t had political pressure, but I think especially on the left there has been a sense that a lot of problems will be solved by reports or that a divided government will prevent horrible things from happening. Maybe there was some truth to that, but that era is gone. It is now possible to have one party take dominant control of the government in a state, or perhaps even the nation, that is so overwhelming that if people don’t go back to the streets and use their right to assemble and petition for the redress of grievances -- and do so aggressively with the purpose of influencing the processes of government -- they’re going to be ceding their ability to check and balance elected officials for lengthy periods of time, and they will fall into the trap that Jefferson referred to.

JH: Scott Walker came into office and he claimed that these were emergency measures designed to address the budget, even though stripping union members of their rights to collectively bargain had no impact on the budget. If you look at some of the states with the worst budgetary pictures, they have already stripped their public workers of that right. We saw a number of Democratic senators flee the state in order to try to block this legislation, and I can’t really recall another time when Democrats took such bold action to stand with working people. It was really refreshing, wasn’t it?

JN: It was incredibly refreshing. The joke we tell in Wisconsin is that the demonstrations were so substantial, so significant that they caused something unprecedented in modern American history to occur: Democrats became Democrats. It’s true!

JH: Sad but true.

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