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First Thoughts: Upside down

How the protests in Wisconsin have turned the political rhetoric upside down from one year ago… The physics of American politics: For every action (like the one in WI), there’s an equal and opposite reaction… How Walker’s showdown is high risk and high reward… Walker, Wisconsin Ranger… Palin appears to have more traction with the media than Iowa activists… And Obama to deliver a speech in Oregon at 2:35 pm ET.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Upside down: Anyone else noticed how the political protests in Wisconsin -- as well as the game of hide and seek there -- have turned the political rhetoric upside down? A year ago, during the health-care fight in Washington, Democrats maintained that elections have consequences. Now it’s the Republicans in power in Wisconsin (and elsewhere) who are saying this. A year ago, Republicans complained of partisan legislation being quickly crammed through the system (though that process took an entire year), and now it’s Democrats who are voicing this complaint in Wisconsin. And a year ago, Republicans used every parliamentary trick in the book (cloture, votes up until Christmas Eve) to stop or slow down the health-care legislation. Now we’re seeing the Democrats use what’s at their disposal (like fleeing to Illinois to deny a quorum) to stop or slow down the legislation in Wisconsin. Bottom line: Those in political power do every thing they can to pass their priorities, and those out of power do every thing they can to stop them.

*** The physics of American politics: The situation in Wisconsin is also another reminder that Newton's third law of motion -- for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction -- applies to American politics. When George W. Bush, after winning re-election, tried to partially privatize Social Security in early 2005, he woke up a despondent Democratic base. When Barack Obama, at the height of his popularity, decided to take on health care, the Tea Party and an energized GOP rose to combat it. And now the physics of politics is playing out in Wisconsin, where Democrats and organized labor are resisting new Gov. Scott Walker's (R) effort to strip state workers of their collective bargaining rights. The question to ponder in Wisconsin -- as well as in the battlegrounds of Ohio and Florida, or in the Capitol Hill fight over Planned Parenthood -- is whether these combative efforts end up energizing Democrats as we head into 2012. After all, there is probably not a more unifying force than being out of power.

*** High risk, high reward: You knew a state budget showdown in the states was coming. It’s just surprising that this showdown is taking place in Wisconsin, a state Obama won in 2008 with 56% of the vote (though Kerry barely won it in 2004, and the state has had a slew of GOP governors). It’s a highly educated, fairly unionized state that was a birthplace of American progressivism (“Fighting Bob” La Follette, anyone?). So this is a high-risk, high-reward move for Walker and the Republicans. If they’re successful in Wisconsin, they can certainly be successful elsewhere. (As Greg Sargent puts it, “If labor loses after staking so much on this battle, other state governments may feel emboldened about forging forward with their own efforts to weaken municipal unions.”) Then again, as we mentioned above, they could be waking up a sleeping giant heading into next year’s presidential contest. Remember, it was less than a month ago when Obama traveled to Wisconsin after his State of the Union address to shore up his base there.

*** Walker, Wisconsin Ranger: The other surprising part of this showdown is that it's taking place so early in Walker's term, and so early in the legislative session. This isn't over cuts or pay -- folks are missing the point on this front. The Democratic state senators fled over the attempt to strip collective bargaining rights. And what's odd about this showdown is that one would assume this THREAT over stripping collective bargaining would have been used to get the cuts he wanted and the pension contributions that he needed for his budget. But he's going for the jugular all at once. It sets a tone for Walker for his entire four years, and sets a polarizing tone for the state politically for 2012. And it could make it hard for Walker to get much done after this showdown. But politically, it will make him a hero of the right, particularly anti-union activists.

*** Palin has more traction with the media than with Iowa activists: Yesterday, Sarah Palin delivered a speech in Long Island that generated a fair amount of media attention, especially as it relates to 2012. When asked whom she might back if she doesn’t run, Palin said, per NBC’s Catherine Chomiak: “I would look for is somebody who is, let’s start off with, a woman, a mom, somebody who's administered locally, state, interstate, with energy issues, so maybe a mayor, a governor, an oil commissioner, maybe someone who's already run for vice president.” (Hmmm, who would that be?) But as the Washington Post’s Dan Balz writes today, she appears to have more traction with the media than with actual Iowa activists, a conservative group that C.W. folks believe should be a natural base for Palin. Covering a focus group of these activists, Balz said, “Palin has a reservoir of goodwill but must overcome real obstacles. Georgia Vincent, an office manager, admires Palin but doesn't see her as presidential. ‘I have tremendous respect for her, but I don't think that the presidency is where her talents could be best used,’ she said.”

*** Obama on the West Coast: At 2:35 pm ET, President Obama delivers another “winning the future” speech at Intel in Hillsboro, OR. Per the White House, Obama “will tour the world’s most advanced semiconductor manufacturing facility with Intel CEO Paul Otellini,” who was named to the White House’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.  

Countdown Chicago’s mayoral election: 4 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 263 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 353 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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