White House tries backpedaling from Madison protests

Did the Obama administration’s political group help organize union protests in Madison?  It depends on whom you ask … and when.  Early on, the White House seemed proud of those connections.  Doug Ross, for instance, captured this tweet from DNC communication director Bob Woodhouse on February 17th, when Woodhouse “proudly” retweeted a Politico article linking the White House to the protests:

Proudly RT @evale72: RT @woodhouseb@BarackObama‘s pol arm DNC/OFA playing role in WI protests:http://politi.co/eVVkyR @evale72 // yup!!!

OFA is, of course, Organizing for America, which used to be Obama’s political campaign organization, whose transformation into OFA was announced by Obama himself three days before his inauguration.  It now runs under the auspices of the DNC.  The Washington Post reported on the 18th that Obama “thrust himself” into Madison through his “political operation”:

President Obama thrust himself and his political operation this week into Wisconsin’s broiling budget battle, mobilizing opposition Thursday to a Republican bill that would curb public-worker benefits and planning similar protests in other state capitals.

Obama accused Scott Walker, the state’s new Republican governor, of unleashing an “assault” on unions in pushing emergency legislation that would change future collective-bargaining agreements that affect most public employees, including teachers.

The president’s political machine worked in close coordination Thursday with state and national union officials to get thousands of protesters to gather in Madison and to plan similar demonstrations in other state capitals.

Their efforts began to spread, as thousands of labor supporters turned out for a hearing in Columbus, Ohio, to protest a measure from Gov. John Kasich (R) that would cut collective-bargaining rights.

We’ll come back to Ohio momentarily.  Since Friday, the White House has attempted to disconnect itself from the Madison protests, notes J. P. Freire of the Washington Examiner:

White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer is claiming that “This is a Wisconsin story, not a Washington one,” contradicting the Washington Post’s reporting that the president and his political apparatus has gotten deeply involved in the effort. But Pfeiffer fails to acknowledge that unions, particularly in the public sector, and President Obama’s apparatus are the same thing, having worked to get out the vote for Democrats for years. …

The eagerness to claim credit, apparently, has wound up being an obstacle to the whole grassroots narrative. But even the claim that AFSCME, the AFL-CIO, or even the SEIU, are representative of some kind of grassroots movement denies everything we know about unions. First is their political access: Then-SEIU president Andy Stern not only served on the president’s deficit commission, he was also the top visitor to the White House in 2009, the first year Obama was in office. Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO’s head boss, is on tape saying that he talks to someone at the White House every day.

There’s a word for this, and it’s not “grassroots.”

No, it’s beginning to look like a nationwide campaign, but it is interesting to see the White House suddenly backpedaling.  The AFL-CIO and NEA sponsored a poll that purportedly shows Walker and the GOP losing this PR battle in Wisconsin, but if that were truly the case, then the White House would hardly launch a belated effort to wipe its fingerprints off of the union protests.

Meanwhile, back in Ohio, Governor John Kasich has a message for the union activists looking to challenge his own efforts. Last night on Fox, Kasich explained why cities and counties need to have more leeway in dealing with public-sector costs, and pointed to one of his own cities as an example of what happens when those costs go uncontrolled:

You may not be able to cut your way to prosperity, but you can sure spend your way into bankruptcy and recession, as Ohio has learned the hard way.