The circumstantial credibility of recalls

THE CIRCUMSTANTIAL CREDIBILITY OF RECALLS…. Greg Sargent noted this afternoon that he’s heard from conservative readers, outraged at the prospect of recall elections targeting Republicans in Wisconsin. The argument from the right is straightforward enough: these GOP officials were legitimately elected, so trying to recall them a few months later, punishing them for doing what they think is right, is unjust.

Except, as Greg explained, that’s only part of a larger whole.

Walker and the Republicans were elected to do what they think, or claim to think, is the right thing for the state. They are forging ahead with their agenda even though Wisconsinites are voicing strong opposition to it. Fine. The very same democratic system that allows them to do this also provides for voters to declare buyer’s remorse and toss them out of office before their terms are up.

If what Walker and Republicans did is a sufficient turnoff to voters that the required number sign on for recall elections, and if those voters then replace these Republicans with Democrats, it will have been every bit as democratic as their election in the first place. In Wisconsin, recalls are democratic.

Agreed. The law allows for Wisconsin voters to elect officials to act in their name, and the same law allows the same voters to call those officials back if they go too far.

At a certain level, I can understand discomfort with recall elections, at least in a general sense. The principle the right is espousing here is not, on its face, ridiculous: voters made a choice, and the results are the results. There will be another election in a couple of years, at which point voters can make another choice and produce different results. Recalls, open to abuse, short-circuit a legitimate process.

That’s one side of it. The other side is that some states have a recall mechanism precisely to avoid the mess Gov. Scott Walker (R) created in Wisconsin. He’s pushing an agenda voters didn’t know he’d pursue, gutting hard-earned rights against popular will.

As Jon Chait noted last week, “The recall is an easily abused process. But this is exactly the kind of thing it’s made for — a party trying to advance a highly unpopular policy change that it did not campaign on.”

If the electorate disagrees and prefers to keep the status quo in place, that option doesn’t disappear — a recall election is still an election, not an expulsion, and voters can choose to keep officials right where they are.

If this makes Republicans and their backers uncomfortable, perhaps they should have considered this possibility two months ago.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.