Monday, February 21, 2011

Elections Have Consequences -
Wisconsin Heart of Darkness Edition

Wisconsin Favorite Sons
Cannibals Jeffrey Dahmer and Eddie Gein

Memeorandum informs us the Madison, Wisconsin protest story crested the Yossarian* threshold and is now a mandatory post for all political bloggers.

Full Disclosure: Your loyal blogger has a few issues with the state of Wisconsin. I have driven the full length of the state more times than I care to remember, as there is no choice when transiting from Chicago to our family lake-side cottage in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Wisconsin produces little that is edible with deep-fried cheese curds the epitome of state cuisine, is responsible for foisting tasteless macro-brewed beers out of Milwaukee on the rest of the nation, is best known as the premier breeding ground of world-class serial killers (Eddie Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer being two examples of note), experiences periodic outbreaks of widespread community madness (Black River Falls), famously re-enacts the Vietnam war during deer season (with real bullets), and not coincidentally - is the home of the Green Bay Packers. Yes I am still bitter about the NFC Championship game. But I digress...

Having won the Wisconsin gubernatorial election in November, Republican Governor Scott Walker set out to do exactly what he said he would do as a candidate. This outraged many Democrats and liberals both in and out of the state, who apparently believe he should govern more like the Democrat who lost.

A few days ago Rachel Maddow sounded the liberal alarm and, as is often the case, her clarion call is the clearest articulation of the progressive case. We learn from Rachel that nothing less than the entire future of the Democratic Party is at stake in Madison, Wisconsin. Recall that the Democratic Party was characterized as a juggernaut only two short years ago, riding an unstoppable permanent demographic realignment over Republican Party roadkill with an open highway of political dominance rolling out before them. Yet now, suddenly and inexplicably the Democratic Party is facing political extinction in Madison, Wisconsin:

There is a downside to being crystal clear in your argument. You can be shown to be clearly wrong. Such is the case with the first claim of Maddow's case, that the state fiscal problems were all ginned up by the new governor. Politifact reports she clearly got her facts wrong:
"There is fierce debate over the approach Walker took to address the short-term budget deficit. But there should be no debate on whether or not there is a shortfall. While not historically large, the shortfall in the current budget needed to be addressed in some fashion. Walker’s tax cuts will boost the size of the projected deficit in the next budget, but they’re not part of this problem and did not create it. We rate Maddow’s take False."
The rest of Maddow's argument - that this is really all about money flow to Democratic Party - has merit. In fact, the right and left completely agree on this point. John Fund via Da Tech Guy:

'Labor historian Fred Siegel offers further reasons why unions are manning the barricades. Mr. Walker would require that public-employee unions be recertified annually by a majority vote of all their members, not merely by a majority of those that choose to cast ballots. In addition, he would end the government’s practice of automatically deducting union dues from employee paychecks. For Wisconsin teachers, union dues total between $700 and $1,000 a year'

This is what this is all about, nothing else, that’s why the biggest guns in the democratic party are fighting this fight. They know those dues will end up funding their campaigns, if they lose this fight here it’s all over..."
Isn't it great when the right and left, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives can come together, be of one mind and agree on the facts? Krugman echoes Maddow's thoughts, saying this is all about power for Republicans, yet with a partisan blind spot as big as Wisconsin, he fails to notice that this is also all about power for Democrats. And no - this is not a "false equivalency". This is as equivalent as it gets.

Democrats believe that Republican politicians are the beneficiaries of corporate largess and consequently vote taxpayer funds into profits for private contractors, "public-private" partnerships, and contracts for unnecessary weapon systems, with the expectation that portions of said profits are funneled back into supporting Republican campaigns. Republicans believe that Democrats continually increase spending on the size of the public sector and legislate union-friendly rules in order to increase the base of forced dues payed into union coffers which in turn funnel money back into supporting Democratic campaigns. They're both right. May the circle be unbroken. Kumbayah.

This is one reason (among many) why The Dividist is so adamant that neither party can ever be trusted with all the keys to the castle. Ever. Without exception. Regardless of individual candidates. But I digress...

Meanwhile, back in Madison, the public sector unions have again organized protests at the steps of the capitol to exercise their Democratic right to shut down the Democratic process and subvert the Democratically expressed wishes of the Wisconsin electorate, in order to be sure that the money flow to the Democratic Party is not interrupted.

The irony was not lost on Joe Klein:
"An election was held in Wisconsin last November. The Republicans won. In a democracy, there are consequences to elections and no one, not even the public employees unions, are exempt from that. There are no guarantees that labor contracts, including contracts governing the most basic rights of unions, can't be renegotiated, or terminated for that matter. We hold elections to decide those basic parameters. And it seems to me that Governor Scott Walker's basic requests are modest ones--asking public employees to contribute more to their pension and health care plans, though still far less than most private sector employees do. He is also trying to limit the unions' abilities to negotiate work rules--and this is crucial when it comes to the more efficient operation of government in a difficult time...

Public employees unions are an interesting hybrid. Industrial unions are organized against the might and greed of ownership. Public employees unions are organized against the might and greed... of the public?

The events in Wisconsin are a rebalancing of power that, after decades of flush times and lax negotiating, had become imbalanced. That is also something that, from time to time, happens in a democracy."
Patrick McIlheran finds support for the Governor from a surprising historical source:
"Roosevelt's reign certainly was the bright dawn of modern unionism. The legal and administrative paths that led to 35% of the nation's workforce eventually unionizing by a mid-1950s peak were laid by Roosevelt. But only for the private sector. Roosevelt openly opposed bargaining rights for government unions. "The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service," Roosevelt wrote in 1937 to the National Federation of Federal Employees. Yes, public workers may demand fair treatment, wrote Roosevelt. But, he wrote, "I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place" in the public sector. "A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government."
As Klein notes, the politics of power has a way of balancing itself out. The media and Democrats exclusive focus on the union power-play fight over the union give-backs in the "Scott Walker Budget Repair Bill", have allowed some of the possibly more egregious issues buried in this bill to remain relatively unnoticed. As with Democrats in 2009, the seeds of destruction for the resurgent Wisconsin Republicans are being planted now in 2011. Perhaps in this very bill.

I think the Democrats and unions are seriously misreading the temperament of the Wisconsin voters who just elected this Republican governor and legislature. Particularly when Democrats talk about initiating recall campaigns for Wisconsin Republican politicians. As noted above, Wisconsin does have a history of madness and a long standing tradition of eating their own, but this recall campaign is truly delusional, and likely to backfire on Democrats in a big way. Who is more likely to get recalled? Republicans doing what they were elected to do four months ago? Or Wisconsin Democratic legislators shirking their responsibilities and hiding out in Illinois motels?

Well, Democrats are always welcomed in Chicago. Maybe the Wisconsin legislators should stay in their Illinois hideouts. They may find that they will be more welcomed in the President's old Cook County stomping grounds than back in their home districts.

*Paraphrasing Joseph Heller's famous protagonist from Catch 22 - "What if everyone was blogging about about the Wisconsin protests?" I can only respond as did Bomber Pilot John Yossarian: "Then I'd be a damn fool not to".

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.


Tully said...

FDR nailed the problem with public-sector unions long ago. They pit the unions against the will of the people. He was firmly against them.

Reagan saw the trap as well, and took down PATCO.

The pushback against the new GOP majorities will not come from their actions on unions. It will come from their "success" at pushing social issues like abortion restrictions.

If I were a Wisconsin parent who had to take days off or scramble to find day care because of the de facto wildcat strike of the last week, I would be finding a lawyer who loves class action filings.

mw said...

yeah - it is hard to rationalize why those on taxpayer paid salaries should have the ability to hold taxpayers hostage to funnel more taxpayer money into unions that in turn pay politicians with that taxpayer money to get them to vote for more taxpayer money to be paid for more taxpayer paid employees.

From the coverage, it is still not clear to me how the people outside of Madison feel about what is going on in Madison. Madison is like Berkeley here in CA, a big college town and quite a bit further left than the rest of the state. Or, it would be if Berkeley, if Berkeley was the capitol of the state. Thank God for small favors.

I find it hard to believe that the rest of the state did not know what they were voting for in Walker. His track record was clear. It'll be interesting to see what kind of support he gets in the state.

Tully said...

His track record was VERY clear -- he was fighting these fiscal battles as Milwaukee county supervisor for a decade, and never at any time hesitated to be clear about what he was doing. Without him Milwaukee would have been completely bankrupt a few years back.