The thousands of protesters demonstrating against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to cut benefits and collective bargaining rights of the state’s public-sector unions (most of them, anyway; there are a couple unions which supported the governor’s election campaign that are exempted. Coincidence? You make the call!) remind some people of a bunch of lazy swine oinking for more, and others of – well, the Tea Party, actually. But it’s hard not to admire the slick brilliance of Republicans in successfully positioning this process as money-grubbing straight from the pockets of ordinary joes like you and me.
To sell this snake oil, Pubs have to use a Jedi mind trick to make you forget that the first thing Gov. Walker did when he took office was to enact a tax cut/abatement package that primarily benefited business and the wealthy (usually they are one and the same). Different groups are arguing back and forth on whether the governor actually inherited a budget surplus a la George W. Bush, but one thing is inarguable: as with his pals in Washington, these tax shenanigans didn’t help fix the balance sheet, they only damaged it further. Yet now he cries “crisis” and blames the shortfall on middle-class public-sector workers. Another wave of the Jedi master’s hand has to obliterate the fact that our national financial calamity was caused by rapacious, under-regulated hotshot investment bankers who sold the world disguised crap, then re-disguised it so well that they actually became able to sell it to each other and pocket the commissions, and finally handed the whole reeking, economy-demolishing, job-killing cleanup tab to all taxpayers, before laying low for a year or so and then resuming business as usual, complete with obscenely gargantuan bonus packages. Nobody went to jail or accepted one iota of blame. (The Bernie Madoff affair is an unrelated issue.) Public-sector union members had nothing to do with Wisconsin’s fiscal “emergency.” Republican-leaning fat cats had everything to do with it. Yet they’re the ones who got the new governor’s tax breaks; as Obi-Wan Kenobi might say, “these aren’t the greedy pigs you’re looking for.”
Sarah Palin bleats – sorry, “tweets” — about “everyone being willing to sacrifice.” But guess what? Union leaders have already said they’d be willing to recommend to their members the governor’s financial proposals, the ones that actually have something to do with the budget, including increasing their pension and health-care contributions as he wants. They’ve already said OK. What the outpouring of protest is about is his plan to strip the unions of most collective bargaining rights, and force them to hold an annual vote on whether they could even remain in existence. This is not fiscal. It’s political. Unions tend to lean Democratic. And with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision basically unfettering direct political contributions by corporations, labor unions may be the last group standing with the collective clout to give you a different story than Big Brother, Inc.’s “official” one. That’s why Pubs want them crushed, and Gov. Walker’s simply the first one to seize the perceived day. His brand of tough talk is about to happen in other states too, and the union members he demonizes are definitely the underdogs in this power struggle. But don’t kid yourself: this isn’t about “sacrifice,” it’s about opportunistically gaming the electoral system.
Here’s the gang which takes an intolerable situation – too many people without health insurance receive expensive treatment in medical crises, which is then paid for through higher premiums by those of us who do have insurance – and tries to make any effort to reform that imbalance sound like socialism. What do they think the current system is? Why aren’t they upset about the “medical welfare state,” the “freeloaders” of the status quo? Once again, you have to hand it to the Pubs: they know how to stir the knee-jerk right-wing cauldron and actually make people believe this stuff. (P.S. to Glenn Beck’s blackboard: although it may sound great on the air, you can’t be a socialist and a fascist at the same time.) In about two weeks we’ll learn whether or not Pubs are actually willing to hold their breath till their faces turn blue, and shut down the government once again. When John Boehner thunders, “So be it,” as if he holds all the cards, it’s an object lesson of what you can do (and refuse to do) by controlling just 1½ branches of government. Imagine what might happen if the Pubs get all three again. Anything they want to happen.
3/10/11: Yesterday, Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate removed collective bargaining rights from most public-sector union members, and achieved the other union-busting measures advocated by Gov. Walker, using a procedural technicality. No Democrats were present for the vote or even notified of it. What the Pubs did was to erase the aspects of Gov. Walker’s bill that related to appropriating funds (thus requiring a quorum), and vote on the rest of it, the parts that damage public-sector unions (with a couple of Walker-friendly exceptions, already noted). In so doing, they have proven for all to see that this was never about the budget, only about destroying unions. One day, Wisconsin’s cops may also realize how little they earn from their paymasters for some very dangerous work…