Tyranny in Wisconsin, Part 4

Charles Lane
Copyright 2011
Sunday, February 20, 2011; 10:41 AM

It has been just over five weeks since a deranged gunman in a Tucson suburb left six people dead and 13 injured, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). In the wake of that horrific tragedy, Americans reflected on -- and argued about -- the possible connection between the violence and today's often nasty, polarized political discourse. President Obama, in a moving eulogy for the fallen, called on all Americans to "pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds." Yet today in Wisconsin, anger and vilification are once again the order of the day -- and the incivility emanates from the progressive end of the spectrum, including, no doubt, many of the same people who blamed right-wing vitriol for creating a climate of violence in Arizona. Union-backed demonstrators, furious at Republican Gov. Scott Walker's plans for reining in public-sector unions, equate him with Hosni Mubarak and Adolf Hitler, in disgusting mimickry of some Tea Party members' inflammatory linkage between Obama and the evil dictators of history. (See Photo no. 10 in this gallery) or Photo 13 in this gallery . Meanwhile, progressive voices in the media fanned the flames, spreading misinformation and outright falsehoods with a zest that would make Glenn Beck blush: Gov. Walker wants to crush unions with the National Guard; he manufactured a budget crisis to justify his attack on unions; he proposed cutting union workers' pay 20 percent. Neutral sources have debunked it all, but as far as I know only Ezra Klein among these tribunes of truth has seen fit to correct the record. And, of course, thousands of teachers have abandoned their classrooms to join a boisterous crowd intimidating and obstructing the elected state legislature in Madison -- in scenes reminiscent of the Tea Party's mobbing of Democrats on Capitol Hill during the health-care debate. This is hypocrisy on an epic scale. I can't think of a more overwhelming refutation of the claim that incivility is the unique province of the American right -- as opposed to what it really is and always has been: a two-way street with both right and left lanes. No wonder so many Americans in the broad center of the political spectrum are turned off by both parties and their sanctimonious "bases." One certified progressive, Joe Klein, has had the courage to make the case against the unions' attempted short-circuiting of democracy, and for Walker's legislation. Klein brilliantly and succinctly describes the conflict between liberal goals such as quality education and apolitical governance on the one hand, and public-sector unionism as currently practiced on the other. But Joe Klein is unusual. Perhaps most disappointing of all is that the president himself, rather than living up to the words he spoke so eloquently in Tuscon, has chosen to fuel the fury on the Great Lakes. He labeled Walker's legislation "an assault on unions," while the White House political operation bused in more demonstrators to join those waving Walker = Hitler placards. These are the words and deeds of a partisan politician, not a national leader. If the brave Gabrielle Giffords could speak normally, what would she say about these events? I hope she would agree with me: This is a sad moment for liberalism, for the Democratic Party, and, really, for the whole country.

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