Now that Scott Walker has decisively won Wisconsin’s recall election, I wonder if we’ll be hearing any expressions of remorse for the smears, false rumors and general vilification that his opponents have hurled at him over the last year and a half.
Will there be apologies from those who toted posters depicting him as Hitler? Any second thoughts from, say, Conor Oberst, the leader of Bright Eyes, the indie rock band, who called Walker a “fucking Nazi,” and urged his audience to “every day egg his fucking house.”
I would like to ask Gerald McEntee, the leader of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, if it was a bit excessive to call Walker’s budget reforms “an attack on the freedoms of every Wisconsin citizen”?
Now that Walker has been freely and peacefully elected — again — does Harold Meyerson regret writing that Walker’s policies represented “a throwback to 19th-century America, when strikes were suppressed by force of arms. Or, come to think of it, to Mubarak's Egypt or communist Poland and East Germany.” How about Katrina vanden Heuvel? She, too, pushed the Cairo analogy, asserting that the fight in Wisconsin was “about basic democratic rights and the balance of power in America.”
This rhetoric wasn’t just hyperbolic. It was strategically suicidal. The unions and their various apologists whipped progressive Wisconsin into such a frenzy — falsely claiming, for example, that Walker was about to unleash the National Guard — that the anti-Walker forces could no longer perceive political reality.
Even after they lost a crucial state supreme court election in early 2011, Walker’s foes persisted in state legislature recall elections, also futile, that summer. Still not getting the message, they went ahead with the recall of Walker, and lost, yet again. Now it’s hard to see how the state Democrats can recover in time for the 2012 general election, or even the next gubernatorial race in 2014.
It turns out that noisy demonstrations, swollen by such people’s tribunes as the University of Wisconsin teaching assistants union, do not represent public opinion in the state as a whole. The purported tyrant of Madison actually enjoyed the support of a solid majority of Wisconsinites — just as he did in November 2010, when he was first elected. The unions’ claim to represent the “people” and the “middle class” stands exposed as propaganda. Even a third of voters who live in union-member households backed Walker.
But Walker bought the election with corporate money from out of state! Of all the excuses being offered today, this is the most pathetic. Of course Walker exploited existing state campaign-finance law to raise as much money as possible wherever he could. What the heck did his opponents expect him to do? Unilaterally disarm?
The unions and Wisconsin Democrats knew the rules. If they didn’t want Walker to bring a financial gun to their knife fight, they shouldn’t have started it in the first place.
But Walker’s critics were right about one thing: democracy was at issue in this struggle. What they got wrong is which side was actually upholding democratic values.
Collective bargaining is appropriate in the private sector, where the market acts as a check on unsustainable pay and benefits.
But in the public sector, where government faces no competition, and can levy taxes to pay for labor contracts, collective bargaining is inherently undemocratic.
Union money and manpower confer political clout, which unions use to, in effect, elect their own bosses. Behind closed doors, they then decide how much the public will have to pay for education, transportation, and other services. They call it “collective bargaining,” but the unions are represented on both sides of the table.
Walker’s reforms ended that. Now, elected officials across the state can actually set work rules and pay rates with their constituents’ interests as the clear top priority.
In short, government in Wisconsin is now not only sounder fiscally than it was pre-Walker, but also more accountable and transparent. Politicians can use resources for parks, libraries, schools and roads instead of perks for politically connected unions.
The progressives who are mourning Walker’s win should be celebrating instead.