The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Yes, Scott Walker really did link terrorists with protesting teachers and other unionists

His spokesman tried to walk it back, and he denied making the comparison, but Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, in an attempt to show just what a tough guy he is, really did say that his strength in taking on protesting union members qualified him for confronting radical Islamic terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State.

Walker, believed to be considering running for president in 2016, was speaking Thursday on the opening day of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Md., where more than a dozen potential GOP candidates are appearing. According to the Associated Press, Walker devoted most of his talk to the issue of international terrorism. This is how Walker responded to a question about how he would handle the Islamic State if he was to become president:

“I want a commander in chief who will do everything in their power to ensure that the threat from radical Islamic terrorists does not wash up on American soil. We will have someone who leads and ultimately will send a message not only that we will protect American soil but do not, do not, take this upon freedom-loving people anywhere else in the world. We need a leader with that kind of confidence.  If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.”

In 2011, Walker pushed through a law, Act 10, that slashed the power of public employee unions to bargain, and cut pay for most public sector workers.  As a special slap to teachers, Walker exempted the unions of police, firefighters and state troopers from the changes in collective bargaining rights but not educators.  Teachers protested for a long time, closing schools for days, but the law passed, and the impact on teachers unions in Wisconsin has been dramatic: according to this piece by my Post colleague Robert Samuels. The state branch of the National Education Association, once 100,000 strong, has seen its membership drop by a third, and the American Federation of Teachers, which organized in the college system, has seen a 50 percent decline.

Here’s the video of these remarks:

As anyone paying attention to the news knows, the Islamic State uses terror in its effort to seize territory in the Middle East, kidnapping foreigners and members of religious minorities, killing them and forcing women to marry its members, beheading prisoners, etc.

The Associated Press quoted Walker spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski as saying after the speech, by way of clarification:

“Gov. Walker believes our fight against ISIS is one of the most important issues our country faces. He was in no way comparing any American citizen to ISIS,” Kukowski said, using one acronym for the Islamic State group. “What the governor was saying was: When faced with adversity he chooses strength and leadership.”

Walker himself denied making a comparison, telling reporters later, according to CNN:

“You all will misconstrue things the way you see fit, but I think it’s pretty clear, that’s the closest thing I have in terms of handling a difficult situation, not that there’s any parallel between the two.

Yet, it’s hard for many not to take Walker’s comments as a reflection of the contempt that he holds for teachers and other unionists who have protested his policies and were instrumental in securing a recall vote in 2012, which he won. Betsy Kippers, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, issued a statement about Walker’s comments on terrorists, saying:

“Committed teachers pour their hearts into our schools every single day. They volunteer at church and in their communities and build a better future for all of us when they teach the children. It’s disgusting that Governor Walker would compare everyday heroes – educators – to international terrorists. It shows the depths he will sink to in order to promote his own self-interest.”

Walker’s comments gave a likely competitor in 2016, former Texas governor Rick Perry, a chance to state the obvious. According to MSNBC, he said:

“These are Americans. You are talking about, in the case of ISIS, people who are beheading individuals and committing heinous crimes, who are the face of evil. To try to make the relationship between them and the unions is inappropriate.”

Walker is on something of a roll: Earlier this month, he submitted a budget proposal that sought to change the century-old mission of the University of Wisconsin system — known as the Wisconsin Idea and embedded in the state code — by removing words that commanded the university to “search for truth” and “improve the human condition” and replacing them with “meet the state’s workforce needs.” He tried to do it quietly, failing to mention it in a budget speech, but was forced to give up on it when the attempt became public and sparked opposition.