Suddenly, all of the nation’s eyes are on Madison, Wisconsin, as a national battle long in the brewing was set off by the sudden reversal of political fortune last fall in the historical home of the “progressive” movement, when Republicans took over the statehouse and governorship. Public employee unions have been the last redoubt of the union movement, with unionized workers less than ten percent of the private work force. They have served to create an unvirtuous cycle of political graft and contribution that has long played a key element in Democrat electoral strategy, one that was crucial to Barack Obama’s winning the White House in 2008 and will be so again next year. And if they lose in this previously most “progressive” of states, others will surely follow, not just in the upper Midwest, but potentially across the country even to leftist bastions like California, whose shores managed to avoid November’s political tsunami.It's certainly a major event, and it's flared up quickly. Fourteen Democratic state senators, using a quorum call in lieu of a filibuster, have decamped to Illinois (one was interviewed from an undisclosed location somewhere in DeKalb), and one of them, elected by a slim margin in a normally Republican district in 2008, is subject to recall.
So the Democrats, including the president, have correctly assessed that if their public-employee union allies lose this battle and are no longer able to demand ever-increasing wages and benefits, and funnel much of them from their (many of them unwilling) members to Democrat campaign coffers, their political fortunes will fall even further from their well-deserved “shellacking” in November. Like the coming loss of seats due to redistricting, this will be an even greater consequence of this election than mere loss of seats, due to its long-term strategic implications. And so concerned are they that they’ve even been willing to let slip the mask of “moderate” and “centrist” from the president to help their minions.
Several historical analogies to this event have been made over the past few days. Some have called it “Greece with snow,” as those receiving state largess have been rioting and protesting over even a slight diminution of it. Others have compared it to recent events in Egypt, which now threaten or promise (depending on one’s point of view of the desirability of the projected outcome) to cause the rest of the region to fall like so many dominoes, releasing a long-pent-up potential energy. It has even been analogized to the Spanish Civil War, a decidedly uncomfortable fit, given that it was a battle that both sides should have lost, from the standpoint of those who favor individual liberty and not various flavors of collectivism.Pajamas’ own Richard Fernandez, in also noting the Egypt analogy, has pointed out similarities with the Battle of Jutland, an “accidental” naval battle in the First World War, accidental in the sense that its location was contingent on an external event and that, while such a clash was inevitable at some point, the location had not been planned by either side. The problem with this analogy is that, while it was the greatest naval engagement of the war, with huge casualties on both sides, it wasn’t really strategically decisive, and ultimately had little influence on the outcome (unless perhaps one wants to counterfactual that the Lusitania somehow wouldn’t have been sunk in its absence, and America not been drawn in to the war).
From that standpoint, I think that a more interesting analogy is Gettysburg.
The dispute between the new Wisconsin governor and the state employee unions might be more politics as usual, or it might be special interests trumping the public interest, and it has Franklin D. Roosevelt turning up in unusual places.
"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."Only two weeks since the Super Bowl, just a week after that basketball game, and those seem so far away.
And if you're the kind of guy who capitalizes "government," woe betide such obstructionists.
Meanwhile, Illinois has just raised a flat tax rate in such a way as to reduce the pay of all state employees, and new state employees have a pension with different provisions than long-term employees.