Class War in Wisconsin

SUBHEAD: The elites see the power and money of public-employee unions was the reason they don't control most state governments.  

By the Editorial Staff on 24 February 2011 for Esquire -

Image above: protesters camping out in Wisconsin's State House. From original article.

Usually, unless you happen to be one of the fifty-odd people with whom David Brooks customarily eats dinner, throws back a few, or gobbles the free snacks in Jim Lehrer's greenroom, reading one of his columns from the position of a normal, everyday, wage-earning human being gives you the inescapable feeling of being a bug, looking, upwards and backwards through the magnifying glass, at a giant eyeball.

No columnist is as obviously convinced that everybody on earth is a specimen in his jar. No columnist is as utterly contemptuous of his fellow Americans if they don't stay pinned right there on the card where they belong. His self-importance is that of a two-bit grifter, looking to sponge the loose change somebody might have left as a tip at Applebee's.

We had something of a masterpiece of the form this week when Brooks bestirred himself to write about the current goings-on in Wisconsin, where they elected an undereducated county commissioner named Scott Walker to be governor. Walker promptly attempted to roll back progressive policies to a point half-past Fightin' Bob LaFollette, and then called upon his fellow governors to do the same. A whole lot of Wisconsinites disagreed, and they have encamped themselves several times now on the state house lawn to say so.

State senators ran home to gather their things, and then ran away from home. This has been on television a great deal, and it seems to have chafed Brooks mightily. So much so that he wrote a column about the necessity of shared sacrifice in this time of economic trouble and woe. Somebody put atop it the headline "Make Everybody Hurt," which completed the cosmic comedy nicely.

Exactly how Mr. Brooks is going to "hurt" remains unclear — unless, of course, he ventures out into the crowd in Madison and tries to explain why Edmund Burke would have stood with the half-bright goober from Wauwatosa who's made such a hash of things. Then we might need splints and a tourniquet.

(It should be said in defense of Brooks that George Will, who has had a decade or so more practice than Brooks has had at being a public trollop, chimed in with a column praising the Wisconsin governor that made Brooks sound like Emma Goldman, and that apparently was written onto a moist towel.)

Brooks's column is a perfect illustration of a general phenomenon that has been brought into sharp relief in the past two weeks or so. The elites in this country — economic, social, political, journalistic — have ingrained in themselves the habits of oligarchy.

They have done it so thoroughly that they can conceive of few answers to any problem that do not conform to these habits. Pain, sacrifice, "austerity," but for thee, and not for them, and certainly not for the larger Them — the actual oligarchs on whose behalf their apologists so degrade themselves.

It is not an aristocracy, even though people like the Koch brothers are born into wealth. (And prank-calling, apparently.) It is certainly not a meritocracy; the economic elite that brought us the current rat's nest of problems wasn't necessarily that good at business, and was never inclined to make decisions for the sake of our political commonwealth anyway.

The average American corporate titan has very little use for the political entity called the United States of America. His citizenship exists only to keep the riffraff mollified. Among the rest of our elites, this is seen as as normal a situation as 9-percent unemployment has become.

Consider the debate. A woman named Sue Lowden was laughed out of a senatorial primary in Nevada last fall when she seemed to suggest that we should return to a system of barter in order to pay our medical bills. (Lowden specifically mentioned chickens.) However, any suggestion that we might help ourselves with the dreaded Deficit by, say, raising the top-end tax rate even to where it was under Bill Clinton is treated as no less fanciful than paying your dentist with poultry would be.

When royalist economics meld with political oligarchy, the former always drives the train. The institutions of the latter become impotent dumbshows or, worse, outright shams. In this, you can today see the framework of a new Gilded Age: a spavined pet Congress, and a Supreme Court rendered little more than a soprano chorus.

Only this time there is no manufacturing boom in sight on the horizon within which the counterbalancing forces of organized labor can gestate. There is no occasion for a G.I. Bill that might build a viable middle class. Even the checks and balances of history are lost.

There remains, of course, a president from the party that was once theoretically opposed to all of this. But the evidence is growing that Barack Obama, if he is not entirely comfortable with the habits of oligarchy, at least believes that he can devise a workable truce with those who are. In this, he is sadly mistaken.

Those habits are inimical to the kind of community he so endlessly cites as being at the heart of the American soul. In this, Obama may go down in history as the wrong man at the wrong time. They do not need to be dealt with. They need to be rooted out. Those who have found their place within the habits of oligarchy need to be forced to find new and more gainful employment. Maybe Applebee's is hiring.

Real Political Math in Wisconsin

By Howard Fineman on 25 February 2011 for Huffington Post -  

The real political math in Wisconsin isn't about the state budget or the collective-bargaining rights of public employees there. It is about which party controls governorships and, with them, the balance of power on the ground in the 2012 elections.

For all of the valid concern about reining in state spending -- a concern shared by politicians and voters of all labels -- the underlying strategic Wisconsin story is this: Gov. Scott Walker, a Tea Party-tinged Republican, is the advance guard of a new GOP push to dismantle public-sector unions as an electoral force.

Last fall, GOP operatives hoped and expected to take away as many as 20 governorships from the Democrats. They ended up nabbing 12.

What happened? Well, according to postgame analysis by GOP strategists and Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi -- who chaired the Republican Governors Association in 2010 -- the power and money of public-employee unions was the reason.

"We are never going to win most of these states until we can do something about those unions," one key operative said at a Washington dinner in November. "They have so much incentive to work hard politically because they are, in effect, electing their own bosses -- the Democrats who are going to pay them better and give them more benefits. And the Democrats have the incentive to be generous."
This is how top Republicans see the matter: a vicious cycle of union-to-Democrat-to-union power that they are determined to break.

And there is a lot of money and manpower involved. In the 2010 cycle, the American Federation of State, Country and Municipal Employees spent $87 million, making AFSCME the biggest single source of independent campaign spending last year -- bigger than Karl Rove's American Crossroads.

The manpower is even more important, though, especially that of AFSCME and the National Education Association. The public-employee troops are concentrated, in absolute numbers and by percentage, in 18 states. In California alone, there are 1.4 million government employees represented by unions, according to AFL-CIO numbers. In Illinois, it's more than 400,000; in New York, 1.1 million.

Last fall, Republicans took away governorships in four of these public union-heavy states: Ohio (where 46.2 percent of public employees are represented by unions), Michigan (51.7 percent) , Pennsylvania (53.4 percent) and Wisconsin (49.6 percent).

It was an impressive Rust Belt sweep.

But the GOP had been hoping for much more in other such states. They thought they had good chances in California (with 59.6 percent unionized public employees), Minnesota (59.2 percent), Oregon (56.9 percent), Illinois (52.6 percent), Connecticut (66.4 percent), Massachusetts (64.4 percent), New Hampshire (50.3 percent) and Rhode Island (66.6 percent).
Republicans lost them all, though many quite narrowly.

The GOP strategic aim is simple enough. If they can abolish union collective-bargaining rights, they can undermine the automatic payment of dues to the public-employee union treasuries. Shrinking those treasuries and reducing the union structure and membership will make it harder for Democrats and their allies to communicate directly with workers.

And under the infamous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, unions -- like corporations -- are free to spend as much as they want directly advocating for a candidate. That makes the math even more urgent as the 2012 election season approaches. .

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