Wishing Well in Wisconsin

Wisconsin is a progressive state in the very best sense of that term. Indeed, much of what we think of as progressivism originated in Wisconsin, thanks to Wisconsin Republicans. In the first decades of the 20th century, Wisconsin Republicans enacted the first state income tax — yes, a graduated income tax that pre-dated, and formed the model for, the later federal graduated income tax. Wisconsin created the first statewide primary election system, the first workplace injury compensation law, and later, in 1932, the first unemployment compensation program.

In the laboratory of states, Wisconsin shines brightly as an innovator. And as home to the Green Bay Packers.

And then in 1959 (the year I was born), Wisconsin Governor Gaylord Nelson signed collective bargaining into law for state workers.

And now, like most states, Wisconsin is broke. Four of the top five employers in Wisconsin are government entities. (The first is Wal-Mart.) The costs are enormous. Government entities don’t typically make and sell things. They perform government services, usually monopoly services, funded by taxpayers. Wisconsin citizens elected a Republican governor and a Republican legislature to tackle the state’s fiscal tribulation. The Republican governor and the Republican legislature have a plan. And the plan involves, among other things, reining in the state’s public sector unions.

To liberals — just barely the descendents of the state’s early 20th-century progressives — the plan is a sinister symbol of a much larger evil, and much liberal political capital has been squandered on characterizing the Republican fiscal plan as union-busting, anti-schoolteacher, Governor-Walker-is-Mubarak-and-Hitler nonsense. The American people aren’t buying it. To be sure, however, we’re seeing the fault lines of a much larger debate. And liberals are beyond-the-pale ANGRY.

The civility memo? Protesters didn’t get that one:

  • Poster: “Reload. Repeal Walker.” [With bull’s-eye on Governor Walker’s face.]
  • Poster: “Hitler outlawed unions too.”
  • Poster: “Hosni + Hitler = Dictator Scott Walker” [photo of Walker with Hitler mustache]
  • Poster: “Walker is a dictator” [photo of Walker with Hitler mustache]
  • Posters: “One down, one to go: dictators” [photos of Walker and Mubarak]
  • Poster: [photo of Walker with Hitler mustache and Nazi swastika scarf]
  • Poster: “Al Qaeda Scott: Terrorizing Wisconcin’s Workers and Labor Unions” [photo of Governor Walker as Osama bin Laden]
  • Poster: “Heil Walker. Stop the Maniac.” [photo of Governor Walker with Hitler mustache]
  • Poster: “Exterminating Union Members” [photo of Governor Walker with Hitler mustache]
  • Poster: “Walker Blows Koch”
  • Poster: “Governor Mubarak”
  • Poster: “Scott Walker – The Reason We Need Planned Parenthood”
  • Poster: “Fascist Union and Community Killer Scott Walker”
  • Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Ma.) told a Boston crowd rallying in solidarity with Wisconsin union members, “I’m proud to be here with people who understand that it’s more than just sending an email to get you going. Every once and awhile you need to get out on the streets and get a little bloody when necessary.” (Yes, mild stuff, until the Tucson tragedy, and the liberal fury over conservative violence rhetoric.)

Notwithstanding the foregoing — which is relevant only to the perpetual and preposterous demonization of conservatives as monopolists on hate speech — there is a rational liberal position in Wisconsin. Here is what Governor Walker’s Budget Repair Bill proposes to do:

  • Government workers would pay half the cost of their pensions (still less than private employees pay for their pensions)
  • Government workers would pay 12% of their own health insurance premiums (the national average for the private sector is over 20%)
  • End collective bargaining for government unions for pensions and benefits; allow bargaining only for raises that are less than inflation
  • End forced union dues, collected by the state; union dues would become voluntary
  • Union members get to vote yearly on whether to keep their union

These are significant reforms. The rational liberal position focuses most particularly on the collective bargaining issue. This is a fair, debatable issue. I understand the angst. I do not understand the apocalyptic rhetoric and it does not square with history.

Lanny Davis, Purple Nation columnist and stalwart proponent of civil discourse, goes utterly color-blind in calling Governor Walker “dark red.” In condemning Governor Walker, he invokes liberal icon Franklin Delano Roosevelt as follows:

I believe that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had it right when he said, on May 8, 1937, “The right to bargain collectively is at the bottom of social justice for the worker, as well as the sensible conduct of business affairs. The denial or observance of this right means the difference between despotism and democracy.”

In fact, FDR, indeed a true friend of unionism, had no patience for public sector unionism. He condemned it in 1937:

“Meticulous attention should be paid to the special relations and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government….The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.” [Why? Because] “a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to obstruct the operations of government until their demands are satisfied. Such action looking toward the paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it is unthinkable and intolerable.”

Historically, most of America, including the left, has understood the difference between private sector and public sector unions. Most government services are legal monopolies, and consumers have no opportunity to choose a “competing” service if the government service becomes inefficient. There is, therefore, no salutary danger of the government service going out of business if costs are too high. Moreover, the public sector union push for ever-higher pay and benefits lacks the discipline of the private sector because the public sector “managers” are spending taxpayer money — and taxpayers are peewees compared to stockholders and private equity stakeholders.

In short, public sector unions have too much power, and enormous amounts of money, both of which, in other contexts, matter significantly to liberals. That is not to say public sector unions do not accomplish some good things for public sector employees, only that rational limits on what they can achieve are lacking — and conspicuously so when their workers are significantly better off than private sector workers and the government confronts bankruptcy.

Think of Wisconsin voters as stockholders. They have nowhere near the commanding wrath of the typical private stockholder — but they voted, in the indirect way that is our democracy, for Governor Walker and his approach to the business of Wisconsin. As even liberal Wisconsin newspapers have concluded, it’s time to vote on that approach. The 14 Wisconsin Senate Democrats who scurried out of state to prevent a Senate quorum aren’t doing anything illegal — just thumbing their noses at Wisconsin voters.



24 Responses to Wishing Well in Wisconsin

  1. Terrance H. says:

    Thanks for the enlightening post, Kendrick. I was itching for you to come back (not literally, of course) and present your take on this issue. We were a little worried over your prolonged absence.

    • Thanks Terrance. Can’t tell you how tickled I am to be worried over. πŸ™‚

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  3. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    I very much appreciated this other viewpoint, Kendrick. I’ve not been too familiar with the governor’s proposal until now. The bullet points you listed seem entirely reasonable to me. But it’s difficult to ignore that other issue, such as the Koch’s involvement in donations to the governor and reaping benefits from their relationship with Walker. I don’t think that’s just a side-story. Sometimes best intentions are also wrapped up with an ugly bow.

    • Terrance H. says:

      What benefits are you speaking of, Snoring? I fail to see how the “destruction of public unions” is something which might reward the Koch Brothers. Might you explain?

      • Jeff Veazey says:

        You didn’t ask me Terrance but I’ll answer. Destroying public unions makes fundraising for Democratic constituencies and causes much more difficult. That gives an edge to Republicans in places where Democrats are less organized. The Koch’s are among the biggest air polluters in the country and have been featured in articles titled, “7 Ways the Koch Bros. Benefit from Corporate Welfare”. The New York Observer. … “Koch Petroleum Group Sentenced for Minnesota Pollution”. …
        They benefit from trying to marginalize Democrats because only a few real Conservatives believe in fighting for the environment – though I think the ones that would fight are probably all dead. If the Kochs can make money without having to clean up their industries that’s just more money for them. And that’s how the Koch’s benefit from the destruction of public unions. By the way, the Coffee Party posted this tape of Shep Smith on Fox talking to Juan Williams:
        SHEP SMITH: The Koch Brothers Are Behind Gov. Attempt To Bust Unions
        He called it all political. Ya’ll can say it’s economic or whatever, I’m just saying what FOX said. BBBBWWWWAAAAHHHHHH. You don’t know how long I have waited to utter those words! Next up Ken Mcdowell quotes MSNBC!

        • Terrance H. says:


          So basically your argument is that the destruction of public unions hurts the Democrats because the unions will no longer have the money to buy their support?

          I understand your argument, but I think it’s a bit flimsy. In what areas of the country are the Democrats less organized? Virgina? North Carolina? Colorado? New Mexico? Michigan? Ohio? Florida? Wisconsin? Indiana? Where?

          You have no argument from me that the Koch brothers are air polluters; I agree. I do think, however, that those who fail to get involved in “green technology” do so at their peril. It’s the next big thing, quite frankly. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Koch brothers become a little more involved in those areas.

          In any event, the Koch-Walker prank phone call proves, I think, that Walker cares about the budget, not busting unions. And I don’t think what’s happening in Wisconsin is an attempt. to break public unions, but if so, then good. FDR was against public unions, as Kendrick noted, and for good reason.

          • Jeff Veazey says:

            “These are the values inspiring those brave workers in Poland … They remind us that where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost.” Ronald Reagan, Labor Day Address at Liberty State Park, 1980

          • Terrance H. says:


  4. Jeff Veazey says:

    This article deftly avoids a few facts:

    1. Walker has tried this before, in Milwaukee County. Failed. Cost the County a bunch of money. Fired Security Guards were rehired with back pay and benefits.
    2. USA Today / CNN poll yesterday says 64% of Americans would not favor legislation like Wisconsin is considering.
    3. Didn’t we just come through two years of β€œNo” and record setting filibustering by Republicans in the U.S. House? Wisconsin Democrats are simply invoking the only filibuster available. This should give Republicans another new strategy to use when they are once again relegated to their proper place, in the minority.
    4. Of the top 10 contributors to political campaigns during the last campaign, seven were conservative interest groups, including at least two with heavy ties to the Koch brothers, who are the money behind Scott Walker. The three progressive contributors on the list are all unions. This has very little to do with the Wisconsin budget and far more to do with getting a monopoly on political power.
    5. The Unions offered a compromise which a number of Republicans in Wisconsin think is a good deal for the State. Walker wants no compromise.

    Other than those items, jotted down above during the first half a cup of coffee this morning, and 6 or 7 other items from the piece that I would disagree with factually or philosophically, I think you got it pretty much correct, from your point of view. As for civility, we have wasted our breath. In a country where a fat, pill-popping, ego-maniac with millions of devoted followers, can insult and demean the First Lady of the United States for not being a swim suit model there is no more decorum. Damn the uncivil torpedoes, full speed ahead!

    • Polls are tricky business. A Rasmussen Reports survey, more specific to Wisconsin, found that 48% of Likely U.S. Voters agree more with the Republican governor in his dispute with union workers, 38% agree more with the unionized public employees, and 14% are undecided.

      I still don’t understand liberals’ issue with rich people who contribute to conservative causes. Two words. George Soros. Here’s a link to the 90+ organizations, mostly aggressively liberal, he directly funds. Rich people fund liberal causes = noble and heroic; rich people fund conservative causes = sinister and suspect? Don’t get it.

      And Jeff, I’m not willing to give up on civility. I don’t believe you are either. You’re not a two wrongs make a right kinda’ guy. You just don’t want to feel guilty every time you lose your temper and pop off at somebody. πŸ™‚ I get that. But you’re still a decent person. No need to give that up.

      • Jeff Veazey says:

        Uh, I’ll pretend I didn’t just read that. Liberals have no problem with rich people contributing to conservative cause. Liberals have a problem with rich people contributing to right wing king makers, among the biggest polluters in the country, who are trying not to win their issue but to suppress the free speech and franchise right of members of the opposing group by doing away with unions and particularly union dues. In the old days we called this dirty tricks, a Republican specialty. Any examples of recent history where a Democratic majority tried to whipsaw with laws Republicans organizations out of existence? I can’t think of any but then right / left political brain is extremely selective, as you have well demonstrated here.

        • Jeff Veazey says:

          hmmm, no response here. See, Democrats play rough in politics but James Carville is no Gordon Liddy. And as ugly as politics can get, there seems to be no evidence that the Democratic Party ever tried to put the Republicans out of business. (although I personally am not opposed to that.) On the contrary, Watergate through Lee Atwater through Karl Rove, demonstrates a particularly mean-spiritedness in a purpose beyond winning the issue and defeating the opponent intellectually. The Koch’s are the moneybags and philosophical inspiration for political lapdogs who understand the only way to victory is to quash the opposition to the point where there is a vaccuum of ideas. The only voice is always the one that makes the most sense.

  5. Paul Grubbs says:

    Thank you for your decorum. Just because some folks shout down opposing opinion with personal attacks, cooler heads must prevail to settle very complicated issues before its too late. The recent protests in Wisconsin have revealed the unsavory aspects of union tactics. Teachers must wonder if they have done more harm than good for their cause.Their behavior is very similar to the mindless pigs that gather for TEA party events. Can’t we just get along?

  6. Both my parents were union members, so apply the appropriate discount. I unashamedly stole that from you because it is fabulous.

    The union members are taxpayers and voters too. 😦 This whole thing, of course, pisses me off, but it also makes me sad.

    We don’t have options when it comes to services, but we still use them.

    I do not understand the apocalyptic rhetoric and it does not square with history.
    The apocalyptic rhetoric, I believe, stems from what people feel is the attack on the common working person. A lot of Conservatives have been invoking FDR lately – about the only time I’ve heard them speak of FDR without the New Deal sucked stuff.

    This bill really is union-gutting. From your bullet points, we see that they can’t collectively bargain for benefits and pensions, and are limited when bargaining for their salaries. The union workers agreed to those cuts. They just want to keep the collective bargaining. Like Jon Stewart said in that hilarious clip, “In order to balance the budget, the union must die? Ritual sacrifice.” πŸ™‚

    Another thing I hate about this bill is that it won’t affect firefighters, police officers, or state troopers. If he hates collective bargaining that much, why doesn’t he do it across the board? There were a lot of firefighters at the protests too. They said if they can strip them of the collective bargaining rights, they can do the same thing to us.

    This issue touched/pounded a huge nerve – the assault on union workers. Anyway, I, too, was waiting for your take on it.

    • Thanks Spinny. I agree the exemption for firefighters, police officers and state troopers is odd. I don’t get it. I appreciate your explanation for the emotion reactions, and I understand them better. But I don’t see this conflict as any kind of assault on working people. Wisconsin has one of the best civil service systems for protection of worker rights in the country. These protections stay in place.

      • Jeff Veazey says:

        The exemption for those other unions corresponds precisely to which unions endorsed Walker. That seems like a fair way of doing it, don’t you think?

        • Exactly Jeff. That is just one of the things that makes me hate this bill. It’s payback & thanks for your support. Oh and Walker being able to sell/lease state energy plants to any private company for any price w/o getting bids or PSC approval? That is another gem in this piece of crap legislation.

      • Very true – we’re talking about feelings here, though. Rational goes out the window when the very essence of what you are (union) is being destroyed. I love watching that Jon Stewart clip when I get frustrated with this situation. “So a union without collective bargaining rights is a bunch of people wearing the same t-shirts?” πŸ™‚

        • Destroyed? The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board released its Top 10 Lobbying Organizations report, and who was #1, with 10,462 hours and $2,143,588? The Wisconsin Education Association. Spinny, unions are not “victims.” They’re very powerful organizations with lots of money, and some segments are fighting back against that power and money — kind of the way liberals, in other contexts, have a problem with power and money.

          • I understand their power and influence. Those who are fighting back may win. The loser won’t be the union itself, but the members. Regular working schmucks like you and me will be screwed at the end of this nightmare.

      • Terrance H. says:

        He has said that he didn’t want to risk public safety. You don’t want the police acting like crybabies when they’re supposed to be protecting society.

  7. Paul Grubbs says:

    Is it really gut or be gutted? Cheeseheads seem to be reasonably reasonable folks but there is no bipartisanship there to do what is best for Wisconsin. I want my cheese!

    • Wisconsin blue cheese is the best! πŸ™‚

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