Washington The buzz in DC for a change was not about DC, but about Wisconsin. And, if not Wisconsin, then it was the 45,000 person crowd yesterday in Indiana that got some tongues wagging, and if not Wisconsin or Indiana, then Ohio for sure. The great Midwestern flyover zone was front and center in every conversation about labor, politics, and the hopes and fears for the future.
Not that anyone is sure what it means and what might be possible, but people are voting with their feet and there is a strong heartbeat and both of those change the game and demand to be taken seriously. The other thing that seems inarguable is that newly minted Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has pulled a tactical “Gingrich” and tried to play his hand so far past his base that it’s just a matter of time before the pendulum swings back and pops him hard. The 18-1 Republicans only evisceration of collective bargaining rights for public employees was too transparent, too roughshod, and just way too far over the top for the good people of Wisconsin. This was a kind of hardball politics played in a New York or a Louisiana or some other uncultured backwater, but not in the world of the nice Midwest for god’s sake! These are people that have worn cheese on their heads for cry eye!
Organizers are amazed at the polling results being seen from their own numbers as well as more public reports like those in the New York Times for collective bargaining (though not especially for unions unfortunately). The numbers are moving overwhelmingly in support of collective bargaining from the public, which is also shocking since with 1 of 8 covered by agreements in the United States so few people anymore have the faintest clue what the heck collective bargaining might be. Hearing about it for the first time in many cases thanks to the good people of Wisconsin, their gut response seems to be, “Hey, that doesn’t sound so bad?” Which is only a short distance away from “You betcha, let me have some of that,” and that should really worry the Republicans and the right.
This was the Gingrich fallacy when he and the Republicans got outmaneuvered by President Clinton in the budget standoff from which they never recovered. In a fuzzy world folks were all for the messaging that the “guvament” was wasting their money, but then when the spigot gets shutoff and the lights are turned off and folks are forced to reckon with the fact that parks are closed, social security offices don’t open, VA hospitals can’t accept them now, and the hundreds of other ways they interact with government, it’s a different story and payback is hell.
Wisconsin and Governor Walker are teaching the same lessons about collective bargaining and reminding people that their neighbor who is a teacher, city worker, or whatever is in a slap down not about money, but basic rights, like talking to the boss about your job, which is one way to define “collective bargaining,” and then it’s gone too damn far.
Walker is not alone either. In a rarity the New York Times sent a truth seeking missile at Governor Christie where it looked at what he says public workers, unions, and teachers versus the facts along with an accompanying chart that pretty much ticked off point by point of the old “liar, liar, you’re pants are on fire!”
Add to that the crash and burn of another Republican presidential candidate wannabe, Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana, being pulled down hard by an ethics scandal when he is preaching one sermon and living life another way by fronting for corporate contributions flooding into his wife’s foundation ostensibly for educational tools while 70% of the corporations are being regulated and doing business with the state, and, oh my, is their mud on his shoes and egg all over his face. Not that he has even recognized there’s a problem except with the fussbudgets at the New York Times who first broke the story, which is now being trumpeted loudly all over Louisiana. For all of their Biblical references, they probably overlooked the story about removing the “beam” from their own eyes, before they worry about the “mote” or speck in their neighbor’s eyes.
As long as the Republicans are still so committed to self-destructing, maybe there’s hope for a progressive future in spite of our recent lackluster efforts and losses.