March 14, 2011
Lessons From the Battle of Madison
By J.R. Dunn
Long, drawn-out crises can be frustrating in more ways than one. I had a first-class piece written about the Wisconsin standoff the first week, just waiting for the climax. Full of apt historical references, allusions to the Grenada invasion and the advent of Maggie Thatcher. But then it dragged on, and dragged on.... Day after day, week after week. By the time it ended, many of my "insights" such as they were, had been stumbled across by various media gnats, tearing huge holes in my thesis. Publishing it now would make me look even sillier than usual. So instead, three points:
- It did take too long. Way too long. This is not to imply that Scott Walker should have swung the axe immediately, but three weeks is stretching it. Detaching the union aspects from the budget bill, as brilliant a maneuver as it was, could have been done at any time. It should have been done earlier. The matter should have been fairly discussed, the prodigal Democrats put on notice, and the unions allowed to protest -- once, and once only. Letting it drag on for three weeks created an impression of weakness, allowed the unions to play martyr for the edification of the media (while at the same time behaving like an occupying army), and provided an example to other union mobs across the country. Not to mention encouraging Michael Moore and assorted other media vultures to make the trip. A week to a week and a half would have been more than enough. By that time it was demonstrated that the runaway senators were not going to return. The unions were already out of hand, with the death threats flying and the damage to the capitol building mounting daily. At three weeks, the left can actually claim a victory of sorts. A nonsense victory, it's true, along the lines of "they held Walker off" for the better part of a month. Note to future such efforts: don't make it a trilogy. Do what Christie would have done -- a two-day uproar in the opinion columns, and that would have been the end of it.
- The "conciliatory" school of Republicanism is dead. Of course I'm not referring to Scott Walker but to Mitch Daniels, who in a situation all but identical to Wisconsin's decided to bend, in keeping with his CPAC "I want them to like us" speech of last month. Conservatives have been doing this since before I was a zygote. They have always gotten burned, and they always go out and do the exact same thing all over again at the next opportunity. Walker, on the other hand, drew the line and stood firm. He got abuse, threats, and civil disturbances. Mitch Daniels gave in, tossed aside his own party's union bill, and asked the left to join him in reasoning together. He got abuse, threats, and civil disturbances. In the process he lost anything resembling potential presidential standing along with the respect of his own party. In the 21st century, liberals and union wobblies are thugs and nothing more. Appealing to their higher natures is a waste of time.
- All this is temporary. In most of the states involved (perhaps excepting Wisconsin), the new union bargaining and pension rules will last precisely as long as the GOP administrations do. Repealing them or (more likely) "renegotiating" them will be the first order of business for any new Democratic administration. This is exactly what occurred when Obama came into office. He made a point of demolishing previous conservative gains -- not only those of Reagan, but even those involving Bill Clinton. The Clinton welfare reforms, probably the sole domestic achievement of his entire two terms, were rescinded by Obama almost without public notice two years ago. Last year Charles Krauthammer went so far as to assert, with considerable sense of despair, that the Reagan revolution had been strangled (I suspect he'd be rather more cheerful today). It is no longer possible to defeat the progressive agenda politically. Liberalism has become systemic. For the past few months I've been thinking about the fact that the left-wing power centers have migrated from the Democratic Party to the infrastructure of the liberal elite -- the unions, the academy, the think-tanks and advocacy outfits. These are where the decisions are made and the orders come from. The party simply follows and obeys. We require a new strategy to handle this. Fortunately, while the left may be more numerous and spread out, they are also more vulnerable. You'll hear more from me on this in the months to come.
And for the union demonstrators, Wisconsin Democratic senators, and media types, here's a tune for the long trip home. You'll remember this one, I'm sure. It's track one. Enjoy.