Democracy Shrugged in Wisconsin Slugfest
Pity the poor. No powerful union to rely on for ensuring fully state-paid pensions. No collective bargaining "rights." Caught between public union demands and limited state resources, they end up losers in the ongoing epic battle collectively titled, if we may, "Public Union Power versus The Public Interest." The struggle centers around a question ordinary folks increasingly ask: Do government employees work for the us, the public, or is it the other way around?
In Wisconsin this month, scene of special recall elections, a day of reckoning is at hand. Don't look now, but a vital part of democracy itself is on trial, if not in jeopardy, if events go the way pushy forces on the left fervently desire. This is not, repeat NOT, a Draconian view. Read on if you doubt.
Public union officials view government, their members' employer, as a never-empty ATM machine funded by OPM (Other People's Money). Just tap in the magic PIN and, clickety-clickety-click, it disgorges 100% of members' pension costs and three-quarters of their health insurance costs. Helluva deal. Not many can touch it in the private sector.
A Madison attorney friend observes: "Unions viewed it [2011 budget reform, curtailing runaway costs owing to collective bargaining] as simply a power grab, instead of rational reform needed to balance budgets down to and including at the local levels. Union power is more important to them than solving the fiscal crisis we Wisconsinites were in." Eureka!
Rust belt states such as Ohio, even in far-west states (such as California, where a police officer can retire on a $150,000-a-year pension), become battlegrounds of limited resources -- read, taxes -- stretched obscenely to meet public workers' implacable demands, mostly for future pension benefits the private sector can only dream of.
Known as a "progressive" Midwest state (ninth highest in per capita taxes), Wisconsin is faced with divvying up revenue for utilitarian purposes. The aim, or rather goal, is to seek what's good for most citizens. Not to grant advantages to a special class of citizens, a privileged few. Like other states similarly afflicted by piled-up debt, notably California, the Badger State suffers from the malady of finite funds to pay forever palms-up public employees, especially to their crushing pension liabilities.
Unprecedented recall elections aim to "flip" results in at least three legislative districts to regain power in the state senate for progressives. They would toss over the cliff budget-minded legislators with "Rs" after their names, in favor of a more manipulative bunch. Such as those lily-livered 14 Democrat senators who skipped to Illinois in February, on union bosses' orders, rather than participate in rational budget reform.
Installing new legislators beholden to union wishes is raison d'etre for the recall madness playing out in Wisconsin. If it pans out, so to speak, the special elections would subvert the democratic (lower case "d"') process. Union leaders will have taken their members' dues money, often involuntarily taken, to overturn results of the last regularly-scheduled election. No skulduggery was alleged in those regular elections. No fraud. So why the eight bloody recalls elections?
Wisconsin-based blogger at the estimable Mediatracker (www.mediatracker.org) Brian Sikma gives us the answer:
"Their agenda thwarted by voters in one election, they [progressives and the left] were not to be stopped from forcing a new election. In banana republics, forcing new elections because a powerful cabal didn't like the outcome of a recent election is hardly viewed as democratic."
Large sums, up to $30 million by one estimate, buy TV time and print ads. This reflects the utter seriousness of these special elections in obscure places such as Baraboo and De Pere. Funds come mostly from outside the districts in contention, much of that from out-of-state. So much for grass-roots support of local candidates?
Scorching TV spots crudely portray budget-minded "Rs" as passionately anti-education, baby starving boobs, in league with the devil himself. Some ad seem to be parodies of themselves. Some target Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Wait! His nasty recall trial by fire is still a year away. (Partisan hatred is not likely to cool by then; the flame of animosity not easily extinguished among those on the left with long memories and sharp fangs.)
All this started in February when state budget reform was taken up in a bill that would, among other things, limit but not eliminate, public union collective bargaining. Teachers mostly, many with bogus, deceitful "sick" excuses left their classrooms (being paid, in effect, to protest), closing down some schools, to march mob-like to the Capitol.
In their fury they ripped up public property, occupied the Capitol, chanted slogans and sang a lot, something about "overcoming" as if this was a civil rights deal instead of a union-initiated power struggle. Protesters posted hateful signs. One depicted Gov. Walker as hate object Emmanuel Goldstein in Geroge Orwell's dystopian novel, "1984." Placards portrayed Gov. Walker as Hitler, with mustache and a border of swastikas. Heady stuff from putative educators.
Noblesse oblige is absent in this conflict. It's dog-eat-dog. It is a shameless extension of entitlements run amok for civil servants. Progressives rehash that old refrain, "Tax the Rich.." It's their mantra, their friendly ATM. Class warfare rages, not pretty, last refuge of envious left-wing progressives. So let the rich, a group already paying taxes through their nostrils, flee the state. Who cares? Heck, who needs the rich, anyhow? All John Galts, well, they can go to hell. Reeks of garden variety socialism, doesn't it? And when the big ATM in the sky runs out of other people's money, what then?
Sheer irony is served up in that unions use dues, withdrawn automatically from members' payroll checks, to fund bloody recall attacks on those who dare reform the whole process. Friends such as the American Federation of State County Municipal Employees (AFSCME) help stir the boiling cauldron.
Will the public suck on the cut-throat rhetoric in the bloody recall ads? Will branding "Rs" as heinous stoops and skinflint pay off? Will voters' native intelligence and common sense prevail? We shall see, we shall see, on Tuesday, August 16, when first recall election tallies come in, if the hateful messages took root.
Founding Father James Madison envisioned "factions" in his brilliant Federalist Paper #10. Just as we see in Wisconsin. But in Wisconsin, it is a bare-knuckled attack to wrest power from ordinary people by a special interest bullying its way to retain power over the state's purse strings. (It's really all about money, isn't it?) In a low turnout special election, funded by millions of special interest money and using unions to generate turnout, they may be able to overturn the voters' decision to give control of the Legislature to Republicans.
Reduced to its essence, powerful labor and professional unions seek to continue the gravy train for their workers, state and local, already paid more than private sector counterparts. Let ordinary taxpayers suffer, they suggest, but let the lavish spending for this privileged class of workers continue, at all costs, and call it "fair." As for the poor, they can go to hell, victims of the me-first class of privileged public servants.
Steven Greenhut, author of a paperback with a long-as-sin title, "Plunder: How Public Employee Unions Are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation , calls public union leaders "the new robber barons."
That's a stretch of course. What we do face is the ominous potential of governments "of the union, by the union and for the union." A governing class of a special interest would retain the power to tax on a Robin Hood scale, or worse, as in a socialists' paradise. In which case God help us all, rich or poor, in such a democracy diminished. Yes, this could happen in America.
Gary Larson is a retired newspaper and business magazine editor in Minnesota.