February 22, 2011
Doin' the Madison Mis-Step
In the peculiar Kabuki dance that comprises public political posturing these days, the Democrat/public employee union/left-wing activist alliance may have made a major miscalculation that will haunt them in the upcoming elections.
Maybe they were momentarily overwhelmed with nostalgia for the sixties. Maybe they all fell asleep listening to an Alinsky audiobook, and were driven by subliminal suggestions. Or perhaps they were just jealous of the success of the Tea Party rallies (a condition psychologists refer to as "T.P. Envy").
Regardless of the reason, I think there's a strong probability that the madness that has been on display in Madison, Wisconsin will have the exact opposite of the effect they'd hoped for.
Clearly, their purpose in undertaking this circus was...well...actually, I'm not sure exactly what they thought they were going to accomplish.
They could have thought that they were going to intimidate the legislature, especially by appearing outside their homes and frightening their families. While such an experience must surely be unpleasant, anyone who has survived in the rough-and-tumble world of politics -- even at the level of a state legislature -- doesn't seem the kind who would buckle under to the pressure from a mob of angry teachers, most of whom probably can't control their classrooms, let alone the state legislature.
Their more likely intention, I would think, would be to influence and mobilize public opinion, and if that is the case, this is where they may have totally miscalculated.
I think most people have at least a somewhat sympathetic view toward teachers in general. As a famous person one said, they're our friends and neighbors. In my mind, the word "teacher" still brings back fond memories of my first-grade teacher, Miss Clark, a kindly little old lady who wore hideous housedresses and big black shoes that tied and who seemed totally devoted to her work.
But as I watched the coverage from Madison, it wasn't Miss Clark I was seeing. It didn't resemble my friends or neighbors. I certainly didn't see the kind of people I want to entrust with the future of our nation -- even if you don't count the ones carrying the "Workers of the World Unite" signs.
What I saw was a self-centered mob, flaunting their total disregard for our current -- and common -- situation. All across America, we are facing a potential financial crisis unlike anything our nation has ever seen before. For decades, we've been living beyond our means, both individually and collectively.
When you live on borrowed money, you're living on borrowed time. And ours is running out. Rapidly.
From my years in business, I know very well the pressures of making a payroll and keeping lights on and the doors open in times of economic pressure, and the difficult decisions that must be made, because there is only a finite amount of money to work with.
I made the hard decisions because it was my money -- and my future and my family's future -- that was at stake.
In some fortunate states, a handful of very brave elected officials are willing to suffer the slings and arrows of outrage that go hand in hand with the hard decisions necessary to restore fiscal responsibility to the public sector. At a time when most of us have already had to cope with the realities of economic distress, the sight of hundreds and thousands of teachers acting like...well...acting like a bunch of spoiled children...doesn't seem calculated to evoke a great deal of sympathy.
This is especially true when you think about what they've done to deserve this privileged status. Is it because of their outstanding work in turning out students prepared to make their contribution to America's continued growth and prosperity?
Our educational system has become a money pit where funding levels bear no relationship to results. No, the simple truth is that they've earned this exalted status not as a reward for excellence but through extortion, by coercive collective bargaining, a monopoly status that fosters inefficiency, waste and mediocrity, and making generous contributions of time and money to a political party that has become little more than an operating arm of the teacher and other public employee unions.
Don't get me wrong. There are many very dedicated and hard-working teachers out there, many of whom are far more frustrated with the system than the general public is. But I doubt they're the ones parading across our TV screens. Or, if they are, at least not willingly.
Maybe it's just a reflection of the fact that when you only have one play in your playbook, that's the one you call. This time, however, they're not demonstrating against greedy capitalists, faceless corporations or evil landlords. They're demonstrating against all of the rest of us, including the ones that work twelve months a year for smaller salaries and fewer benefits, and have stood by as our job security, pensions and savings, and even a lot of our hopes and dreams, have been eroded by runaway government spending and debt at every level. If that isn't bad enough, they're using our children and grandchildren as bargaining chips in their cynical gambit.
And now, they're taking this pathetic show on the road to other states.
This time their strategy will backfire, and the vast majority of people will see through their cliché signs and hollow slogans. Because this time, it's their money and their futures and their families' futures that are at stake.
This time...I hope...it's the teachers unions that get taught a lesson.
Bill Markin is a retired businessman, lifelong conservative and certified curmudgeon.