On Wisconsin, Obama Appeals to Fear

The president builds a straw man.

It was only last Tuesday that senior White House advisor Valerie Jarrett cautioned Fox News against making a "Wisconsin issue...[into] a Washington issue," signaling that the administration was distancing itself from the ongoing public sector union battle in the Dairy State. Monday, however, as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was putting the final touches on his two year budget plan, President Obama appeared to reverse himself on this decision in remarks made to the nation's governors. Once again, the president has turned to manipulative community organizing tactics to divert attention from the real issues as stake.

"I believe that everybody should be prepared to give up something to solve our budget challenges," Obama told governors from around the nation yesterday morning. "In fact, many public employees in your respective states have already agreed to cuts. But let me also say this: I don't think it does anybody any good when public employees are denigrated or vilified or when their rights are infringed upon."

Once again, the president is falling back on a classic community-organizing tactic: using a straw man to polarize and defeat the opposition. Obama knows that he can’t win an argument that focuses on uncomfortable issues like forced unionization, how Big Labor spends its money, fiscal responsibility or conflicts of interest. All of those factors are at the actual center of the debates that have been taking place in Wisconsin, New Jersey, Ohio and Indiana and that are sure to spread throughout the nation. Yet, how can the president claim that forcing government employees to join unions is a great idea, when – as the Wall Street Journal recently pointed out – nearly two million federal workers are prohibited from engaging in collective bargaining over wages and benefits?  Would Obama dare enter into a debate about the wisdom of allowing public sector employees to unionize when leftist heroes from FDR to Jimmy Carter are on record saying that doing so would be a blatant conflict of interest?

The administration cannot win any of the real, substantive arguments here. Obama has, thus, largely silently watched from the sidelines as the state budget battles have unfolded. But, now that it’s clear that the issue isn’t going to fade away on its own, the White House is stepping in, hoping to deflect attention away from the real issues by replacing them with a phony one.

Is anyone with any important role to play in these discussions actually “denigrating” or “vilifying” public employees? In fact, the opposite is true. Governors leading the fiscal responsibility charge, like Chris Christie and Scott Walker, have bent over backwards to make it clear that they appreciate teachers and the work they do, but that something has to be done to rein in out of control union leadership and crippling contracts. The state legislators backing public union reform have been – with very rare exceptions – equally careful not to denigrate or vilify any employees, but to focus on a system that is badly broken instead. That is not to say bloggers and other pundits have not dabbled in derisive rhetoric, but union reforms in the halls of state power are certainly not leading this constituency.

Moreover, if anyone is guilty of character assassination to a degree worthy of condemnation, it’s labor leaders, protesting union apologists and Democrat lawmakers, who have employed disgusting, violent rhetoric in this debate and whose idea of engaging in a discussion ranges from running away to shouting down anyone who disagrees with them. Comparing Scott Walker to Adolf Hitler, or praying for Chris Christie’s untimely death is apparently just fine with the president, since he has yet to speak up about those pronouncements.

Obama’s Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis, even more passionately made the president's straw man argument in a speech before the Democratic National Committee on Saturday night:

"These are our neighbors and friends and family," she said. "They teach our kids, they risk their lives to keep us safe in our communities. And all they're asking for is to be treated with respect and dignity. And guess what, folks? All they're really asking for, these workers, is the opportunity to sit down at the table, like grown-ups, and to work together to solve problems. And that's what collective bargaining is all about. The fight is on. We help the embattled states right now where public employees are under assault. And we work together and get going."

The upshot? Republican governors dealing with budget crises are out to get our friends and neighbors. With this kind of emotional provocation, it is no surprise that union protesters have put on such an unhinged display in Madison. Furthermore, Solis’s speech, like the president’s remarks, had very little to do with the real debate that’s taking place in the states, and everything to do with creating a new, more winnable, argument to take its place. The strategy is what we've come to expect from the Obama machine: emotionally polarize and direct populous anger toward a caricature of the opposition.

Will this diversionary tactic be successful? Unfortunately for Obama, the state budget crises are all too real to far too many people, and the role that public-sector unions have played in creating and perpetuating those crises is plain to see.  The combination of bullying tactics and childish petulance that the left has chosen to employ in this debate may delay the day of reckoning, but won’t avoid it. The situation in Wisconsin is rapidly heading towards a climax.  Wisconsin Democrats aren’t doing themselves any favors by running away, with about seventy per cent of the state’s residents supporting the governor’s plan. The longer they shirk their duties, the more foolish they seem. Likewise, the president may continue to try to turn this particular debate into something completely different, but he’s going to find that more and more Americans understand the dangerous community-organizing game he’s trying to play.