Well, it turns out that the political equivalent of the “I’ll hold my breath till I turn blue unless I get my way” strategy is no more effective for a legislator than it is for a five year old. The left lost the only part of the fight that it really wanted to win in Wisconsin – retention of collective bargaining rights for public sector employees – and it lost because the left is either too stupid or too stubborn to see that the mood of the nation has changed quite a lot in the last few years. Had the unions agreed to the very modest concessions in benefits that Governor Scott Walker asked for shortly after he was elected, collective bargaining would never have been put on the table in the first place. Then, when Walker upped the ante by making collective bargaining an issue, the unions could have negotiated away some parts of the bill they found objectionable, but the left’s preferred means of debate in Madison was to scream, shout and threaten while Democratic senators remained in hiding. So now, as soon a Walker signs the bill that passed both houses of the Wisconsin legislature, they’ll lose the thing they most wanted to save and they have only themselves to blame.
Of course that’s not the way the left sees it. The rhetoric went into hyper-drive when the collective bargaining bill passed in the assembly by a vote of 53 to 42, and in the Senate by 19 to 1. No Democrats were on hand for the Senate vote. Here’s a sampling reactions on the left:
Blithely ignoring the fact nobody had kidnapped Democratic senators in Wisconsin and forced them out of the state, Think Progress’ Ian Millhiser urged Dairy State voters to recall every Republican in the state and repeal the collective bargaining law. Millhiser slammed the GOP, saying:
Last night, Wisconsin Senate Republicans abandoned any remaining pretenses that a bill stripping state workers of their collective bargaining rights has anything whatsoever to do with the state’s finances, and rammed the bill through the senate without any Democrats present.
[I]t will inspire an appropriate response: Protests now, and the recall and removal of Republican senators in short order. Some of the Republicans may think that “cooler heads will prevail.” They are wrong. The cool heads, the calm and rational Wisconsinites, will be busy in coming days: collecting signatures of recall petitions.
Radical AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka called the bill “a corruption of democracy,” and added: “It’s our job, each and every one of us, it’s our job to transform the outrage and to make this moment a movement, to make sure this corruption in the Midwest doesn’t stand.” Retired Madison teacher June Roohr echoed the sentiment of her fellow protestors when she called Walker “an unethical lying man who doesn’t deserve to sit in the governor’s chair.”
Those remarks represent some of the least inflammatory rhetoric to emanate from the left in the wake of the two votes in Wisconsin. At the other end of the spectrum, the left’s outrage took a much more sinister turn. Republican legislators, including the leaders of both houses, revealed that they have received multiple death threats. The showdown in Madison has thus been a remarkable case study in the way that leftists routinely talk out of both sides of their mouths. They claim to cherish democracy and majority rule, but Democratic Wisconsin senators chose to withdraw from the democratic process in an attempt to undermine the will of the majority. They say that public discourse should be respectful and people should avoid any hint of violent imagery, but protestors in Madison have rolled out some of the most violent, reprehensible rhetoric in recent memory and it’s no surprise at all to find that death threats are the natural outgrowth of those overheated pronouncements.
Many union supporters are now claiming that bringing collective bargaining alone up for a vote comes as a complete shock, characterizing it as an underhanded parliamentary maneuver that somehow undermined the system. In fact, everyone – on both sides of the aisle – understood that Wisconsin Republicans could have played this particular card at any time. Taking away collective bargaining privileges is not a financial measure and thus a quorum was not required. Democrats hoped that boycotting the senate would generate sympathy for the union’s cause, but significant support never actually materialized. In the intervening weeks, Governor Walker gave the Dems an opportunity to make some kind of a face-saving deal. When it became obvious that wasn’t going to happen, Walker and his party let the other shoe drop. Thus, Democrat senators are now officially abandoning their responsibilities for no reason whatsoever. It’s only a matter of time before they slink back into Madison to face the inevitable: another vote that will force the teachers union to contribute a bit more toward their pensions and insurance.
No doubt the left will continue to demonize Walker and Wisconsin Republicans, characterizing their actions as “union busting” and claiming that they tried to stifle debate. In fact, the opposite has been true. Public sector unions in Wisconsin chose to commit suicide, after having been given the opportunity to remain relevant. And so, public employees in the Dairy State join their brothers and sisters in the employ of the federal government and dozens of other states who do not enjoy the privilege of collective bargaining. Moreover, the right did nothing to inhibit the exchange of ideas or to quell opposing voices in Wisconsin. Instead, Republicans exercised remarkable restraint as the rhetoric on the left grew ever more incendiary. The left has thus suffered a massive defeat in the Midwest and they only have their own hubris to blame.