All over the nation, common, everyday ordinary citizens of the United States are standing with working people in public service against the brutal assault on their human rights and basic safety and well-being and voice in the workplace. They are doing it because they increasingly perceive that they too have something fundamental at stake in the national battle that has zeroed in on Wisconsin labor.
Poll after poll, it is not just the Democratic Party ones, show conclusively that Americans understand that the wealthy and powerful and well-connected simply have too much money and power. This is a grave threat to the Republican Party because they have cast their lot with the rich. It does not have to be that way. They could be standing with the people but they simply have chosen not to. Republican Party conservatives along with their Tea Party allies and that dynamic duo, the Koch Brothers, have ceded the moral high ground to the Democratic Party, and working people are flocking to them. They are even embracing unions for the first time in decades.
In the 1950’s, in Eisenhower’s Republican America, there was respect for unions and collective bargaining. Rich people paid significantly more of their share of taxes. It was a moderate Republican President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who warned of the rising tide of power rooted in defense contractors and the Pentagon in which he coined the phrase “the military industrial complex.” He also championed increased aid to education with the Defense Education Act. Reluctantly, but properly and powerfully, Eisenhower enforced the Brown vs. Board of Topeka decision to begin, symbolically at least, integration of public schools in the United States. It was possible for a Republican President to lead from the center and for our nation to have a consensus about foreign policy. It was the time when all knew that the battle against communism was right and just, even though some of the ways we fought it were not. Despite all this, the nation prospered as it never had before. The rich paid their fair share. The American Middle Class was strong because the unions that made it happen in the first place were strong.
Just last December, a timid Obama Administration got what it could and settled to give the richest Americans big tax breaks they did not need at great cost to the widening of the budget deficit and intensifying pressure to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
In states controlled by the Republican Party, taxes for huge out-of- state corporations, and the wealthiest citizens are being cut while the average citizen is asked to pay more and see their pay and what benefits they have erode away. This is true now for union and non-union households alike. There was a time when the Republican Party respected a moderate approach to appeal to a large portion of the American electorate. Now they go just for the people with the cash and the status. Even Richard Nixon, a disgraced American Republican president, was able to appeal to the sense that he led “the silent majority” of Americans who went to church, paid their taxes, worked hard, remained honest, and patriotic. Those values still matter and are good ones. But it is the Republican Party and so many far-right conservatives who have abandoned those principles. Americans are now finally waking up to what has happened over the past decade and more.
Today, Ronald Reagan would be far too liberal to be elected dog catcher in any Red State in the Union. Something’s changed. Something’s very wrong and the citizens of the country are smelling the smoke and flames of rebellion against what intellectuals and crusading newspapers very early in the last century called a plutocracy. Almost by default, this political largesse has fallen into the lap of the Democratic Party like low hanging fruit.
But will the Democrats grasp this historic opportunity to rebuild their party, revitalize labor unions, and finally revive the entire American Middle Class?
Observers for the past thirty years and more have been pointing out that when labor unions are weakened, so too is the Middle Class. That’s most of us. They are not elitists, or long-haired hippie freaks, or leftist anarchists, or pointy headed liberal intellectuals as endearing and wonderful as they all are. They are instead the people who don’t complain much. They put their heads down and get the work done that makes the country move and thrive. The rich may rake it in but they are nothing without the people who do the heavy lifting.
If the Republican Party can win its fight to destroy Unions in many of the states of the upper Midwest, the American Middle Class and the famed American Dream of better opportunity for the coming generations of our people will fade. North Carolina Senator Jim Demmint said today that collective bargaining was essentially un-American and against representative government. He openly admitted on a conservative talk show that without labor unions the “Democrat Party will fade away.”
Our very democracy, our Republic is endangered by what is going on right this very moment in the State of Wisconsin with a tyrant of a Governor, Scott Walker. He’s barred up the windows of the capitol and locked its doors to the mass of the public and made the Wisconsin State Capitol building commonly held by all Wisconsin citizens and made it a fortress for his infamy and for tyranny and oppression. One frustrated Democrat brought his desk and chair complete with office flags out on the Capitol lawn in late winter simply to be more accessible to constituents certainly to dramatize this injustice.
Those of us with more years and gray beards or graying heads know that we have never seen our democracy operate this way. We simply have not seen the Republican Party behave so irresponsibly, so indifferently, so meanly and with such pettiness ever in our lifetimes. The moderation and common sense of the Eisenhower years of our youth seem in a fabled America far away and fading fast. For young people (that’s most of our readers) it is just confusing and perplexing. You have nothing to measure this against. But the gray beards in the readership of Struggles For Justice have the perspective to know how unprecedented the very time we are living in is. And the nation’s next generation sense it and are on the line with them.
America is rediscovering its voice. It is attempting to find itself again. It is not a nation dominated by any one political party or viewpoint except the unwavering committment to equal opportunity, justice, and shared endeavour by all of the people meeting their collective and their individual responsibilities to make our democracy work.
The rich, the powerful, the well-connected and now the Republican leadership have abandoned those principles.
It is the view of Struggles For Justice that we need two fully functioning and dynamic political parties with ever-present and competitive third parties waiting in the wings. We cannot have one-party rule by the few and still remain anything remotely connected to a democracy.
Tonight, Governors Kasich of Ohio, Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Chris Christie of New Jersey and the ubiquitous Scott Walker of Wisconsin and their legislative allies have it in their power to deal a perhaps fatal blow to the future well-being if not the present well-being of the American people. Rarely has what happens in state houses meant so much for the nation as a whole. It is a test of these people and revealing of their moral character in what they do with this power and influence.
In Wisconsin Governor Walker can be a statesman yet. He could sit down with labor leaders, Democrats, key leaders of his own party, and yes, the Wisconsin 14, and hammer out a new Budget Repair Bill that sets aside at least for now the divisive question of the survival of collective bargaining for public servants.
No one is suggesting that Wisconsin and these other states do not have the requirement to reign in their spending. No one is questioning the fairness and rightness of public employees sharing in the sacrifices already made by private sector workers who have lost jobs, seen benefits go away, and their pay and hours slashed.
But Walker must do better than to refuse to negotiate, to engage, to seek ideas, explore solutions, and to respect his political rivals. Instead of a sign of weakness, Walker’s stepping forward and bringing in everyone to discuss what is to be done would be a true turning point in his jeune administration. His re-election in 2014 would make a step forward just like the state motto.
But Democrats seeking a revival and electoral victory in 2012 and 2014 need not fear. Walker is a weak and angry man who thinks that now that he is the Governor of the State of Wisconsin he may disregard the very people he has been honored to serve and not to dictate to them as if he were a monarch or an emperor or dare we say some sort of fascist dictator. With an inflated sense of himself far beyond his intellect and abilities, as well as the limits of the moral character being tested in the crisis he himself has fashioned, Walker is in a very slippery place ready for a fall.
If Walker does not reverse course soon, he will have fashioned a kind of moral cage for himself where these character defects are on full display. He will no longer be able to extricate himself from the snare and he will have handed the opposing political party a victory it was struggling to achieve. Even if he and his party win the current fight over the state budget amid the budget repair bill that started it all, Walker will find that “he who troubles his own house shall inherit the wind.”Those protestors will not be stopped by the destruction of their unions and their hopes to stop these harsh measures that are so patently against the interests of the overwhelming majority of state residents.
Even the loss of the collective bargaining and budget fights will energize Progressive and Populist Wisconsin citizens across the state and recall elections and stiff challenges to Republican incumbents will proliferate. In the short-term Walker benefits by standing firm. In the long run he loses. But in the interim all of Wisconsin loses.