The unrest in Wisconsin this week over Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to cut the bargaining rights and benefits of public workers is quickly spreading to other states — Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee and the like. It is awakening the Democrats in droves.
Longer term, the Republican strategy is to split the vast middle and working class — pitting unionized workers against non-unionized, public-sector workers against non-public, and the poor against the working middle class, writes former Labor Secretary Robert Reich in the Huffington Post.
“They pit average working Americans against one another, distract attention from the almost unprecedented concentration of wealth and power at the top, and conceal Republican plans to further enlarge and entrench that wealth and power,” according to Reich.
The Democrats are not going to stand for it, mobilizing their own grassroots forces that helped elect President Obama.
In short, expect a lot more rancor as the 2012 election season — for Congress, President and state and local races — suddenly has swung into full gear. We can expect more divisiveness, smears and ugly confrontations that ever.
There are a lot of angry, unreasonable and uninformed people out there. The exaggerations about the unions causing all the budget crises — rather than a shortfall in revenue — is a prime example.
What’s more, the political activists are speaking in real-time sound bites on Facebook, You Tube, Twitter and the like — often bending the truth in favor of expediency. The news reporting often lacks context. To combat that, “12 things you need to know about the uprising in Wisconsin” is here.
The threats from the extreme right to shut down the government if Congress reaches a budget impasse in coming weeks are real, as I’ve written before. (The House vote on deep budget cuts late Friday is here).
COULD IT HAPPEN HERE?
Could all this unrest happen in our “peaceful” neck of the woods? You bet. Our extreme right “electeds” — Tom McClintock and Dan Logue — and their vocal followers already have been a polarizing force in a politically “purple” county. Our local media has shown bias in reporting all this, too. Remember McClintock’s let’s replace this “left-wing” clerk-recorder remark at a local tea party rally? It was never reported.
When a reader asked The Union’s editor/publisher on Facebook the other day, “I am surprised there was nothing in today’s paper ref what’s happening in Wisconsin; I think it’s important,” the response was: “We are a local paper. It will be interesting to watch the collapse of that state soon — something they could have avoided by watching the events in Greece, Spain, France, etc. California isn’t far behind.” OK. Thanks.
Meanwhile, “the images from Wisconsin — with its protests, shutdown of some public services and missing Democratic senators, who fled the state to block a vote — evoked the Middle East more than the Midwest,” according to the Times. The article is here.
TEA PARTY’S ROLE
FreedomWorks, a Washington group that helped cultivate the Tea Party movement, said it was trying to use its lists of activists to turn out supporters for a variety of bills aimed at cutting the power of unions — not just in Wisconsin, but in Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio as well, according to the Times.
“On paper, Wisconsin might seem an unlikely candidate for an assault on unions. Like many other states, it has grappled with large spending gaps during the economic downturn, but its projected deficits for the next two years are nowhere near the worst in the country — more like in the middle of the pack.
“Those facts have groups on both sides thinking if it can happen there, it can anywhere.”
Reich points to the GOP strategy as a catalyst. I would argue, however, that the GOP has its own problems: The one he’s discussing is more of the hard right perspective, and there will be a tug-of-war within the group.
The strategy has three parts, according to Reich.
•The Battle Over the Federal Budget. “In the coming showdown over Medicare and Social Security, House budget chair Paul Ryan will push a voucher system for Medicare and a partly-privatized plan for Social Security — both designed to attract younger middle-class voters,” according to Reich.
•The Assault on Public Employees. “The second part of the Republican strategy is being played out on the state level where public employees are being blamed for state budget crises,” he writes. “Unions didn’t cause these budget crises — state revenues dropped because of the Great Recession — but Republicans view them as opportunities to gut public employee unions, starting with teachers.”
•The Distortion of the Constitution. “The third part of the Republican strategy is being played out in the Supreme Court,” Reich observes. “It has politicized the Court more than at any time in recent memory.
“Both Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia have participated in political retreats organized and hosted by multi-billionaire financier Charles Koch, a major contributor to the Tea Party and other conservative organizations, and a crusader for ending all limits on money in politics.
“Some time this year or next, the Supreme Court will be asked to consider whether the nation’s new health care law is constitutional. Watch your wallets.”
Watch your wallets, yes. But also fasten your political seat-belts.
This weekend, tea partiers are arranging for buses to the Wisconsin state Capitol to shout at the public unions. The effort is being spearheaded by the conservative group American Majority, which has been training activists to become candidates at the state level.
“Many tea partiers across the country have complained on their websites that Walker and other conservative leaders haven’t responded forcefully enough to the unions. They were ticked off that Walker was not organizing a street-level counter-protest. And this void, they said, needed filling,” according to Mother Jones.
“Breitbart, for one, has been circulating a video purportedly showing a single tea party activist harassing fugitive Wisconsin legislators, who fled the state to prevent the GOP-dominated state legislature from voting on Walker’s bill to gut the public-sector unions.
“The prospects are good that it can produce a crowd this weekend—which could lead to an ugly confrontation between the union supporters and the conservative activists.”