Wisconsin scene highlights liberal weaknesses

August 27, 2011


— The residues of liberalism’s Wisconsin Woodstock — 1960s radicalism redux: operatic lamentations, theatrical demonstrations and electoral futilities — are words of plaintive defiance painted on sidewalks around the state capitol. “Solidarity forever” was perhaps painted by a graduate student forever at the University of Wisconsin. “Repubs steal elections” is an odd accusation from people who, seeking to overturn the 2010 elections, cheered Democratic lawmakers who fled to Illinois — a congenial refuge for labor-subservient Democrats — in order to paralyze the duly-elected Legislature. The authors of the sidewalk graffiti have at least read Jefferson: “The tree of liberty is watered by the blood of tyrants.” The tyrant is “$cott Walker American Fa$ci$t.”

Who, on a recent morning, was enjoying the view and the turn of events. From the governor’s mansion on the shore of sparkling Lake Mendota you can see on the far shore the famously liberal university, from which came many of those who protested his “budget repair” bill that already seems to have repaired many communities’ budgets, in addition to the state’s.

Ostensibly, the uproar was about Walker’s “assault” — Barack Obama’s hyperbole — on union rights. Walker’s legislation does limit the issues subject to collective bargaining and requires teachers and most other public employees to contribute more of the costs of their health and pension plans. Hitherto, in Wisconsin’s school districts, teachers contributed on average 5 percent or less to their health premiums.

Having failed to prevent enactment of the Walker agenda voters had endorsed, unions and their progressive allies tried to recall six Republican senators. If three had been recalled, Democrats would have controlled the Senate, and other governors and state legislators would have been warned not to challenge unions. Fueled by many millions of dollars from national unions and sympathizers, progressives proved, redundantly, the limited utility of money when backing a bankrupt agenda: Only two Republicans were recalled — one was in a heavily Democratic district, the other is a married man playing house with a young girlfriend. Progressives also failed to defeat a Supreme Court justice.

An especially vociferous progressive group calls itself “We Are Wisconsin.” Evidently not.

During the recall tumult, unions barely mentioned either their supposed grievance about collective bargaining, or their real fears, which concern money, particularly political money. Teachers unions can no longer bargain to require school districts to purchase teachers’ health insurance from the union’s preferred provider, which is especially expensive. This is saving millions of dollars, and reducing teacher layoffs. Also, unions must hold annual recertification votes.

And teachers unions may no longer automatically deduct dues from members’ paychecks. After Colorado in 2001 required public employees unions to have annual votes reauthorizing collection of dues, membership in the Colorado Association of Public Employees declined 70 percent. In 2005, Indiana stopped collecting dues from unionized public employees; in 2011, there are 90 percent fewer dues-paying members. In Utah, the end of automatic dues deductions for political activities in 2001 caused teachers’ payments to fall 90 percent. After a similar law passed in 1992 in Washington state, the percentage of teachers making such contributions declined from 82 to 11.

Democrats furiously oppose Walker because public employees unions are transmission belts, conveying money to the Democratic Party. Last year, $11.2 million in union dues was withheld from paychecks of Wisconsin’s executive branch employees and $2.6 million from paychecks at the university across the lake. Having spent improvidently on the recall elections, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the teachers union, is firing 40 percent of its staff.

Progressives want to recall Walker next year. Republicans hope they try. Wisconsin seems weary of attempts to overturn elections, and surely Obama does not want his allies squandering political money and the public’s patience. Since 1960, no Democrat has been elected president without carrying Wisconsin.

Walker has refuted the left’s sustaining conviction that a leftward-clicking ratchet guarantees that liberalism’s advances are irreversible. Progressives, eager to discern a victory hidden in their recent failures, suggest that a chastened Walker will not risk further conservatism. Actually, however, his agenda includes another clash with teachers unions over accountability and school choice, and combat over tort reform with another cohort parasitic off bad public policies — trial lawyers.

As the moonless night of fa$ci$m descends on America’s dairyland, sidewalk graffiti next to the statehouse square drinking fountain darkly warns: “Free water ... for now.” There, succinctly, is liberalism’s credo: If everything isn’t “free,” meaning paid for by someone else, nothing will be safe.

George Will is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. His email address is georgewill@washpost.com.


cato_the_elder 6 years ago

Excellent column. What has happened in Wisconsin over the last year has proven once again how out of touch "progressives" and their narrow special interest groups are with mainstream America. The Democrat Party exists to get money from unions, Hollywood actors and producers, prominent Wall Street financiers and wealthy contingent fee plaintiffs' lawyers. That money is used to keep liberal Democrats in power, which they accomplish by promising to give more and more taxpayers' money to as many narrow special interest groups as they can in return for their votes.

Increasing numbers of Americans, including those in Wisconsin, have awakened to this. Hopefully, this will enable America to clean house in 2012 and return our Republic to constitutional government founded on principles of federalism.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

"Hopefully, this will enable America to clean house in 2012 and return our Republic to constitutional government founded on principles of federalism."

I believe the correct term would be "feudalism" rather than "federalism."

cato_the_elder 6 years ago

No, Bozo, what I'm predicting is the abolition of feudalism - the feudal relationship between the Democrat Party and unions, Hollywood actors and producers, prominent Wall Street financiers and wealthy contingent fee plaintiffs' lawyers.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

What you're practicing is more mindless sloganeering.

Jimo 6 years ago

The only feudalism we have in America is the concentration of the nation's wealth in the hands of a few.

cato_the_elder 6 years ago

More Marxist BS from Jimo, who needs a new shtick.

Jimo 6 years ago

Yeah, me and the Founding Fathers - Marxists all.

cato_the_elder 6 years ago

No, Jimo, Marx wasn't born when the Founders of this Country flourished. You're nothing but a committed, little, smarmy Marxist, and proud of it to boot.

Jimo 6 years ago

This from the nut who said: "The notion that the Bush administration is responsible for the state of our economy when Obama took over is the biggest lie promulgated by the Hard Left in my lifetime."

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

"Fueled by many millions of dollars from national unions and sympathizers, progressives proved, redundantly, the limited utility of money when backing a bankrupt agenda:"

Funny how George neglects to mention that unions and progressives were very open about the money they were spending, or that right-wing groups funneled money into these races in equal quantities, but with zero transparency.

Sure, George, Democrats failed to defeat enough Republican candidates in heavily Republican areas, but the class warfare that you so loudly cheerlead will have serious negative effects on working people, and the mindless sloganeering from Republicans will eventually lose its electoral effectiveness, despite the $billions in corporate money they use to amplify their demagoguery.

Flap Doodle 6 years ago

bozo scolding someone on class warfare.... hardy, har, har....

Corey Williams 6 years ago

"Blah, blah, blah. I contribute nothing, again. Wait, I have to see if Merrill posted anything so I can copy/paste something complaining about copy/paste" There. Fixed it for you, Snap.

Corey Williams 6 years ago

And what do you bring to the table? "...The Democratic Terrorist Party..." Yes, nice one. Good on you.

cato_the_elder 6 years ago

By the way, Bozo, don't know whether you've seen or heard the just-in news stories that have reported the source of the recent earthquake that shook D.C., Virginia, and surrounding areas.

It's a fault line running under the area that spokesmen for the Obama administration have identified as "Bush's fault."

Cait McKnelly 6 years ago

The very fact that Will used the term "fa$ci$m" was enough to make me toss this article in the trash. More right wing name calling.

Cait McKnelly 6 years ago

He's not a "pundit". He's a propagandist.

verity 6 years ago

"There, succinctly, is liberalism’s credo: If everything isn’t “free,” meaning paid for by someone else, nothing will be safe."

Mr. Will has hit a new low with this. He is smart enough (or at least used to be) to absolutely know that is a lie. However, he has always looked down on the great unwashed masses---rightwing elitism. He thinks those of us in the heartland (and that includes you who support him) are just a bunch of dumb hicks.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

" I can't make my life better without improving yours because under capitalism you won't trade with me unless I'm offering you something you value more than what you are giving me in exchange."

How quaint. Too bad the vast majority of capitalists operate under the theory that they can, and will, improve their lot at the expense of others.

"Don't buy into the propaganda sold to you by the statists."

So we should buy into your propaganda, instead?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

Here's the difference between us--- you're a fundamentalist, and I'm not. I can readily admit that there are good aspects to capitalism, and a sizable percentage of capitalists are honorable people who treat their employees well, and actually care about the communities they live in.

But there are flaws in capitalism, as well as among millions of practicing capitalists. For every capitalist that cares about the health and well-being of his employees, there is easily one or more who have no qualms about throwing them under the bus if it pumps up the quarterly profit-loss statement. And externalized costs, such as global warming, don't even enter their consciousness.

But to you, I'm nothing more than a "statist" merely because I recognize that the unbridled worship of greed has negative consequences.

tbaker 6 years ago

Bozo - the beauty of capitalism is it is self-limiting. The flaw you speak of is Government intervention. When the markets are allowed to function without it, people like your cruel employer are dealt with by the market, in this case the labor market. Employers who throw employees under the bus don't stay in business very long. I'd be interested in seeing what you think the difference is between "greed" and "profit motive."

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

"Bozo - the beauty of capitalism is it is self-limiting."

Well, no, it's not. Self-indulgent is more like it.

tbaker 6 years ago

Why yes, it is. Self-indulence comes with a cost. History is of full of examples of people who chose to behave like this and paid for it. We didn't need government to step in. Reality is a far more effective consequence.

Jimo 6 years ago

"tried to recall six Republican senators....only two were recalled."

That's only because the law wouldn't allow every Republican senator to be put to a vote. Nor did Dems get to pick which Repubs to vote on. There was a maximum of six and they were specific individuals. Putting every Republican on the ballot would have ended GOP control. That's what scares Will into whistling past the cemetery -- and has Republican officeholders talking about how to discourage voter turnout.

Four things will happen next year: 1. The GOP governor will be subject to recall. 2. More GOP legislators will be subject to recall. 3. Some but not all GOP officeholders will be recalled. 4. There will be fewer extremist GOP officeholders.

Scott Drummond 6 years ago

  1. And the right wingers and their paid propagandists will never, ever, never admit any error in pursuit of their destructive and disgustingly selfish agenda.

camper 6 years ago

Still trying to decipher the 1st sentence of Will's piece here. This may take a couple of months and I doubt that there will be much discussion about by then. I'm struggling right now to figure it out what he's trying to say.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

I think it means something along the lines of "Resistance is futile, you will be absorbed."

Linda Endicott 6 years ago

I think that's "assimilated"...

But still correct...they expect all of us to become little robots for their cause...and unfortunately, some on here already have...

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

Yea, as soon as I posted it, I realized I'd paraphrased. But it works either way.

camper 6 years ago

George Will tries to combine so many reference points (mostly obscure) and tries to relate them to some overall theory, mostly some liberal conspiracy, that it is virtually impossible to follow his cause and effect relationships that he always tries to construct. In the end, it is really hogwash....tho one must admire his knowledge of these reference points. But this is the problem with Will, he takes these reference points and extrpolates it to some overall theory, which is invariably some type of crticisim of liberal philosophy by making huge leaps. Totally flawed if you look at it closely. At best he is a smart man. At worst, he is just a hack trying to promote intelectualism amongst his base.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

He's the Rube Goldberg of political columnists.

weeslicket 6 years ago

some cliffsnotes on reading george will:

  1. the lead (nod to camper on this): "The residues of liberalism’s Wisconsin Woodstock — 1960s radicalism redux: operatic lamentations, theatrical demonstrations and electoral futilities — are words of plaintive defiance painted on sidewalks around the state capitol." lesson learned: when reading mr will's editorials, please remember that his lead is some mismash of both Pilgrim's Progess and Paradise Lost.*

  2. as for the general content, organization and voice of the rest of mr. will's editrorials: lesson learned: it's really just george will acting as elmer gantry doing lord jim.

  3. go ahead and hit that easy button now.

  4. i know that at least on reader is appreciating my use of capital letters.

riverdrifter 6 years ago

Will also thinks he's an expert on baseball. He's a moneyed milquetoast and a sissy who's never once worked a day in his life. He wouldn't know hard work if it spit in his face.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.