Wisconsin – And The Rest Of Us

Andrew Sullivan —  Jun 6 2012 @ 11:31am


Readers know the Dish hasn't exactly been fixated on the epic partisan struggle in Wisconsin over public sector union rights. The reason? I'm not that interested in raw purely partisan mudfights, and while I don't see the harm in allowing public sector unions to retain some collective bargaining rights, especially in an era when unions can be seen as institutions putting a break on soaring economic inequality, I also believe there's a difference between public sector and private sector unions, and that curtailing the massive collective costs that public union benefits place on the public is a perfectly legitimate way to cut spending. It may be vital if we are to regain some fiscal balance. But when all is said and done, my bottom line is that I believe in democratic elections, and granting legitimacy to your opponents when they win.

Leaving aside the issues being fought over, Scott Walker won an election, and absent some grotesque abuse of power, he deserved to serve his term out. I don't think turning out to be even more radical than the platform you ran on is a grotesque abuse of power. It is precisely the kind of over-reach that is best left to the voters at the next election, rather than creating a massive, disruptive, premature political storm that can only deepen partisan deadlock and mistrust. What Wisconsin means in microcosm is not so much a portent of the future November election (though it may be that), or a decisive turn toward fiscal retrenchment (thought it certainly seems that way), but a case study in the complete breakdown of our political system, and of public trust.

The Democrats refused to allow Walker to serve his full term and then seek the judgment of the voters. They acted throughout as if he were somehow illegitimate. They refused the give-and-take of democratic politics, using emergency measures for non-emergency reasons. And in this, they are, it seems to me, a state-based mirror-image of the GOP in Washington. Just as Walker was quite clearly a far right candidate and implemented an agenda that was predictable from the spirit if not the letter of his campaign, so Obama ran precisely on what he has done in office, despite the crushing emergency he was handed on becoming president. His healthcare reform was not suddenly revealed in a bait-and-switch operation. It was exhaustively debated in the primaries and the fall campaign; ditto the stimulus, a no-brainer for any president looking into a deflationary abyss; ditto ending the war in Iraq; and focusing on al Qaeda in counter-terrorism, rather than social engineering of quixotic proportions in counter-insurgency.

He has done what he said he'd do. And yet he has been treated as illegitimate and utterly unworthy of any cooperation or compromise by the congressional and media GOP. I worry that Ross's prediction of zero-sum scorched earth politics in an era of spiraling austerity is accurate. I worry that the polarization that Obama tried to overcome has now been innoculated by the virus of victory.

(Photo: A sign supporting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker stands outside a home June 4, 2012 in Clinton, Wisconsin. By Scott Olson/Getty Images.)