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Restore the Wetlands. Reinforce the Levees.

Tyranny Disguised as Fiscal Discipline



“. . . to secure these rights [including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness], governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . . . whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it . . .”

“In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”Declaration of Independence


On the night of Weds. March 9, after weeks of massive opposition rallies and national attention, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and his Republican allies in the state senate pulled a legislative maneuver to pass a bill that strips the state’s public workers of the right of collective bargaining. Wisconsin’s teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other public workers had held and cherished the right to bargain for improved working conditions since 1959. These workers agreed to the fiscal remedies Walker sought, but refused to surrender their right to collective bargaining. He forced his bill through anyway, by trickery. Ironically, it was on another March 9 that Congress passed the first piece of FDR’s New Deal legislation, the Emergency Banking Act of 1933.

There was no fiscal crisis in Wisconsin when Walker took office on Jan. 3. But there was a big deficit after his first legislative priority as governor, to give Wisconsin corporations some $140 million in tax breaks.

What makes Walker’s action most reprehensible is his absolute refusal to meet with his opponents or to listen to the tens of thousands of people in the streets objecting to his scheme for “fiscal repair.” Collective bargaining is a right that would only be taken away by a tyrant, and only by force and deception. (Former labor secretary Robert Reich calls it a coup d’etat.) In Walker’s refusal to meet with or listen to the people he was elected to govern, he violates the very principles of representative government.

“Conservative” Is Not the Word for Someone Like Scott Walker

In the fall of 2009 as the Tea Party movement was growing louder and more raucous, we posted a piece titled “Are ‘Conservatives’ Conservative? Are They Even American?” The obviously provocative title irritated a number of our gentle readers—ungentled them, you might say. We said the question was asked not about ordinary citizens, with whose distress we largely sympathize, but about “the elites, the elected officials who until recently held the White House and majorities in Congress, certain corporate executives and right-wing think tankers and pundits who identify themselves as conservatives.”

This time we’re not asking a rhetorical question—we’re declaring it, in the spirit of Michael Moore asserting on Wednesday night’s Rachel Maddow Show, “this is war.” It is class war directed against the middle class and unions by the powerful elites who benefited from the Supreme Court’s noxious, antidemocratic Citizens United decision (Jan. 2010), by the odious Koch brothers and others who fund Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, and other corporate-backed “grassroots” organizations that seek to further crush the rights of workers and ordinary Americans at a time when the disparities in wealth are at 1929 and Robber Baron era levels.

Republicans are not only attempting radical rollbacks in Wisconsin but also in Ohio, Indiana, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Missouri, Maine, Idaho, Montana, etc. The Shock Doctrine is being applied to the heartland—shock therapy. Republican governors and their allies in state houses—in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Florida, for example—are awarding large tax breaks to corporations and increasing the tax rates on the poor and the elderly. Gov. Rick Scott of Florida proposes cutting $1.75 billion from his state’s eduation budget, but has given tax cuts of about the same amount that mainly benefit the well-to-do.

Obama’s Comfortable Shoes

“If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself. . . . I’ll walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States of America because workers deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner.”Barack Obama, Nov. 3, 2007, Spartanburg, S.C.

Where is the president of the United States whose election was aided by the get-out-the-vote drives of union members in the very states now under assault? Is he afraid of offending his Republican friends? Where are the prominent Democratic members of the United States Congress? They appear to be afraid of displeasing their corporate contributors, failing to understand that when they stand with the middle class, the firefighters and police and teachers, bus drivers and train operators—the people who keep this country rolling—they do not need the corporate contributions.

We in all our terrible, thunderbolt-hurling potency demand that the Democrats, beginning with Obama, stand with the people. Come join the protesters in Madison and Lansing—they will welcome you and your poll numbers will rise (we know what you really care about). We call on Meet the Press, Face the Nation, and network news producers to share the microphone with labor leaders, teachers’ union presidents, former Wisconsin senator Russ Feingold, and big-name Democrats who aren’t too cautious to speak up for workers’ rights.


A government’s legitimacy derives from the consent of the governed. When a ruler—a mayor, governor, or president—ignores the popular will, and decides that he alone knows what is best; when he answers to a power other than that of the ordinary people, then he loses his legitimacy.

Recall efforts to remove the job-killing, security-destroying Republicans in Wisconsin are under way. We wish these efforts well. Democracy has always been a challenge. Now it is under assault. Many of those who claim to be conservative are in fact radicals bent on demolition of the social contract, the social safety net.

Wisconsin is our Egypt—a beacon of nonviolent, principled persistence. On Saturday, March 12, some 85,000 to 100,000 protesters—the largest gathering yet—turned out in the streets of Madison, this time accompanied by a parade of tractors driven by Wisconsin farmers who circled the state capitol to show their support for public workers and their opposition to the deeply unpopular governor.


See also:

Wendy Kaminer, “Bullying and Obama’s Politics of Appeasement” : Obama’s penchant for compromise and desire for bipartisanship have made him a disastrous president in an angry, hyper-partisan era when politics is just another word for bullying.

Sasha Abramsky @ Salon: “Mr. President, Use the Damn Bully Pulpit!

As I write this, I’m listening to music from Woody Guthrie—a gentle folk song about the honor of hard work and the dignity of working people. I feel a rustling of ghosts from America’s past stirring—the victims of New York’s Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, for example; the men and women who fought (and sometimes died) for union recognition at car manufacturing plants and other factories; in mines; in fields; and in schoolrooms across the country and the decades. Walker’s machinations in Wisconsin sure ought to be riling those ghosts up. After all, theirs is a noble history, and these days it’s being crudely violated, vandalized.


top illustration by Giudizio Finale, Battistero di San Giovanni, Florence (XIII–XIV c.)

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