In keeping with my Midwestern theme I will now tell you all about the goings on in the great state of Wisconsin. My baseline knowledge of Wisconsin as of two weeks ago consisted of the following: they make cheese; they wear cheese-shaped hats to football games; the Packers won the Superbowl this year. I can honestly say I never expected to learn much more about Wisconsin – not because it is not wonderful, interesting place, but because it so rarely makes the national political news. If you have been paying attention at all in the last couple of weeks, however, you will know that Wisconsin has been large on the national scene lately, and could signal major problems for the Republican Party across the nation.
There is some straight-up craziness going on in the Badger State right now. For about two weeks, Wisconsinites have been protesting their governor’s effort to end collective bargaining for unions. This would essentially strip unions of all their power, making it difficult or even impossible for groups like teachers or firefighters to successfully negotiate for higher wages or better working conditions. Wisconsin’s Democratic senators fled the state so that the Republicans would not have enough lawmakers present to hold a vote. The protests have escalated to the point that an estimated 70,000 people are now protesting outside the State House in Madison, with about 600 sleeping inside the Capitol building in protest. Policemen who had been ordered to evict the protesters joined in the protests themselves on Saturday, but government officials have been slowly cracking down on protesters by restricting sleeping bags and outside food. Despite the sustained protests Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker stood by his proposal on Meet the Press this week. In perhaps the most unbelievable turn in this saga, according to Mother Jones a (now former) Indiana government official took to Twitter to encourage the use of live ammunition on the protesters. I will now repeat that for emphasis. Live ammunition. On protesters.
Aside from the fact that this is a great story, I can’t help but be completely shocked by the apparent lack of concern the Republican Party is showing for the desires of the people who elected them. I understand that not every policy is going to be popular, and I also understand that many states, especially in the Midwest, need to make budget cuts, but when those budget cuts drive 70,000 people to the streets in the middle of February that might be a clue that your policy is a bad one. This, coupled with the fact that the Tea Party warned the mainstream Republicans last week that if they did not make budget cuts they would be voted out of office, is just proving my theory that the newly elected Republicans in government are totally out of touch with reality. Collective bargaining is not one of those things you can just do away with because you feel like it, it is one of the central rights that employees have against the governments that employ them. This callous approach to worker’s rights is like something out of a Woody Guthrie song. I mean, honestly. If there were an outrage font I would be using it.
Aside from my outrage, though, there are actual implications. At some point, either Governor Walker or the protesters will give up. I’m guessing it’s not going to be the protesters because, you know, their livelihoods depend on them winning this fight and Governor Walker is pretty much screwed at this point anyway. If the unions and workers come out ahead on this one, it could spell problems for budget-cutters everywhere, and serious trouble for the Republican Party in upcoming elections. Assuming we haven’t forgotten about this by then, that is.