Interpreting Wisconsin voters message
BY R.L. SCHREADLEY
“Toil in the USSR is an obligation and a matter of honor of each citizen who is fit for toil, according to the principle: ‘He who does not work does not eat.’ …
“In the USSR there is being realized the principle of socialism: ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his toil.’ ”
— Article 12, the Constitution of the USSR (1936)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s victory over Tom Barrett, the Democratic mayor of Milwaukee, in a recall election touted as the second most important election of the year (after the upcoming showdown between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney), was supposed to be close.
When the votes were tallied, though, it was close to being a blowout. Some say the Obama-Romney contest could well end the same way.
It’s a long, long way from June to November, and any number of things could happen along that way. Europe could get its act together.
The U.S. economy, at last, could take off. Americans could find jobs again. The unemployment rate could dip below 6 percent. Happy days could be here again. Pigs could fly.
But none of this is likely in the time remaining before voters make their wishes known. Will they give the president four more years to prove his programs, his version of the American dream, lead to the promised land of solid economic growth? Will his administration’s first-term missteps be forgiven?
Is womb-to-tomb economic security for all really achievable in a free-market, capitalistic system? Does Keynesian economics, government stimulus when the economy falters, government pull-back when it overheats and inflation rears its ugly head, work in practice as well as in theory?
Is a healthy society compatible with a government more concerned with the sick than the well? Can any system survive for long when nearly half the population feeds off the earnings of the other half?
Have so many forgotten so soon, or never even bothered to learn, the lessons of history they should have been taught in school: the decline and fall of the bread-and-circus addicted Roman Empire; the murderous tyranny of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the National Socialist German Workers’ (Nazi) Party?
Will just a little tweaking here and there, and a little bit of luck, keep a government that stokes class envy and pursues of policy to “spread the wealth around” from degenerating into tyranny? (And doesn’t spreading the wealth really mean sweeping it into government coffers, where government decides how much and to whom it shall be spread?)
The Wisconsin election is also being read as a strong public rebuke of organized labor, particularly state employee unions that over time secure seats on both sides of the bargaining table (through campaign contributions to union-favored and union-favoring candidates). In Wisconsin these unions wreaked havoc on state and local budgets. Total compensation for public employees far-outstripped earnings in the private sector.
And then there is the matter of union perks. One of the most jealously guarded of these was the requirement that the employer (the state) deduct union dues from the paychecks of its employees and forward the funds collected to the union.
Gov. Walker’s success in ending this has led to a virtual gutting of union membership rolls in Wisconsin. Many, when given the chance, simply declined to pay their dues.
Those who claim Walker’s successful battle to require public employee unions to contribute more (though still substantially less those in the private sector pay) to their health and pension plans make little budgetary sense will have a hard time convincing taxpayers. In just one year, Wisconsin’s billion-dollar-plus budget deficit has been wiped out, and now there is a small surplus. State property taxes also have declined a smidgen.
If Mitt Romney achieves as much in his first year there will be a spot reserved for him on Mount Rushmore.
It is perhaps too soon to write an obituary for public employee unions in the United States, but the failed attempt to recall Scott Walker from the Wisconsin governorship has shone a much needed light on the abuses of the political system that fosters them, much to the grief of the taxpayers who in the end are their real employers.
R.L. Schreadley is a former Post and Courier executive editor.