Note: This post has been revised from the original in an effort to clarify facts about the Wisconsin budget.
If there’s one thing to understand about the Wisconsin battle, it’s that it’s not really about the budget, but a premeditated and politically-motivated attack on the teachers’ union. The teachers have already ceded to pay cuts — but now Walker is going to start firing them one by one if they don’t give up their bargaining rights forever. Never mind the fact that the Wisconsin budget was left with only a modest shortfall by Walker’s Democratic predecessor. To top it all off, Walker has added an additional $140 million projected shortfall to the next budget with his wealthy donor-friendly tax cuts.
After a commenter pointed out to me that Walker’s budget-busting measures were, according to Politifact, not part of the current shortfall, it occurred to me that the first panel of the cartoon is misleading. While I’d probably write it differently now, I still think the larger point — that he purports to care about the deficit while adding to it — is legit. And even if the current modest shortfall is not due to Walker, it’s clear that the Republicans are using the economic downturn to accomplish their long-sought political goals (union busting) even as they add to deficits themselves. [UPDATE UPDATE: some people are now saying Politifact is wrong (it's a few paragraphs into the post). I give up. Can we just call Walker a douchenozzle and call it a day?]
If you had any lingering doubts that Wisconsin is part of a broader movement to attack workers’ rights, it’s important that Americans understand that Walker is in tight with the billionaire right-wing activists, the Koch Brothers, whose foundation Americans For Prosperity is picking ideological fights in several states:
The effort to impose limits on public labor unions has been a particular focus in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all states with Republican governors, Mr. Phillips said, adding that he expects new proposals to emerge soon in some of those states to limit union power.
Even if Wisconsin teachers manage to preserve their bargaining rights, my feeling is that the bigger picture does not look good. The forces aligned against what few unions remain are just too powerful. In this Gilded Age we live in, moneyed elites have managed to convince millions of ordinary, struggling Americans to reject one of the last means of recourse workers have left. It doesn’t really matter if Scott Walker goes down — they have the ideological vision, and the willingness to take the heat for it. Something weak-kneed Democrats might want learn from.