Politics of Destruction and Distraction in Wisconsin

"We need to end collective bargaining because of our state’s budget crisis. Oh, the unions have agreed to concessions that would ease our budget woes? Then we need to end collective bargaining because it structurally impacts our ability to set our state on firm fiscal grounding. Oh, we can’t pass a fiscal measure without sufficient quorum? Then we just need to forget the fiscal parts of this bill and just end collective bargaining!"

In the end, the changing logic of Governor Scott Walker comes down to this: We need to end collective bargaining. Period.

Any other rationale about its impact on the state budgets or the necessity for the fiscal health of the state can change because those aren’t the real reasons. The true impetus is that conservatives want to break the unions. They want to take away the vehicle that has helped build a middle class in America. They want to decimate one of the few entities that can provide any counterweight to corporate interests and the influence of the super-rich.

This real motivation was on display when the Republicans in the Wisconsin State Senate cleaved the collective bargaining piece out of a larger fiscal bill in order to pass it without Democratic representation on Wednesday night.

The Republicans, with the exception of moderate Dale Shultz, engaged in the politics of destruction - no longer cloaked behind claims of fiscal necessity and economic prudence, they revealed they simply wanted to destroy their opposition.

Which is, of course, their right. Just as it’s the right of the people of Wisconsin to express their disapproval with unprecedented protests, the right of Democratic Senators to work to prevent such a vote and the right of the voters to begin recall proceedings across the state.

Americans approve of the right of collective bargaining, both as a democratic principle and as a practical means to ensure decent wages and safe working conditions. So Republicans are taking a risk attacking something so widely viewed as part of the American economy – just as Democrats would overstep if they tried to do away with corporations entirely. However, when the right-wing engages in an act of destruction, they are very good at disguising it with an act of distraction.

As protesters rally in Madison against Scott Walker, you can be sure conservatives will distract us by talking about how the protesters are really outside agitators. As Wisconsinites express their disapproval of their Senate Republicans, we’re sure to hear more about Senate Dems shirking responsibility. As Americans voice solidarity with working families, conservatives are going to try to paint union workers as the new "welfare queens." And as progressives express outrage that the Wisconsin Senate went ahead with their vote, apologists are going to say it’s no different than the process of reconciliation in the United States Congress.

This last point was at the heart of Solomon Kleinsmith’s post at It’s A Free Country yesterday, in which he focused on MoveOn's message to its members that the Wisconsin Senate’s act was "shameful, unprecedented, and probably illegal." Solomon – an independent, not a conservative – argued that it was as legal as reconciliation and that this represented hypocrisy on MoveOn’s part. I responded in the comments that there were legitimate legal questions which had been identified and are likely to head into court battles. Solomon replied that those were weak arguments and I started researching more about the rules of procedure in Wisconsin.

Then I realized something. While workers are having their rights stripped away, while historic protests are gripping Madison and while Americans are showing solidarity across the country, I was about to argue protocol for a legislature in a state I’ve never lived in. And I’m not a lawyer.

And that’s when distraction becomes as dangerous as destruction. MoveOn was firing up its supporters over a truly shameful act, and here I was debating the basis of one word they chose. Yes, there should be a debate about whether this act was legal, and that will take place before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. But the rest of us should beware. There has been an astonishing attack against workers, and if we’re not debating what kind of society we want, how to ensure widespread prosperity and the influence of the wealthy on our political process, then chances are we’re being distracted.

As protesters continue to fill the capital in Madison, as recall efforts sweep across Wisconsin and as solidarity rallies emerge around the country, being distracted would be destructive.