Gov. Walker and the GOP’s Carthage Moment
March 16, 2011
As Republicans revel in their victory in Wisconsin in stripping state workers’ collective bargaining rights and other Republican governors seek to duplicate Wisconsin’s power grab, what they perceive as the culmination of the “Reagan Revolution”, may instead be its twilight. It is an ironic moment since the radical right, which often casts itself as the only thing preventing the United States from repeating the fall of ancient Rome, has repeated one of Rome’s bigger strategic blunders and helped reunite the New Deal Coalition whose fracture was the sine qua non of the Reagan Revolution.
Like the outnumbered Wisconsin Democrats, Carthage was faced with the prospect of an unwinnable war with Rome after having been defeated in two prior wars. When Rome demanded that Carthage disarm and turn over its weapons, it complied. Like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who insisted on stripping state employee’s collective bargaining rights even after the outmanned Democrats agreed to all his cutbacks, the Romans demanded the complete capitulation of their enemy through a final humiliating condition that its citizens move inland and permit the abandoned Carthage to be destroyed. The Carthaginians, armed only with their conviction, instead declared war and held off the Romans for three years.
Walker apparently forgot that the Reagan Revolution would never have happened without Reagan Democrats — the union voters who defected from the Democrats and enabled Reagan to nearly split the union vote against President Carter. Thirty years later, the support of Reagan Democrats and decreased union turnout were important factors in Republican victories in last year’s Governors races in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Ronald Reagan rewarded union supporters by firing striking air traffic controllers, appointing anti-union advocates to key positions and signaling to the business community it was open season on labor. As a result, unions dropped from 20 to 7 percent of the private workforce, with the government sector being their last bastion of strength.
The Republicans’ latest union busting efforts, however, has been their Carthage moment as it has alienated Reagan Democrats and energized both labor and the left across the country. Two Republican Senators are now likely to be recalled. Polls also show that Walker, who beat Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett 52-46 percent, would now lose 46-53 as Barrett’s advantage among union voters has increased by 17 points. Ohio Governor Kasich’s poll numbers are similar to Walker’s.
More telling is the fact that in both the state houses and in Congress, the Republicans have made little effort to hide the fact that their party’s interest is not in governing but in ruling. For Republicans, power is not a means but an end in itself. Busting the unions has nothing to do with balancing the budget, but everything to do with strengthening the party’s power. This is part of a larger effort to maximize their power and reward their corporate supporters with tax breaks and privatized state assets while punishing their opponents — even if it is counterproductive.
Witness how House Speaker Boehner has gone from taunting the President over “where are the jobs,” to dismissively stating “so be it” over jobs lost from Republican budget cuts. Governor Walker similarly has joined other Republican governors in thwarting President Obama’s infrastructure program by rejecting federal funding for a high-speed rail project that would have generated 13,000 jobs in Wisconsin. Walker’s decision led train manufacturer Talgo to announce it would close its Milwaukee plant and instead move its operations to rail-friendly Illinois.
Republicans have become so radicalized that they see two Americas – their America which consists of so-called “Real Americans” such as big business, religious fundamentalists, libertarians, tea partiers and the birther bigots that support them and the rest of us who apparently are of no concern to them.
Maybe that is why they do not see the risk that attacking unionized teachers over their pay, pensions and other benefits hoping to stoke the anger of private sector workers who have fallen behind on all counts since 1980 may actually yield the opposite result. They might wonder why the Republicans demand sacrifice from teachers but charity for CEOs of companies such as Milwaukee’s Johnson Controls who by 3:30 on Monday January 3rd had made more than the average Wisconsin worker will all year.
As Republicans pick on disfavored group after disfavored group whether it be women, immigrants, Muslims or working people, middle class voters will soon ask what happened to “one country indivisible” and “government for the people” and want their country back.
In their hubris, Walker and other Republicans forgot that in the Midwest and much of the country, Republicans do not win elections so much as Democrats lose them. This lesson they will learn the hard way. Having energized and united Democrats in the Midwest’s swing states and nationwide, the wrath of Carthage awaits them on Election Day.