Before long, the curtain will fall on the drama in Wisconsin. The Democrat legislators can’t stay away forever. The best they can hope for is to delay a vote on the union provisions of the budget — a vote the Republicans are guaranteed to win.
It’s political-theater season in the states of Wisconsin, Indiana, New Jersey and Ohio, where governors and state legislators are facing off against public and private sector labor unions over proposed right-to-work bills and curtailment of collective bargaining.
So far, Wisconsin’s stage has presented the biggest spectacle, with tens of thousands of teachers fraudulently calling in sick so they could join government workers along with political activists shipped in from other states to take part in protests at the statehouse. Inevitably, some of the protesters have been behaving like drama queens, insanely comparing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to Adolf Hitler and deposed Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak.
Democrat legislators also fled Wisconsin in a desperate ploy to prevent the passage of a budget bill that includes provisions to rescind the right of most state government employees to bargain collectively for benefits. The Democrats in Indiana’s state legislature also staged a walk-out this week to block a right-to-work bill.
With state governments facing massive budget shortfalls during the ongoing recession, governors and legislatures are cutting costs and cutting services, and are raising taxes. Pensions and benefits for government employees are among the largest line items in state budgets, and state governors are facing stiff opposition from state workers who understandably don’t like the painful sacrifices they will have to make.
However, it’s not just that the states are facing serious budget crises. Republican governors also are challenging the power and influence of both private and public sector unions, which make up one of the most crucial parts of the national Democratic Party’s fundraising operation.
That’s why we see Organizing for America, an arm of the Democratic National Committee that was established to help elect President Barack Obama, taking such a large role in coordinating the Wisconsin protests. It’s also why Obama, with his eyes on the 2012 campaign, inserted himself in the Wisconsin chaos, speaking out in support of state employees of Wisconsin, which is expected to be an important battleground state next year. This is not just about labor union rights or prudently spending the taxpayers’ money — it’s about the ability of the Democratic Party to fund its election and re-election campaigns.
Before long, the curtain will fall on the drama in Wisconsin. The Democrat legislators can’t stay away forever, and the nation’s attention span is pretty short. The best they can hope for is to delay a vote on the union provisions of the budget — a vote the Republicans are guaranteed to win.
It’s unlikely the runaway Democrats will want to risk taking the blame for a state government shutdown. Their role is rather to help energize Wisconsin and national Democrats and to draw attention to the political threat posed by Republican efforts to rein in unions. When they’ve played their part, they’ll exit, stage left.
At that point, our attention will be drawn to another, even larger drama on the national stage, starring the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, the Democrat-controlled Senate and the Obama administration.
This one will be a real nail biter. As the federal government speeds toward total fiscal annihilation, will the driver hit the brakes or –– as Obama and the Democrats seem intent on –– do a “Thelma & Louise” ride over the cliff’s edge?
It depends on who is in driver’s seat. Tune in next week …
Community editor Jared Olar may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.