Some Democrats as well as their ideological allies in the media and the leaders of their various auxiliary organizations seem to see victory in their defeat in Wisconsin this past week. “AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka,” for example “dubbed Gov. Scott Walker Thursday ‘the Mobilizer of the Year’ for the labor movement, saying Walker’s move to take away collective bargaining rights for public employees will boomerang on Republicans.” James Taranto summarizes E.J.Dionne’s recent column as saying that “Republicans won a legislative victory but overreached, just as Democrats did a year ago [with Obamacare], and they are going to pay a political price, just as the donks did in November.”
Now, to be sure, the recent poll numbers among Wisconsinites for Walker’s modest reforms don’t look much better than do those for Obama’s major health care overhaul. Yet, here’s one distinction to bear in mind. The intense debate over Walker’s plan took place over three weeks, a relatively compressed time frame for a debate of this magnitude. By contrast the debate over Obamacare unfolded over three seasons (Summer 2009, Autumn 2009, Winter 2009-10), with the House passing the bill just after last year’s Spring Equinox.
The shorter time frame for the Wisconsin debate has not given people much time to consider all the issues involved in this reform/budget package. Consider, for example, polling on Obamacare. While Democrats had been talking about reform since the transition, the debate didn’t start heating up until the spring of 2009, becoming really intense that summer. At the beginning of that sultry season, a slight plurality favored the Democrats’ reforms. While people supported health care reform in the abstract, once they learned the details of the plan crafted in Washington, D.C., they became increasingly skeptical and indeed outright opposed.
Similarly, while people favor the rights of public employees to organize in the abstract, the more they learn the details of Walker’s reforms curtailing their privileges, the more citizens will realize how these reforms protect Wisconsin taxpayers from unions who have gained an inordinate amount of power in recent years. As the reforms limit the unions’ privileges, they giving local governments (including school districts) greater flexibility in providing benefits to their employees.
Over at Campaign Spot, Jim Geraghty’s political guru, the man he has nicknamed Obi-Wan Kenobi offers similar thoughts:
The mistake political junkies always make is wildly overestimating how much detail normal folks have about politics and government. (Not a criticism of normal folks.They are sane.We are not.) So with Chris Christie and now Governor Walker, the public is just beginning to gets its head around the pay and benefits and pensions of state employees. And Wisconsin has brought the whole question of giving state employees not only civil-service protections but the kind of collective-bargaining rights that corrupt current politicians into giveaways that force generations of taxpayers into indentured servitude and ultimately hurt public employees by bankrupting their pension funds.
So Walker’s numbers are irrelevant. Get into any controversy and the numbers tremble, but look at former Michigan governor John Engler and Christie and, for that matter, Thatcher and Reagan. People cut through the noise, figure it out and the political dividend is huge. I’m almost sorry Walker had this quick a victory.
As time passes and people consider the details of the reforms Republicans enacted in Wisconsin, they may well come around to seeing them as beneficial to the Badger State. Governor Walker was wise to hold firm. He will assuredly have more than a Pyrrhic victory.