Politics & Policy

Wisconsin’s Cowardly Democrats

Public employees and Democratic lawmakers haven’t exactly offered conservatives a lesson in civility.

Politically, Americans often use the word “coward” loosely and inaccurately. On Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush condemned al-Qaeda’s attack as the work of “a faceless coward.” In fact, the 19 hijackers had learned martial arts, bulked themselves up, and then brutally overpowered airline crews in order to kill themselves and 2,980 innocent people — all in the despicable service of Islamofascism. Their bloodthirsty deed was many things, but not cowardly. It took lots of courage — or just plain guts — to perpetrate this. Alas, there is no English word for “evil courage” — a concept 180 degrees removed from cowardice.

#ad#For a Smithsonian-grade sample of cowardice, however, look no further than the 14 Democratic state senators who are hiding in Illinois rather than legislating in Wisconsin. Each of them epitomizes the Dictionary.com definition of “coward”:

A person who lacks courage in facing danger, difficulty, opposition, pain, etc.; a timid or easily intimidated person.

One can agree or disagree with the Democrats’ views on Gov. Scott Walker and his benefit-reform proposals. Americans left, center, and right could respect and even admire these Democrats if they stood their ground on the floor of the Wisconsin Senate — arguing against Walker’s ideas, sponsoring amendments to defang his plan, and holding press conferences to promote their perspectives. Many would differ with these actions, but every American would concur that this would be perfectly appropriate behavior for members of a legislative minority.

Instead, these Democrats offer profiles in cowardice.

Rather than stand and fight, the Fearful Fourteen fled south, where they literally are hiding from this legislative battle.

“There’s no point in issuing a press release about where I am,” Sen. Fred Risser (D., Madison) told the Chicago Tribune. “I’m not necessarily in one place.” At least one Democrat is in Chicago. Most seem to be in an “undisclosed location,” perhaps a Best Western Motel in Rockford, Ill. This would put them about 19 miles beyond the reach of the Wisconsin State Patrol and the state senate’s sergeant at arms, who could drag them back to compose a quorum to consider Walker’s proposals.

“Collectively, they are taking about $1,915 a day out of the taxpayers’ pockets,” Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch told Fox News Channel’s Greta Van Susteren Monday night. “And now, the Democrats are fundraising from Illinois. That’s disconcerting, because, on top of that, they still are taking state benefits for every day that they are not showing up for work.”

This is the polar opposite of leadership. This pathetic display makes a troop of second-grade Campfire Girls look tough.

Perhaps, deep down, these Democrats understand that they have no case to make.

Governor Walker is trying to fill a $137 million budget hole this year and a $3.6 billion deficit looming in the next biennial budget. Unfortunately for Walker, he must do this without the Federal Reserve’s talent for quantitatively easing $600 billion out of a clear blue sky.

Excluding cops and firefighters, who protect public safety, Walker wants to end collective bargaining for government workers’ benefits. This would put Wisconsin’s public servants on the same footing as unionized federal employees, who lack collective-bargaining power for wages and are hardly exploited. Under Walker’s plan, Wisconsin’s public-sector unions still could negotiate their members’ salaries.

Walker hopes to reduce taxpayers’ share of the cost for state workers’ generous benefits. Wisconsin taxpayers now pay 99.4 percent of the expense for state employees’ pensions. Walker wants to lower this to 94.2 percent, with unionized public servants picking up the 5.8 percent balance (up from 0.6 percent today).

#page#Comparable private-sector figures are difficult to calculate, in part because few private-sector employees have government-style defined-benefit plans; some have no pensions at all, while others enjoy 401(k)s, IRAs, profit-sharing, or defined-contribution plans. However, specifically among workers with 401(k) accounts, the latest available data indicate that, on average, employers in 2009 financed 21.9 percent of these employees’ 401(k) contributions, while employees in 2006 covered 78.1 percent of such expenses themselves.

#ad#As for health insurance, Walker envisions Wisconsin taxpayers’ slice of the cost of government workers’ premiums dropping from 94.4 percent to 87.4 percent. State employees would pay the 12.6 percent balance, up from 5.6 percent now. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Employer Health Benefits: 2010 Annual Survey, private employers on average paid 70.1 percent of their workers’ health-care premiums, while employees paid 29 percent. (For my spreadsheet with further analysis, please click here.)

Next, rather than have state government serve as the unions’ bagman, Walker wants public employees to pay their union dues on their own. Why does this terrify union members, to the extent of getting fraudulent notes for “Walker pneumonia” from compliant doctors so they can skip work and scream in the streets? If the unions truly deliver excellent service, their members should be happy to pay monthly dues directly to their union bosses. The fact that this terrifies unions reveals their deep-seated lack of confidence in what they offer.

Walker also wants to let state employees decide annually if they wish to remain unionized. Why do Democrats so vehemently oppose a woman’s right to choose whether or not to join a government workers’ union? And shouldn’t male state employees also enjoy the right to choose? Again, if the unions are doing such splendid work, why do they tremble at the prospect of annual recertification elections?

Meanwhile, the civility police — who virtually planted a smoking gun in Sarah Palin’s hand as they raced to blame conservatives for the January 8 Tucson massacre — are as absent as the Fearful Fourteen. They have been as silent as tombstones while leftists compared Walker’s Budget Repair Bill to Adolf Hitler’s deployment of cattle cars, gas chambers, and crematoria to incinerate 11 million people, including 6 million European Jews. Can you say, “Extreme rhetoric”?

One protester carried a sign that read “Kill the Bill,” complete with a drawing of Walker’s legislation sporting a bloody bullet hole. Another sign depicted Walker’s face covered with — you guessed it — a rifle’s crosshairs. The photos here demonstrate that expectations of civility only apply to the political Right. The Left does whatever it damn well pleases in American public life — and with nary a peep of criticism from the commentators who swarm like hornets whenever a conservative and/or Republican says anything short of soothing.

As the Daily Caller’s Matthew Boyle reported, a union thug yanked the wires from the sound system at the Tea Party’s pro-Walker rally Saturday. “A gentleman came up and ripped the cord right out of the speaker,” Chicago tea-partier Steve Stevlic said. “A couple people came and tried to stop him from doing that, and he was pushing and shoving.” Police arrested and then released the unidentified Big Labor henchman.

#page#Newswatcher89 captured a dose of malice within the vapidity that is Twitter. He documented these messages calling not for Governor Walker’s defeat at the polls — as Palin wished for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D., Ariz.) — but rather for his actual assassination. Consider these messages, complete with typos, misspellings, grammatical errors, and other evidence that disproves, yet again, the twin stereotypes that the Right is intolerant and wholly idiotic while the Left is tolerant and universally intellectual:

• Lauren Kauffman (lauren_2121) wrote: “I hope scott walker dies. someone please shoot him?!”

• Dat Le (dat_le13) wrote: “Scott walker must die, mrs branner needs her benefits”

• Josh Harmon (jritsynme): “Please destroy Scott Walker!!! He is the devil and deserves 2 be shot!!! 

• Cassandra B (Drusilla_1616): “sat next to guy in class and he kept going on about how great Scott Walker is, I turned to him said ‘I wish someone would shoot him already.’”

• Josh Harmon (jritsynme): “Scott walker is destroying the state of Wisconsin!!! I wish a anvel would fall out of the sky and KILL the scumbag!!!”

• Jeconti (J-Shack) “Scott walker cut food stamps its over he getting assassinated..!”

#ad#Such provocations could land a bullet in Scott Walker’s head. Metaphorical crosshairs are unfortunate enough. Advocating the assassination of public officials is quite another matter. Thus I have forwarded the identities of these individuals and their messages to the office of Wisconsin attorney general J. B. Van Hollen and the Milwaukee field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I trust that they will know how to handle people who call for killing an elected official.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Democrats have exported their newfound passion for cowardice and cruelty. In Indiana on Tuesday, 37 of the 40 Democrats in the state’s House skipped off to Illinois and Kentucky in order to deny the GOP majority a quorum to consider a bill to end compulsory unionism and make Indiana a right-to-work state.

And, while Representative Giffords bravely recovers from the assassination attempt last month, a U.S. congressman publicly screamed for bloodshed. “I’m proud to be here with people who understand that it’s more than just sending an e-mail to get you going,” Rep. Michael Capuano (D., Mass.) told a union rally in Boston Tuesday, according to the Dorchester Reporter. “Every once and awhile you need to get out on the streets and get a little bloody when necessary.”

Back in Madison, Governor Walker was absolutely correct when he told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday: “Democracy means you show up and participate.”

Walker added. “There’s going to be plenty of time to have the debate. They can make their case, they can make their argument. But democracy is not about hiding out in another state. It’s about showing up here in the capitol and making the case there.”

With all the free time that the Fearful Fourteen have yielded themselves, they should meditate upon Theodore Roosevelt’s remarks on “Citizenship in a Republic.” As TR declared at the Sorbonne in Paris on April 23, 1910:

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University

Deroy Murdock — Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online.

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