The Corner

Thoughts on Wisconsin

I like that the battle over public employees’ labor unions is unfolding in the state capital named after James Madison. Madison praised America’s “extended republic,” where our experiment in self-government would be secured by a multiplicity of factions. In such a republic there would be so many interest groups, we would say today, that no one of them, or no stable coalition of several, would be able to maintain a durable majority and use the power of government against others.

 

As Fred Siegel has argued, what Madison could not have imagined was that government itself would become an interest group. Those who tend to its operations have ample incentive and ample capacity to bend the day-to-day workings of government in their own favor. In Charles Lane’s nice summary, “It’s not democracy when citizens lose control over the pay and benefits of the people who work for them. It’s not progressive when employee compensation takes finite resources away from Medicaid, parks, roads, and libraries. And it’s not collective bargaining when union representatives sit on both sides of the table.”

 

The fundamental question had to be joined somewhere: Are the people’s elected representatives in charge of the government, or are public employees and their unions a permanent government, deigning to make tactical concessions to the occasional politician who challenges its control? The fury and hysteria of the demonstrators opposed to the Wisconsin restrictions on public-employee unions inadvertently proved the point. Mere politicians elected by mere voters had no moral authority, in the demonstrators’ opinion, to challenge the permanent government’s prerogatives.

 

Gov. Scott Walker and the Republicans have been audacious, but not conspicuously nimble. The decision by the state senate’s Democrats to deny the 20th vote needed for consideration of spending bills appears to have taken the Republicans by surprise. The work-around of passing the non-spending parts of the bill in a separate piece of legislation, one not requiring a super-majority quorum, could have been effected many days ago, without giving the pro-union zealots weeks of free publicity.

 

It’s even more important to defend Walker’s anti-union initiative now that it is about to become law than it was when it was a mere proposal. Walker and the Republicans must demonstrate that state and local government back under the control of democratically accountable officials is nimble, effective, and parsimonious with taxpayers’ dollars. Swing voters don’t need theory, but tangible results. Conservatives outside of Wisconsin have every reason to work for Walker’s political and governmental success. If the unions successfully reassert their pre-2011 prerogatives, union-ocracy will be an unassailable political fact for many years to come.

Most Popular

Law & the Courts

Obstruction Confusions

In his Lawfare critique of one of my several columns about the purported obstruction case against President Trump, Gabriel Schoenfeld loses me — as I suspect he will lose others — when he says of himself, “I do not think I am Trump-deranged.” Gabe graciously expresses fondness for me, and the feeling is ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More
Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More
U.S.

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More