One of the more reliable truisms is that “the zealots will always overreach”. It’s the question of “when” that gets funky. But pretty obviously the crowd that rode into office on a wave of inchoate, anti-tax, anti-spending, anti-government rage last November is getting slapped upside the head with something they did not expect. It goes without saying that it couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch.
As Wisconsin’s well-coordinated populist uprising spreads around the country the prospects that it’ll stop Tea Party-style revolutionaries in their tracks is not good. They do have the votes, which makes a near-term victory likely, but also Pyrrhic over a longer run of time. Like the 2012 election cycle, for example. I suspect Scott Walker and his crowd probably can figure a way to lure the AWOL Democrats back into Madison — most likely by employing the most tried-and-true gimmick of careerist ideologues … kicking the can down the road. Watch Walker shift the hot-button collective bargaining issue on to Wisconsin’s next budget bill. (Remember, this fight, like the national GOP in DC, is over gutting the current budget). That “other budget” has to be fought out by the end of the session this spring. Walker might be able to make the drum-banging protesters go away for a few weeks by playing faux-reasonable and leaving the emotional stuff for … six weeks from now.
But with the maelstrom they’ve created with their ham-fisted maneuvers to date, the national attention that has poured in on them, and the re-vitalized connection of the unions to the Democrats and the Democrats’ organizational machinery, there’s no way for Walker et al to sell one of their classic revisionist histories of what’s going on. Way too many people are paying attention, and just as facts have a liberal bias, a lot of focused attention on the details and the direct, “reality-based” effects of ideological jargon is never a good thing for anti-government zealots. Also, as regards the can-kicking strategy, several observers have noted that (much) better spring weather, in May as Wisconsin’s legislative session is supposed to end, only makes it more likely that more protesters will show up to get in the fun.
So did Walker and his team, with their Koch Brothers support, not see this coming? I mean, their message was “cut spending”. They repeated it ad nauseam, like those raspy audio greeting cards. Everybody knew, right? So what did they miss?
What they “missed” is that since their winning message has no specifics, no details and therefore no honest discussion of the consequences of gutting middle class programs by fiat, there was no way they could have made an informed calculation of the public response. Hell, the public really didn’t know what Walker/every other rote Tea Party-pandering conservative was talking about, other than of course that they were going to wave a sceptre and cut taxes, stop spending, reduce the deficit and provide jobs, jobs, jobs. (Third Rule of Conservative Campaigning: Once you’ve got ’em mad as hell, don’t confuse ’em with details.) Now that the public is getting the cold water wake up to what these guys are really all about, and is getting a 24/7 education in how exactly collective bargaining works, the appeal of the usual conservative bumper sticker logic is, shall we say, somewhat muted. Reality, damn it it’s a pisser.
What is also delicious, in terms of the Tea Party-ites blundering into a situation with a very high-profile scrutiny of their motivations and behind-the-scenes players is the now near universal understanding of the Wisconsin … Indiana … Ohio … Colorado … Michigan … fight as a thoroughly political brawl, largely unrelated to the righteous claims of fiscal propriety. One analyst quite correctly explained the conflict as the Republicans over-playing their hand in a blitzkrieg attack on the primary sources of Democratic campaign funding … a scenario that could only be counter-balanced if liberals somehow made a similar assault on conservatives’ mega-church constituency, which for them is an equally reliable source of cash and organizing power. The one difference being that there are actual laws on the book — you know, in the Constitution — guaranteeing one while prohibiting the other.
But as we know, the reality of the Constitution is another one of those things the new-conservatives routinely over-talk and wildly under-think.