Madison, the state capital of Wisconsin, is also known as "Mad City"--not for nothing this week. My hometown's uprising on the shores of Lake Monona, in and around the state capitol, made the front page of the New York Times in the nation's most riveting political drama: a showdown between a new Republican governor and public union workers protesting the pain of big budget cuts at their expense. Wisconsin is first to yelp in protest, but may not be last.
Skating on thin ice, Gov. Scott Walker has evinced not a shred of human sympathy as he calmly goes about his business, which is to demonize and demoralize state workers. It's all part of a larger pattern. First it was public school teachers that got the broadsides, snide suggestions they aren't up to snuff. Now it's state public workers, with their pensions and healthcare as fair game. These people are public servants who should not be shrugged off so lightly and rudely. Attention must be paid to them, too, not just the military--which is the mighty whale (or sacred cow) of our federal budget woes, hands down.
Somebody tell the governor that Wisconsin is the state that produced the Progressive Party back in the 1920s and sent a party founder, Robert LaFollette to the U.S. Senate, where he was counted as one of the greatest senators of all time. Somebody tell him Wisconsin is famed for having one of the best state governments (clean of corruption) and public school systems in the nation, not to mention the premier public university.
The University of Wisconsin is close to the state capitol and so everybody on campus is getting a good look at this clash between an inept governor and an outraged public work force. Textbook Politics 101 is also playing out over cable news channels across the nation. The last time demonstrations like this took place against the powers that be was during the anti-Vietnam War movement of the late 1960s. But Madison is a town with a long memory and a strong social conscience. [Read Leslie Marshall: Union-Busting Gov. Scott Walker Only Hurting Wisconsin]
It's hard to see it happen here--on the other hand, maybe Wisconsin's spirit and sense of fairness will embolden public union workers in other states to stand together. They are just sayin': don't let the hard rain of the Bush years and wars fall all over us. [Take the U.S. News poll: Is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Right About the Unions?]
One last word: infrastructure is another big part of the "New Steal" (my phrase). Infrastructure is a common benefit, shared by all, that Republican governors are seizing from the public good. I knew the first clue that Wisconsin's Walker was big trouble came when he returned federal financing to build a high-speed train link between Madison and Milwaukeee (now connected by interstate only.) Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey did much the same thing by refusing to cooperate with a Hudson River tunnel. Republican Gov. Rick Scott just turned down $2.4 billion in federal help for a high-speed rail between Tampa and Orlando. [See the 10 best cities for public transportation.]
They need to be watched--carefully--by the public eye.