Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the Mad City Machiavelli

Walker is aiming to break the back of organized labor for all the world to watch.

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker never graduated from college, though the University of Wisconsin is one of the finest public universities in the land. (Thanks, President Lincoln!)

Walker fancies himself a second coming of President Ronald Reagan--okay, without the charm, looks or political finesse--although he just took office in January as a Republican in a state soaked in progressive history and politics. (Thanks, Sens. Robert La Follette and Russ Feingold!)

Before he dropped out of college, Walker must have read Niccolo Machiavelli's classic Renaissance power tract, The Prince. Give the governor this: he's a formidable opponent, thanks to a grandiose sense of purpose. In a few winter weeks, Walker revealed himself to be a ruthless, calculating and mean-spirited man in a corner hideaway of Madison's state capitol, which has jammed with thousands of protestors inside the rotunda and out there on the square.

[Find out 10 things you didn't know about Scott Walker.]

And despite collective anger at his assault on collective bargaining for state employee unions, Walker did something ahead of time that Machiavelli would appreciate as a cunning twist. This is what the governor did to prepare for his war against public employees: he exempted the predominantly male police and firefighters unions from his knife--or dagger. Kind of sissy, don't you think?

Walker knew he would lose up against them, simple as that, because these predominantly male unions would have roared even louder and they plain would not put up with his lowdown dealings. The howls from men who work as "first responders" would have excited even more sympathy from the public. Make no mistake, this is no fair fight. In another sign that he's not acting in good faith, Walker has refused to accept state employee concessions on retirement and health care costs. [See photos of the Wisconsin protests.]

Some say the police and firefighter unions supported Walker's recent campaign for an open seat--but Machiavellian means and ends go beyond spare change in the campaign chest. Essentially, Walker aims to break the back of organized labor for all America to watch. In purely Machiavellian terms, the fewer powerful men on the other side, the easier that task will be.

If Walker wins, the right-wing pundit crowd will crow over the victory and "forget" to mention glaring exceptions, police and fire, to his anti labor union philosophy. This is all part of the plan. [See the U.S. News debate: Should public union workers have collective bargaining rights.]

Simultaneously, on the national scene, public school teacher unions, composed mostly of women, received bad raps on the knuckles--so much so, they are weakened at the bargaining table. A 2010 documentary by Davis Guggenheim, Waiting for Superman, egged on this unfortunate public opinion trend, which began a decade ago.

From his first job, my grandfather rose in the ranks to become the state of Wisconsin's chief highway engineer. Generations of my family were educated in Wisconsin's public schools. Our family friends in Madison are protesting in solidarity with state employees on the square: notably Nancy Heiden, a civic leader who raised the speed skating Olympians, Beth and Eric Heiden, with her husband Jack. Nancy and my mother go back to their days as coconspirators at West High School. My father and his old friend Leon Rosenberg went from sixth grade at Randall Elementary School through medical school at the University of Wisconsin.

Their lives are testament to the treasured "Wisconsin idea," which seems to be at stake. At its broadest, the idea represents a trust between the state's people and its public institutions, especially the university. (Thanks, 1904 University of Wisconsin president Charles Van Hise!) Walker must have missed that day in his short schooling career.

  • See photos of the Madison, Wisconsin protests.
  • Read the U.S. News debate: Should public sector workers have collective bargaining rights?
  • Vote: Is Walker right about public sector unions?