Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Is Right in Being Wrong

It's a bad policy, but the governing party does get to govern.

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A friend of mine made a good point today: Let’s retire, or at least put a temporary moratorium on, phrases like ram through and cramming down the throat in relation to legislative acts. These phrases unfair imply illegitimacy in the process. The fact of the matter is that what’s going on in Wisconsin, for example, is an unhappy but legitimate exercise in representative government.

Look I don’t like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker or his cheap attempt to paint union-busting as a noble attempt to salvage his state’s finances. As my bloleague Anson Kaye, among others, has pointed out Walker helped dig this year’s budget hole with his tax cuts. Like most other modern Republicans he doesn’t care about budget deficits, which involve both spending and revenue (specifically, the deficit is spending minus revenue). He is, to borrow the phrase Scott Galupo brought up in this space yesterday, another budget fundamentalist, focused on sinful spending while declaring the revenue side (taxes) as sacrosanct.

But the good people of Wisconsin elected Scott Walker as their governor. And they elected Republican majorities in their legislature. And elections have consequences. The GOP-run Wisconsin assembly may have rushed the vote on the Walker bill, broken with tradition, and played hardball doing so--but that doesn’t make the vote illegitimate. (Does anyone think, anyway, that the Republican majority wasn’t going to get it passed through that chamber?) [ See photos of the Wisconsin protests.]

TNR’s Jon Chait made a similar point yesterday:

Likewise, there's nothing wrong in principle with Republican governors proposing to close their state deficit and bust unions at the same time. I disagree with the union busting. Moreover, they shouldn't lie about what they're doing, and it would have been nice if Walker admitted he planned to do this during the campaign instead of springing it on voters afterward. But that aside, there's no reason why Walker's budget measure should be narrowly restricted to the budget.

And does the fact that the Republicans won the last election mean there’s anything wrong with huge crowds turning out to express their disapproval of what their elected representatives are doing? Not at all. It’s all part of the process. But we elect representatives with the job of governing as they judge best, and that involves balancing their own philosophies with the desire of the electorate. If voters don’t like it, well, the next election will have consequences as well. [ Vote now: Is Walker right about public sector unions?]

I think back to the healthcare debate. President Obama and the Democrats in Congress governed as they thought best. Did public disapproval make what they did illegitimate? That the healthcare law was ‘crammed down the voters’ throats’ as some GOPers liked to say? No. And does that mean that the Tea Partyers were wrong to turn out in protest? Nope. Fringe nutty, perhaps, and certainly in some cases they behaved poorly, but they were right to express their views. [See editorial cartoons about the Tea Party.]