Gunpowder plot explodes in Madison

Guy Fawkes comes to Wisconsin

by nkronos on March 10, 2011

Make no mistake that the events of the past few weeks in Madison, Wisconsin will go down in the history books alongside such precursors to great upheavals as the Boston Massacre and Harpers Ferry. Only five weeks after Jared Loughner’s shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others elicited calls for a new civility in American politics, Wisconsin’s Democratic state senators fled Madison, lighting a fuse that now threatens old greasy rags accumulated for decades in the garages, basements, and tool sheds of American civics and government.

Rather than work within the procedural rules of Wisconsin’s elected body, these senators sought by their extraordinary action to block a vote on Governor Walker’s “budget-repair” bill, and, in their words, call attention to the measure. For a while they succeeded in the former; they succeeded in the latter more than they dared to dream.

Early on President Obama inserted himself into the battle both openly and from behind the scenes. Verbally, he accused Governor Walker of an “assault” on his state’s employees and of denigrating them. Surreptitiously,  his political machine organized 25,000 protesters and coordinated efforts in Madison with other organized protests in other states like Ohio and Michigan, where similar battles loomed. Democrats and militant labor recognized at the very top of their organizations that the stakes in Wisconsin were the stuff of real political wars because elections are temporal. Presidents and governors come and go, but fundamental changes in the strategies and structure of government–like health care takeovers and collective bargaining reforms–outlast lifetimes.

As happens in many battles, Walker won his with a flanking action, reminiscent in its gutsiness of the Inchon landings during the Korean War. Like General MacArthur before him, Walker realized that in his current position he would keep giving ground, faced by the superior manpower and propaganda of his foe. His poll numbers were plummeting, and recall petitions for his senate allies began circulating. So rather than continue to offer concessions to the Democrats and run the risk of their return in triumph to Madison, hailed as heroes by the mob thronging the capitol, Walker used a parliamentary maneuver to claim victory’s laurels. Republicans surprised their Democratic opponents–who were left ridiculously sputtering about not being given enough time to debate the bill–with passage of the controversial part of the bill last night, a “reverse reconciliation” as Mickey Kaus calls it.

Walker stole a march, but the war is far from over. Last night like Red Chinese “volunteers” streaming across the Yalu River to thwart MacArthur’s advance, Starbucks-swilling riff-raff stormed the Madison state house (video), smashing windows, chanting, and generally letting it be known their panties were in a wad. Despite calls from some like former Labor Secretary Robert Reich that those opposed to the bill continue to follow the democratic process and build opposition through conventional political means, firebrands like the gelatinous Michael Moore have used more deep-fried rhetoric. Besides warning the rich to “watch their asses,” he told them their wealth was a natural resource for all to take and use. Certainly Moore has the mien of one who believes what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine also.

Socialist parties and groups have called for a general strike and the rise of a militant worker’s movement: “Our democracy is not contained within the assembly houses and state capitols; we build it in the streets!”

Already some elements are not content with merely metaphorical language–the kind condemned when Sarah Palin or other Tea Partiers used it during the last campaign. Republican state senators have received death threats and released one such letter to the press. Nevertheless, should these threats weaken Republican resolve or otherwise influence the outcome in Madison, the elected executives and legislative bodies of Michigan, Tennessee, Ohio, New Jersey, and elsewhere can expect to see them too. Tolerating them is how societies devolve into the political repression common in the Middle East, where those opposed to the status quo live in constant fear of what the “street” may do.

Today the Wisconsin General Assembly passed the bill, 53 to 42, sending it to Governor Walker to sign, which he will undoubtedly do. One assumes its passage will lead to the return of the Democratic exiles. And then the fight over America’s future goes on.

Government entitlement programs are now equal to 35 percent of wages, quadrupling their share during the last half century. Although that number is clearly unsustainable, its size makes it almost politically impossible to reduce: too many of those receiving taxpayer largesse have too great an incentive to tolerate any government action. And so they scream. And so they will fight.

Because even if a disease is eventually going to kill its host, the disease still does not want the host receiving treatment.

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