Is it starting to become clear yet? The totally unnecessary chaos in Wisconsin should be a revelatory moment for anyone who wishes to learn that working people have no business in the Republican Party. Rookie Governor Scott Walker's blitzkrieg against collective bargaining rights for public employees is the sort of thing that happens when an ideologue is elected, someone who serves a political philosophy rather than the people who placed him in power. It also reveals the Janus face of the Republican Party. One face is of the social conservatives, dominated by the Tea Party, whose pro-fetus, anti-tax sentiments are stoked and inflamed by the other face of the party: the corporate side that's in the pocket of Wall Street and beholden to their campaign financiers.
Their marching orders include strip-mining a century's worth of progress in labor relations earned by the bloodshed and struggle of working people. And if you think that the freshman GOP governors are only concerned with public unions, think again. This new breed of radical, right-wing corporatists believe they've been given a mandate to repeal the New Deal.
Walker inadvertently exposed the whole scheme to a prank phone-caller identifying himself as oil billionaire and Republican donor David Koch. Walker blathered on for 20 minutes about his union-busting plans, hatched in closed-door secrecy with a loose cabal of freshly sworn GOP governors, including those in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Florida, and New Jersey, who were prepared to follow Wisconsin's lead in stripping worker's rights under the guise of financial necessity. They used a budget crisis to attack the unions, just like George Bush used 9/11 to attack Iraq.
The stealth campaign against unions, disregarding decades of progress, was done with such a cavalier attitude it prompted me to look into the background of Governor Walker. He is a preacher's son who attended Marquette University, where he ran for student government president but lost to a write-in candidate after being cited for violations of campaign rules. Walker attended college for four years but dropped out without earning a degree. His Milwaukee mentor, however, was Reince Priebus, current chairman of the Republican National Committee and the man credited with laying the groundwork for Walker's election. Priebus was the seed from which the anti-union crusade germinated, and he promised Walker the complete support of the national organization.
When the Republicans came into power in the midterm elections, they promised their focus would be entirely on job creation and budget cuts. So, what has been on the agenda? In the House of Representatives, bills have been introduced to restrict abortion, curtail same-sex marriage, expand gun-carry rights, including a proposal to allow firearms on the floor of Congress, reducing the corporate tax rate, and amending the National Labor Reform Act to get rid of the secret ballot. The focused attack on the teacher's union is meant to weaken a traditional Democratic voting bloc. By claiming that teachers' contracts are too generous, even after Wisconsin educators agreed to negotiate, Republicans have declared open warfare on funding the public school system.
I used to believe these ideological slaves wanted to go back to the 1950s, but I was wrong. They want to return to the 19th century, when the gentry could afford to educate their children and the poor worked at manual labor for generation after generation until unions insisted on child labor laws. Any job creation in there?
While working-class, Republican foot-soldiers rail about taxes and immigration, men like the Kochs, Karl Rove, and Dick Armey move them around like pawns on a chess board, using and discarding them when necessary. This battle over public unions should have particular resonance for Memphians. It was 1968 when then Mayor Henry Loeb refused to negotiate with a public union he considered to be illegal, forcing a strike by the city's sanitation workers. I wonder if the GOP governors even realize that the right for public employees to unionize was the fight for which Dr. Martin Luther King gave his life.
Randy Haspel writes the blog "Born-Again Hippies," where a version of this column first appeared.