On, Wisconsin! Or so it was meant to be with a union-led recall in the home state of Robert "Fighting Bob" La Follette Sr., the populist governor and senator who once shaped the cry for anti-corporate social justice in this nation. After La Follette there was the Wisconsinite William Proxmire, the great conscience of the U.S. Senate, followed by the equally impressive Russ Feingold, who, despite being exactly correct in warning of the consequences of unfettered banking greed, was turned out by Wisconsin voters in 2010. Perhaps if the original McCain-Feingold legislation -- gutted by the Supreme Court -- was still the law of the land on campaign finance, the Democrats and their union base would have survived Tuesday's election.
Certainly that is the excuse provided by what remains of the liberal media, which point to the lopsided advantage in funding for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and to the high court's Citizens United ruling in seeking reasons for this "billionaire's victory" over "people power." But the larger truth is that the spirit of populism has been perverted by the Republican tea party right and that Democrats are left defending government bureaucracy while remaining incapable of responding to America's widespread economic pain.
At a time when so many are worried about obtaining or holding on to work, it's difficult to rally around the guaranteed job security and high pensions of some privileged government employees. Not all public workers fit into this category, to be sure. But nonpublic workers who must struggle with the vagaries of private employment have seen more than enough examples of government employee unions, the last stronghold of organized labor, exercising their power to ensure what appears to be outsized compensation for their members.
Of course this argument is a red herring. The budget crises of state and municipal governments were not brought on by excessive pay to firemen, cops and other civil servants, but rather by a banking meltdown that has enriched those who engineered it. Housing values, and the local taxes dependent on them, are down because of financial shenanigans that wrapped mortgages into collateralized debt obligations, and that is the root cause of government red ink. But the job security and pensions of government employees make terribly convenient scapegoats at a time when so many Americans are lining up at food banks.