"I am going to stand with the hard-working taxpayers of Wisconsin." -- Gov. Scott Walker
That is a pretty good place to stand if it comes to that -- as it has in Wisconsin, obviously -- and so arises another obvious point: What about Scott Walker for president?
Just asking. We have to see how the government-union tantrum up there plays out and to whose advantage -- that of the taxpayers or that of union members so attached to the public interest they'd rather mill around the state Capitol shouting slogans than perform the jobs for which they hired on. You know, teaching children to read and such like.
The showdown in Wisconsin over union privileges is, for all the hubbub that comes in its train, a wonderful, wonderful thing: too long in arriving. If Scott Walker pulls this thing off -- if, that is, he manages to tame his state's government worker unions -- he will have demonstrated leadership traits of a sort too little evidenced in 21st-century America.
Now the truth is, one doubts our new hero would actually go for the presidency with so much still on his state plate. And it's early days in his tussle with the public employee unions. Signs look good all the same. The governor's determination in behalf of the democratic principle -- to wit, the people rule -- has driven his critics into the frenzy they should have been in years ago. A weak or watery chief executive, facing the same set of circumstances, would have stalled and maneuvered to come up with a weak, watery compromise that might have made certain things better only in the short run.
What Scott Walker has done thus far is priceless. He has smoked out the public unions -- drawn them into a contest whose effect is to show what side they really are on. Were the public unions on the public's side, we would hardly have seen 70,000 or so of their members, teachers included, trying to browbeat elected public officials into doing things their way.
The main officials they managed to browbeat were the 14 Democratic senators who, like thieves in the night, stole away to Illinois to avoid letting the democratic process work as intended. It was one more lesson for the students whose teachers didn't show up: When the going gets tough, the morally flabby leave town.
Walker's proposal that makes public employees chip in for their health care and benefits as well as limits their collective bargaining rights is virtuous and necessary, the more so in straitened economic times.
Negotiations between the government and the people who work for it shut out the public, whose taxes fund whatever the government does. You can boycott a company that rolls over and plays dead for the unions: not so with the government itself, unless you know a secret cave in the Rockies.
President Reagan's dismissal of striking air traffic controllers in 1981 was recognition of the essential truth that that no union enjoys the power -- the legitimate power, that is -- to strike against the public weal and safety. The Wisconsin unions need a lesson -- one that professor Obama has shown unwilling to offer.
This brings to mind another bracing aspect of the whole Wisconsin shebang. It is that the states are taking action in their own behalf: not asking for permission from Washington, D.C., just doing it. It is the way a union of sovereign states was supposed to work all along: the people nearest a problem or difficulty fashioning their own approaches to the matter, within a national framework of generally agreed-on rules. Wisconsin is doing just that: figuring out for itself how to close a deficit projected to reach $3.7 billion.
"President Walker"? That may be looking (however joyously) a bit far down the road. But if Scott Walker doesn't seem the kind of leader who might straighten us so far, given time, well, who does -- the Democratic fugitives whose answer to a challenge appears to be, "Quick, gas up the car"?
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