In Wisconsin, the privileged class is striking back—has Gov. Walker bitten off more than he can chew?

Canadian columnist David Warren, writing in the Ottawa Citizen, puts the Wisconsin situation in the context of the overspending of the Western world as a whole and particularly of the recent riots by public sector employees in Greece and other financially pressed European countries when they were also threatened with cutbacks on their perks. To spare the reader the frustration I experienced, I’ve left out the last part of the column, in which Warren loses any thread of a coherent argument.

Yankee mobs

For those who were getting bored with the distant scene from Cairo—and the reprises in Algiers, Benghazi, Amman, Sana’a, Manama, Beirut, and Tehran—we now have scenes of chaos from the Wisconsin State Capitol. “Democracy is coming: to the USA,” to quote a certain Leonard N. Cohen, or so it must appear to those who have come to associate democracy with mob demands.

Wisconsin, whose capital is Madison in case you haven’t looked it up recently, is in the throes of a “collective action” that has, in fact, better parallels in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, than anywhere in the Middle East. Yet in the grand scheme of things, everything is connected, and I’ll try to draw the circle.

This state was typical of many, through the last U.S. election. Conservative Republicans made big gains in the national Congress, but even bigger in state legislatures and government houses. They are riding an arguably unprecedented trend, in which the U.S. electorate becomes increasingly proactive on the budgetary issues.

Wisconsin, and at least three dozen other states, face exactly the same challenge as states within the European Union, which have piled up debts that simply cannot be repaid, and are staring into bottomless chasms of public sector “entitlements.” Taxes have been pushed to the practical limit—beyond which private enterprise becomes pointless—and something has to give.

Compounding this is the squalor of post-modern society, more advanced in Europe. Populations are aging rapidly, two full generations after a “sexual revolution” undermined both the Christian moral order that glued society together, and the demographic principle by which the aged and deceased were replaced by babies. This is further compounded, in the European case, by massive immigration of the culturally alien, into countries which have no “melting pot” experience.

The U.S. and Canada are not nearly as far gone, but we are headed unambiguously down the same road. And the Americans are displaying their “exceptionalism” again, by wrestling with these problems in an open way.

We could look instead at New Jersey, Indiana, Michigan, Arizona, or many other states in which fairly new governors and much-freshened legislatures are doing what Washington has been shrinking from. They are confronting typically national problems within their own domains, ranging from illegal immigration and organized crime; to the key, unavoidable issue of public sector entitlements—from the wages of innumerable unionized state employees, to their perks and pensions.

Insofar as he has a riot on his hands, within two months of assuming office, it might be said that Governor Scott Walker has failed to outflank his opposition. He has all the Democrat members AWOL, denying him a quorum in the state senate; all the public unions allied against him, including firefighters, police, and possibly state troopers; and he has President Barack Obama mounting the demagogue’s soapbox against his best efforts.

Walker has assumed responsibility in a state with a very “progressive” history, and as we have seen in Europe, the wealthier the vested interests, the angrier they become.

Tactics are important. Leadership is important, and the reason Ronald Reagan is remembered as a great president is that he could carry Democrats as well as Republicans along, when something labelled “conservative” needed doing. As Peggy Noonan wrote this week, Governor Mitch Daniels in Indiana, and Governor Chris Christie in New Jersey, have shown the kind of political skill that is needed when cutting Gordian knots. They seem able to articulate necessity.

Whereas, Governor Walker may indeed have bitten more than any politician could chew….

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Paul K. writes:

In your post “The privileged Class is striking back” I thought you might be exaggerating when you said that David Warren lost the thread of a coherent argument at the point you ended your excerpt. I went to the source, and did he ever! It’s as if he took a break and finished off a bottle of Wild Irish Rose before returning to the keyboard.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at February 19, 2011 06:14 PM | Send

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