I wonder if Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin realized that the decision to end collective bargaining with most public employees of the state would turn into a pivotal battle for the Presidency in 2012?
As I watch events unfold in the state that I lived in for 12 years before moving to South Carolina, I can't help but feel that Walker and the Republicans with the majority in Wisconsin have overplayed their hands. You cannot be viewed as uncompromising and expect to be able to lead people, yet he and the state Republicans are coming across that way more and more each day the protests continue at their doorstep.
The union has offered concessions to meet budget needs this year, and most likely would be willing to negotiate long-term concessions if Walker allowed them the compromised position of holding onto their collective bargaining rights. The unions would claim victory, yet Walker would get what he began with as his position statement: ensuring Wisconsin gets out of the red. What makes Walker's position so weak is that the union's have offered these concessions, yet he has stated that he will not compromise on his views of collective bargaining. You cannot state that you will not compromise, especially in a liberal-leaning, pro-employee state like Wisconsin and not expect consequences.
Sure, big business is behind Governor Walker, because working with a union is very difficult. As I have stated in numerous blogs and posts, I do not feel that a unionized workforce gives any advantage to any party, union members or management. Unions in my opinion offer very little to dues-paying members outside of seniority, and they are socialist in nature with their "All for one and one for all mentality" that stresses the collective good vs. the individual contributor.
I have been called to task over the past couple of days for lacking compassion and being pro-management in terms of my views. I do feel that there is a time and place for collective good (defending our borders from an enemy, cheering our Olympians when they compete against the rest of the world) but there must also be a place for individual effort and contribution. My biggest issue with unions has always been that elected leaders "speak" for the entire body, and an individual's ability to succeed can be held back by negotiated language in a contract. What motivates an employee to do his or her best when that employee will only be paid what the negotiated rate of pay is for his or her job, regardless of how good (or bad in some cases) the person does the job? Would I try my best if I knew that I was getting the same hourly rate as some slacker working next to me that puts little or no effort into his or her job? It would be hard for me to stomach knowing that no matter how well I did my job, I was only able to be paid the same as the worst employee in my pay grade.
Likewise, should I feel bad that I went to school and got my Masters Degree in an attempt to secure the type of employment opportunity that I wanted in my life? Should I apologize that not everyone gets the opportunity or doesn't have the desire to achieve that level of education? Do I feel that I should be paid exactly what everyone else is paid, even though I've worked hard to earn those degrees? No. I feel that there is a place for individual achievement in a democracy, and that America was formed by entreprenuers and risk-takers who decided to outwork, outsmart or bet the farm on their abilities to succeed. Would America be where it is today if it were a socialist nation, where individual achievement is relegated to the background behind the collective good? Good or bad, America is where it is at because of the democracy that it installed, and taking away the ability for individual excellence would be like turning our backs on what our forefathers fought so valiantly for - Freedom to be as great as you want to be.
While many argue that America is not a true democracy, I am not going to get into that debate today. If I believe in democracy, which I do, then I must also believe that the protestors outside of the capital building in Wisconsin have the right to do what they are doing. They have the right to speak out, to be heard, without fear of the government shooting them or killing their families (Libya, Iran, North Korea, etc.). The Democrats are winning the PR battle in Wisconsin right now because they have shown a willingness to negotiate with the Republicans, while the Republicans are simply sounding uncompromising. America came into being because of uncompromising views from across the pond (England), and today we send our armies to fight for people all over the world whom we feel are not being heard or are being led by leaders who will not compromise with the people. If we are going to lead in life, at work, in relationships or as a world policeman (America), then you must show that you are willing to compromise.
There are some things in which you cannot compromise. You cannot negotiate with terrorists holding a hostage, at least in public avenues, or you invite every terrorist in the world to take a hostage. There are more examples of uncompromising positions, but saying that you will not collectively bargain is not one of them. I still feel that Wisconsin would be better off without unions, and without having to collectively bargain, but sometimes you have to compromise in order to lead. There are very few decisions that you make that are absolute black and white decisions, and great leaders know that there are always shades of gray in everything that we do.
If Governor Walker stands by his statements and refuses to collectively bargain, he will eventually be able to pass that law because the Senate Democrats cannot stay away from Wisconsin until the next election. If they don't return, they will eventually be replaced, and the bill will pass.
If this happens, the Democrats and President Obama will win the White House in 2012. Chances are, the Democrats will win the White House anyway, because there is no good Republican candidate out there right now. It will take someone special to beat President Obama in the next election, and there is no one special out there that has stepped forward for the Republicans. You better believe that the Democrats are watching this closely, because this is a case of losing a battle to win the war.
The Democratic Senators in Wisconsin can come home to vote and still emerge victorious even if the bill is eventually passed as is. They can show that they were "forced" by the Republicans to come back to pass the bill or face arrest or expulsion from the Senate, and that wave of discontent will carry over to the next election unless the economy miraculously explodes over the next few years. Other states have said that they will follow Wisconsin's example if the bill is passed. It is not hard to envision this "attack on unions by Republicans" being turned into this "attack on freedom by Republicans." If I'm a Democratic strategist, I'm licking my lips right now thinking about the different ways to spin this "uncompromising" position against Republicans.
Governor Walker and the Republicans in Wisconsin are in trouble here, and I'm sure they know it. They better hope that they are right - that taking away collective bargaining rights from public employees leads to a booming economy for the state of Wisconsin - or they will be toast come next election time. Perhaps this is a case of the squeaky wheel getting the oil - perhaps there really are a majority of people in Wisconsin and across the nation who agree with what he is doing. However, if you believe the data being thrown out by various groups, a large majority of Americans, and an even larger majority of Wisconsinites, are on the side of the protestors. They believe in collective bargaining, even if they don't view unions in a positive light. When you start saying that you won't collectively bargain, that sounds an awful lot like a dictatorship, and is the very argument that many Republicans used when President Obama was passing his many bills while he enjoyed the majorities in the US House and Senate. You can't state that the President is failing to compromise, then do the same thing back that you have accused the President of doing. Our parents always told us that two wrongs don't make a right - I guess unless you are in politics.
Governor Walker should make the decision to accept the union concessions (ensuring that the concessions match the state's budgetary needs) and should allow the union to claim victory while bringing the state the economic recovery that it needs. Then, come election time, he and the Wisconsin Republicans can show that they listened to the people, they compromised, and they balanced the state budget. They can stand on the economy and declare themselves visionary leaders. If they don't compromise, they may still fix the budgetary mess in Wisconsin, and the economy may still grow. However, come election time, they will not maintain Republican control, because you cannot defend being uncompromising in most circumstances. Who is going to lead the Republican Party? Someone better step up pretty soon, or you can bet that the outcome of the battle in Wisconsin will likely show the outcome of the 2012 Presidential Election.
Just my thoughts on a Monday afternoon.