Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Prank call shows we need to separate Walker from his policies

Fresh off what I thought was a well executed fireside chat in defense of his position on the Wisconsin budget repair bill, Governor Scott Walker spent most of Wednesday trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. His method self-inflicted damage was falling for a prank phone call by someone pretending to be one of the Koch brothers.

I doubt the call will change many minds about the issue. Walker comes off badly, but not terribly so. His critics have been telling us he is a puppet of the Koch brothers for more than a week now and it hasn't moved opinion much. The call is unlikely to change this dynamic.

From my perspective, the most damning portion of the call came when the caller suggested planting troublemakers in the protest crowd. Walker stammers and pauses, which makes me think his conscience is pricked, but he doesn't bring himself to do the right thing and denounce such a suggestion.

I do believe character counts in politicians. Walker chose to curry favor with a wealthy donor rather than stand up for what he knows is right and perhaps this lapse disqualifies Walker for high office. If you think this is the case, you will get your chance to make your voice heard in four years. In the mean time this call may tip off Senate Democrats to his legislative strategy, but does little else to change the current situation.

Here is liberal pundit Ezra Klein:

But if the transcript of the conversation is unexceptional, the fact of it is lethal. The state's Democratic senators can't get Walker on the phone, but someone can call the governor's front desk, identify themselves as David Koch, and then speak with both the governor and his chief of staff? That's where you see the access and power that major corporations and wealthy contributors will have in a Walker administration, and why so many in Wisconsin are reluctant to see the only major interest group representing workers taken out of the game.

In Walker, Klein sees a GOP politician in thrall to wealthy business interests and his response, spoken like a true Washington insider, is that we need Democratic politicians in thrall to big labor to offset this. Talk about the cure being as bad as the disease.

Crushed between big business and big labor, what is a conservative, or any right-thinking average citizen to do?

First, recognize that politicians do a lot of unsavory things in pursuit of campaign cash. Part of the reason is relatively few people give money to candidates, and in some sense we get what we pay for. This goes for both sides. One blogger referred to our previous executive as "Governor Jim Doyle -- a wholly owned subsidiary of WEAC--" and I don't think he got much argument about the characterization.

Second, the fact that this goes on, does not give Scott Walker, the man, a free pass on bad behavior. I, for one, expect more out of our leaders and I hope that he will reflect hard on this episode and make better decisions the next time the opportunity presents itself.

Finally, we need to recognize that sometimes the interests of average citizens are aligned with the interests of billionaire GOP donors. In those cases, we should act on these interests not because they help the billionaires, but because those actions help the citizens of the state. By the same token, there will be times when the interests of citizens and the interests of WEAC are in harmony. Again, we should act in the interests of citizens and if the teacher's union also benefits, so be it.

So the question is, in the case of public sector collective bargaining, do the interests of the citizens align more with WEAC or with the Koch brothers?

The thousands who have rallied at the Capitol would seem to demonstrate the unpopularity of Walker's proposal, but outside of the protesters and union members themselves, I see little evidence that popular sentiment is in favor of keeping collective bargaining for public sector workers.

With no ground swell of opposition to the Walker plan despite the protests and the national media spotlight, I can only conclude that people may not be enthusiastic about this bill, but they see it as a necessary step to putting our fiscal house in order. This attitude may stem, at least in part, from the fact that we can now look back over the good years and see just how little we did to prepare ourselves for the lean years. Did we really think they would never come?

Even if the prank call revealed a seedier side of Governor Walker, it really doesn't matter. What matters is whether or not the voters and the taxpayers of Wisconsin think the budget repair bill takes the steps that are needed to address the issues facing us. Many people think it does. Nothing in this headline grabbing phone call is likely to change that.


capper said...

No groundswell? You're going to ignore the two thirds of the citizenry and the 200+ civic leaders opposing it?

Elitism, much?

Jeremy R. Shown said...

Every poll with a majority for seems to matched by one against. I'm discounting all polling until I see some recognizable shift.

capper said...

... until I see some recognizable shift.

Like Governor Russ Feingold in 2012? :^)

Jeremy R. Shown said...

Yeah, I would call that a sign.

Josh said...

Good post Jeremy.

The only thing that I would disagree with is that you seem to think that this episode is a big step towards getting our fiscal house in order and I would contend that it really isn't really all that big of a step in that direction. I think that many conservatives are going to be disappointed when they realize that even when this battle is won, the red ink remains. Especially since we're back to the ol' tax cut to prosperity trick again.

J. Strupp said...

Woops that was me.