Get Serious About Governing, Democrats

No amount of crying over evil Scott Walker will help governments fix their bleeding balance sheets

When politicians and activists warn that this or that election is a stark, Manichean choice between the champions of good and the malefactors of evil, many of us on the sidelines of political tribalism tend to wearily roll our eyes. But what independents tend to underappreciate is that the artificially raised stakes are a main part of the consumer attraction in the first place. It makes politics more meaningful, even fun, when you imagine that you are up against a pure form of rapacious evil.

Wisconsin has been the front line of America's Democrat vs. Republican, blue vs. red rhetorical war for 16 months now, ever since newly elected Republican governor Scott Walker pushed through a budget repair bill that withdrew government from the union dues-collecting business for public employees and removed the collective bargaining power of most government unions, an act that triggered historic public protests. So on the morning after Walker survived a labor-led recall election by a higher margin than he originally won office in 2010, there were plenty on the left grumbling darkly about the Dark Lord rising over our once-free country.

At The American Prospect, Harold Meyerson compared Walker's actions to a "jihad" and suggested (paradoxically) that a post-union labor movement might just resort to rioting. Walker "wins one for the plutocrats," Joan Walsh lamented at Salon, without really explaining how the monocle-wearers could win 38 percent of the union vote.

Such demonization was of a piece with leftish commentary in the run-up to the recall. Esquire's Charles P. Pierce described Walker as a "goggle-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to manage its midwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Wisconsin," which would now be subject to "the habits of oligarchy." Even more grossly, The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote in The Washington Post that Walker's policies were intended to "cleanse the electorate of people who don’t look, earn or think like him."

It's almost comforting, in such a florid, menacing universe, to wallow in righteous defeat. But I would suggest that if progressives want to change minds and political outcomes, they might try a different strategy: Instead of merely rallying opposition to irredeemable bogeymen, how about providing a concrete, numbers-rich alternative to the brutal budgetary math Walker's union-tweaking policies were designed to address?

It is a fact that the majority of state budgets are in the red, that overall state spending increased by 81 percent from 2002-2007, and that rare-in-the-private-sector defined benefit pensions for government workers (along with post-retirement medical benefits) are a large and growing portion of state and local budgets, even while being chronically underfunded. The situation is terrible now, and will be much worse in the near future. So, progressives: Tell us concretely what you plan to do about this.

The state of California's public-sector pension contributions have increased 304 percent in a decade, up to $2.2 billion of a $91 billion budget, and growing faster by the minute. Pension contributions account for 20 percent and 27 percent, respectively, of the city budgets of San Diego and San Jose, whose citizens have responded by passing initiatives asking government workers to contribute more to their own pension and health care. Cities from California to Rhode Island have initiated bankruptcy over pension costs.

So, progressives: What is the right percentage of a government budget to be spent on public sector pensions? If this requires that cities and states simply need to come up with bigger budgets (through increased taxes) precisely how much bigger would be appropriate? If you don't want to increase overall budgets, what other government services are you willing to cut?

If the past four years of public debate are any indicator, we won't soon see concrete answers to any questions like these. Progressives almost never tell us how big they think the government should be. It is easier to make grand and vague gestures on behalf of working Americans than it is to justify the math of public sector unions negotiating with union-backed politicians to spend the money of non-union taxpayers, which may help explain why Americans are solidly in favor of public employees paying more of their own freight. And in all the hot air spewed about the Wisconsin recall, where were the positive arguments for all the citizen benefits received in the prior run-ups in Badger State spending?

As long as Democrats keep dodging these questions, no amount of plutocrat-baiting will reverse their political fortunes. Governments at all levels are out of money. Progressives are going to have to come up with a better response to that than saying "we were robbed."

Matt Welch is Editor in Chief of Reason, and co-author (with Nick Gillespie) of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America, now available in paperback.

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  • ||

    Every one of these posts need to be accompanied by a pic of Butthurt Red Sox Guy.

  • KDN||

    Butthurt Red Sox Guy

    Kevin Youkilis? That guys just exudes butthurt.

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    "Kevin - does your butt hurt? Cause it really seems like your butt hurts...."

  • John||

    If you looked like a shaved Sasquatch you would be pretty butt hurt too.

  • Ska||

    Not if you hit like Youkilis does.

  • ||

    .234? Ooooo scary.

  • Ska||

    .287 lifetime is pretty good. Earning $12,000,000 a year to play baseball? Please, sign me up for the Sasquatch look.

  • R||

    I thought shaved Sasquatches CAUSED hurting butts? Or is that just STEVE SMITH?

  • GOAT||

    I think it should be one of the bald guys off of a Bosley commercial.

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    Do you really think anyone who *needs* to hear this message will...hear it? Nope. Preaching, choirs, etc.

    I look forward to continued

    ZOMFG!!! KORPPORASHUNSZ AREN'T PEOPLE POWERFUL FORCES BILDERBURG KOCHTOPUS EVUL 1% WALL STREET NOT MAIN STREET RETHUGLICAN RED STATE CHILD LABOR LIVING WAGE ANTI-WORKER ANTI-ENVIRONMENT CATASROPHE CALAMITY CRISIS MAAAAAAAAMAAAAAAAAA!!!!!111

    It's gonna be delicious!

  • Hugh Akston||

    Needs moar CITISINNERS UNTIED!!!!

  • Pro Libertate||

    Seriously, it's all about the marketing message of the week with them anymore

  • Pi Guy||

    Except for the part about how Obama won the exit polls. That'll be making the MSM rounds all the way through Septober.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Obama? You mean the guy who cowered in the corner while this election was going on? That Obama?

  • ||

    Thank you. Listen to them and the people didn't vote for recall the Evol corporations did! The rich have actually figured out how to make each individual dollar get registered to vote.

  • Brutus||

    +1

  • I Like Shrike||

    CHRISTFAG CONSERVATIVES WILL STOP THE BUTTFUCKING!!!

  • Apparently a 'statist'||

    I've read this article. I can't really dispute that deficits need to be handled - the problem is that I don't want to discuss how to fix it with people who make Norquist look like Sweden when it comes to taxes.

    What has happened is that a deficit caused by a multitude of factors, on a federal and state level, is being blamed on blah people and poor people by republicans who want to increase defense spending and make taxes more regressive, and democrats have no reason to believe you people aren't 100 % along with that.

  • ||

    At The American Prospect, Harold Meyerson compared Walker's actions to a "jihad" and suggested (paradoxically) that a post-union labor movement might just resort to rioting. Walker "wins one for the plutocrats," Joan Walsh lamented at Salon, without really explaining how the monocle-wearers could win 38 percent of the union vote.

    Jesus christ!!

    You would think Walker was Reagan or something.

    I have not heard him speak or anything.

    Is he even that good of a conservative? (I am just randomly guessing he is a terrible libertarian)

  • ||

    When an Emmanuel Goldstein is needed, an Emmanuel Goldstein will be found.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    They should complain more about Jimmy Carter then. It was his Civil Service Act of 1978 that prohibited strikes by federal workers.

  • John||

    Federal workers are not the problem. They can't strike. They can't negotiate their own pay or benefits. And their retirements are not that great. It is the state workers who are the problem.

  • Tulpa the White||

    These are the same people who call Romney a hardcore conservative.

  • Romulus Augustus||

    Serious question: If collective bargaining is ended, does that mean management bargains with each worker individually?

  • John||

    Yes. Or more likely, the government sets pay bands. But it means the government is free to set pay however it sees fit.

  • Romulus Augustus||

    So wouldn't pay bands lead to more union strikes? At least with coll. bargaining, the union feels it had a say in the proposed deal.
    I've worked with several employers who loved collective bargaining because they didn't have to plow through hundreds of performance reviews each year, decide who gets a nickel more or less per hour, and then deal with those pissed they didn't get as much as the next guy.

  • John Thacker||

    Look at how the federal government works. Or NC. Or VA (ever since Douglas Wilder and the Democrats banned all collective bargaining by state employees).

  • Rocky||

    lol, if you want good employees you pay them competative wages...if you want to avoid performance reviews you make them form a union? And we wonder how this got all screwed up?

  • some guy||

    I think Romulus is talking about private employers who prefer collective bargaining. I can see that being a good thing for an employer who just needs warm bodies on the floor pumping out widgets.

    It's obviously a bad idea when you need non-interchangable skilled employees, though.

  • R C Dean||

    Yes, if by "bargains" you mean "tells workers 'Here's your benefits' and 'Here's your salary'; don't like it, feel free to take another job".

    Kinda like its done in most of the rest of the world.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Uh, not with skilled workers. I seriously doubt that's how your employer operates.

  • JeremyR||

    But we're not talking about skilled workers here...

    Government employees are bureaucrats basically.

  • Sevo||

    Tulpa the White|6.6.12 @ 5:52PM|#
    "Uh, not with skilled workers. I seriously doubt that's how your employer operates."

    I'll agree. Clerical workers (bureaucrats) have varying skill levels and good management will select for them.

  • beefonrocks||

    Even doctors negotiate pay when hired by a medical practice, benefits are the same for every other employee in the practice.

    You need to get out a bit more.

  • Apparently a 'statist'||

    "Yes, if by "bargains" you mean "tells workers 'Here's your benefits' and 'Here's your salary'; don't like it, feel free to take another job"."

    Like in the gilded Age. That sure wasn't a terrible fucking period for average Americans.

  • ChrisO||

    I thought that collective bargaining over wages was still permitted under the new law, but not for benefits.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Oh, don't spoil a good narrative with the facts.

  • ||

    So, progressives: Tell us concretely what you plan to do about this.

    I am not a progressive but I am pretty sure their plan is to "tax the rich".

    of course the rich will simply move or go out of business or find loopholes or buddy up with politicians to get subsidized, all of which will lower tax revenues.

    But that is their plan and they are sticking to it.

  • Raston Bot||

    Exactly. And the #1 tax-the-rich scheme I hear involves carried interest.

  • Old Dave||

    I have posed that very question to some of my "progressive" friends and that has been the only answer from every one of them. Of course, they occasionally throw in "tax the hell out of corporations", clueless to the fact that those taxes are paid by the corporations' employees and customers in the form of lower wages and higher prices.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    I also point out to them that, in a way, they've already spent their "soak the rich" money: they trot that "solution" out for every problem, such as funding Obamacare, "green" energy, etc.

    If they do get their "soak the rich" taxes it won't cover all of their fantasies. They'll have to make a choice.

  • Apparently a 'statist'||

    I want to increase social mobility first and foremost, seeing as it has gone completely to shit in the US. Taxation is a last resort, although I don't see how businesses are suffering as their profit levels are very strong.

    I think regulation and taxation systems for businesses, small businesses in particular, need to be streamlined. I'm not talking about abolishing the FDA (sorry, tinfoils) but basically cutting red tape. Government will be affirmed but made more effective. It can't be an institution, only a service provider.

    Without a welfare net and without some protection for labor, the US will basically become a caste society, not just a class society. It will be impossible for the few poor people who manage to dredge up any enthusiasm and ambition to progress because thresholds will become insurmountable. Wages will become so low going on welfare won't seem that much worse in comparison. Meritocracy and the American dream will be laughable notions - that is what Paul Ryan's hallowed roadmap will lead to.

    The pain and anger will be leveled at gay people, other races, people of non-Christian religions and women in general, accompanied by socially regressive legislation. Libertarians destroy hope and sense of community out of ideological rigor (not malice, just plain zealotry), the fascists step in and exploit the anger. That's pretty much what happens without a vital degree of socialism in America.

  • ||

    Even more grossly, The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote in The Washington Post that Walker's policies were intended to "cleanse the electorate of people who don’t look, earn or think like him."

    How does that even make sense? His policies are designed to enact genocide? I guess expecting coherence from The Heuv is asking too much.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Heuv thinks like a typical tribalist, so everyone that doesn't think the same way as her is a threat to her tribe.

  • tarran||

    It's a dog whistle.

    The Progressives love a class of people dependent on the government for their standard of living. If the government stops handing them plunder, they may go out and start caring for themselves, and being productive and stop supporting progressive policies that are designed to plunder the productive.

    But she can't say that, so she recasts this fear that voters who were dependent will be converted into voters that are productive using racist cant: black people represent people dependent on government bennies; white people represent people who are productive; the dependents who become productive are black people cleansed out of the electorate and replaced by white people.

    I have long theorized that a significant percentage of progressive intellectuals/talking heads are at their core very racist people because of shit like this.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Maybe she's just a moron who strings together a bunch of leftist buzzwords.

  • section9||

    Well, no, actually, I suspect she's a Trust Fund Leftist who goes to parties and edits a magazine.

  • sablegsd||

    Don't you think trust fund leftist who parties and edits a magazine can still be a moron who strings together a bunch of leftist buzzwords?

  • ||

    There is no doubt in my mind that progressives are the most racist people on the face of the planet.

  • Apparently a 'statist'||

    "If the government stops handing them plunder, they may go out and start caring for themselves"

    PLunder?

    Oh, you mean taxes people agree to pay and then whine about it afterwards.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    Nobody "agreed" to pay taxes.

    Our "democratically elected" masters impose them based on the supplications of all the parasites who rely on the state.

    If that's agreement then you should have absolutely no trouble with compensation for state workers set the same way.

  • ||

    The situation is terrible now, and will be much worse in the near future. So, progressives: Tell us concretely what you plan to do about this.

    *crickets chirping*

  • Tulpa the White||

    Tax all income above $250,000 at 100%.

    And yes, I've heard people say this with a straight face.

  • Pi Guy||

    100%? We're not getting out of this hole until the $250Kers are taxed at 175%!

  • ||

    Just 5? "They" can give more for those who have nothing!

  • Brutus||

    Did you then hit them with a large, cold fish?

  • Raston Bot||

    If I were Obama, I'd marry my daughters to some high-level Bush lords. Does Jeb have heirs? Then with that alliance sealed, I'd strike at any remaining blue dogs and southron tea partiers. I know Lindsay Graham will turn against them if I promise him a shitty island somewhere.

    Then I'd be King of a united realm!

  • Ska||

    Instead you have Eric Hodor fucking up things at home, and BO acting like Cersei Lannister.

  • tarran||

    There's a lot in the books that suggest Cersei suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder so your comment is not too far off the mark. Narcissistic personality disorder and BPD share a large number of behaviors.

  • Virginian||

    At one point in a Cersei chapter she was thinking to herself how awesome she was doing, and that finally the stupid men weren't calling the shots, blah blah blah.

    It was like being inside Hillary Clinton's head.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    At one point in a Cersei chapter she was thinking to herself how awesome she was doing, and that finally the stupid men weren't calling the shots, blah blah blah.

    It was like being inside Hillary Clinton's head.

    Or any working environment where women make up most of the workforce, for that matter.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Needs more Oliphaunt.

  • some guy||

    Why are you Othering the Canadians? That's mean.

  • scareduck||

    Wisconsin has been the front line of America's Democrat vs. Republican, blue vs. red rhetorical war for 16 months now, ever since newly elected Republican governor Scott Walker pushed through a budget repair bill that withdrew government from the union dues-collecting business for public employees and removed the collective bargaining power of most government unions, an act that triggered historic public protests.

    Only, isn't that collective bargaining over benefits, and then, only for non-emergency personnel (fire and police were exempt)? This is actually kind of a big deal to the extent that those unions actually cover a big fraction of the public workforce, and the hardest to dislodge.

  • Virginian||

    The AFSCME and the WEA were the two biggest unions. Obviously I'd prefer it if he went after all of them, but starting with the heavies and working your way down is a decent idea.

  • Juice||

    Why do you want Democrats to get serious about governing?

  • Pi Guy||

    Jeebus - I'd be excited if anyone got serious about governing.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I'd like for politicians to get serious about not governing.

  • LTC John||

    This, this, and more this.

  • Winded||

    "If this requires that cities and states simply need to come up with bigger budgets (through increased taxes) precisely how much bigger would be appropriate?"

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMf5dvUlYko

    Language is probably NSFW.

  • Canman||

    Matt. You've advised progressives:

    " Instead of merely rallying opposition to irredeemable bogeymen, how about providing a concrete, numbers-rich alternative to the brutal budgetary math Walker's union-tweaking policies were designed to address?"

    I'd be curious to hear your suggestions of how they might do this.

  • Brutus||

    In an atmosphere of almost limitless despair, once they realize how impossible is their utopian fantasy. Then it's back to the bogeymen.

  • some guy||

    We've already heard this, Canman. They would "tax" "the rich". Where "tax" means "steal from" and "the rich" means "anyone who obtained their money in a way I don't approve of".

  • Apparently a 'statist'||

    Why is taxation theft?

    You are told the law in your place of residence entails income being taxed.

    You decide to gain income. You are taxed.

    You claim it is theft. Isn't this basically refusing to take responsibility for your lucid, perfectly informed actions?

    Just move to a country with no taxes. You are not entitled to being born in a country with no taxes, you child.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    "We" are just as entitled to lobby the government for lower or even no taxes, as your team is to lobby them to steal from the productive.

    In other words, STFU with this fucking "pay your taxes and love it" shit.

  • Alice Bowie||

    Now that there is no chance of recall, Scot Walker should revoke Collective-Bargaining for COPS as well. I'm sure the other union members will vote against cops as the cops voted against them.

  • some guy||

    I think the Republicans lost control of the State Senate when Walker won the recall. I don't think Walker can act without the support of the legislature.

  • pet winkel||

    So on the morning after Walker survived a labor-led recall election by a higher margin than he originally won office in 2010, there were plenty on the left grumbling darkly about the Dark Lord rising over our once-free country.

  • Cool Story, Bro||

    OT: Here's one that will make your fucking blood boil.

    This epidemic appears to be getting exponentially worse.

  • ThatSkepticGuy||

    Democrats aren't doing themselves any favors in regurgitating propagandic Communist fist symbols.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    The morons who use loaded symbols like that fist (and there are people just as stupid on the other side) aren't interested in winning hearts and minds. They are interested in feeling morally superior.

  • Brutus||

    +1

  • Old Dave||

    Well, there's also this from a popular gay website.

    http://www.datalounge.com/cgi-.....11651499,1

  • Californio||

    ThatSkeptid is correct - Strange how these same people are afraid of masculine blue-collar types. They fear and simultaneously condescend those they purport to represent. They are doomed to fail.

  • ThatSkepticGuy||

    Democrats aren't doing themselves any favors in regurgitating propagandic Communist fist symbols.

  • lunettes de soleil pas cher||

    So, progressives: What is the right percentage of a government budget to be spent on public sector pensions? If this requires that cities and states simply need to come up with bigger budgets (through increased taxes) precisely how much bigger would be appropriate? If you don't want to increase overall budgets, what other government services are you willing to cut?

  • maillot de bain magasin||

    air spewed about the Wisconsin recall, where were the positive arguments for all the citizen benefits received in the prior run-ups in Badger State spending?

    As long as Democrats keep dodging th

  • Chaussures nike shox||

    Such demonization was of a piece with leftish commentary in the run-up to the recall. Esquire's Charles P. Pierce described Walker as a "goggle-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to manage its midwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Wisconsin," which would now be subject to "the habits of oligarchy." Even more grossly, The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote in The Washington Post that Walker's policies were intended to "cleanse the electorate of people who don’t look, earn or think like him."

  • section9||

    Charles Pierce is an ass. I'm surprised that Esquire pays money to that man. It's as if they hired a Kos Diarist or something.

    Oh, wait....

  • ||

    Spambot dude. It doesn't care what you think.

  • Rocky||

    We are faced with a simple fact and a simple proposition.

    Fact:
    Government spending is out of control consuming more than 40% of the economy and threatens to collapse the economy as government continues to expand.

    Good intentions, some even noble causes, have created a coalition of special interests feeding off the government. Public Unions, environmentalist, welfare and entitlements, corporate grants, federal loan programs, are just a few examples. Since FDR government has increased from 7% of the economy to where it is now well over 40%. This coalition of special interests (takers) has kept Democrats in dominance since FDR and Republicans in compliance, thus perpetuating an ever expanding government.

    Eventually the spending will stop. It will stop either because Hard Working Americans (the makers) had the courage to tell the coalition of special interests (the takers) STOP…or…because we’ve gone bankrupt. Either way, IT WILL STOP.

    The proposition:
    Even if you're a taker; such as a teacher or firefighter…Even if you receive a government check (my wife receives a disability check)…Even if you think your cause noble and what you receive just….YOU WILL face the proposition before us all.

    Will I have the courage to say "stop, enough" and share in the sacrifice needed to correct our course or will I crow like a coward demanding mine as we go off a cliff?

    The choice is ours, just know, either way it will stop!

  • BarryD||

    Wisconsin's public employee unions certainly LOOK like pure, rapacious evil.

  • Californio||

    But Coke/Pepsi is sooooo much better than Pepsi/Coke!!!!

    The political arugments of the Democrats and the Republicans in one sentence. As our nation suffers from malnutrition........

  • Californio||

    "Arguments"

  • LTC John||

    "Walker "wins one for the plutocrats," Joan Walsh lamented at Salon, without really explaining how the monocle-wearers could win 38 percent of the union vote."

    Oh come now - that one is easy for ol' Joan - false consciousness caused by evil Koch $$$ flooding the zone!11!1eleventy!

  • vicky||

    Actually its the unions over amount of crying last year as they took over the state house with the dirty mattresses that made us all see them for the big babies they were.
    They helped themselves lose.
    congrats to Walker.

  • vicky||

    All I know is that America is an absolute mess, and we can't blame W anymore. Obama has had almost 4 years, and two of those years his party was in total control... go figure...
    16 Trillion in debt... We won't survive.
    Vote Mitt.

  • some guy||

    And how would Mr. Romney be any better?

    Vote Johnson.

  • Tejicano||

    The problem with how the DNC/progressives operate is that they are only interested in enacting legislation which feels good. Effectiveness is not really on the agenda. They feel almost as good having a GOP member as an obstacle they can rant and tear their hair out over since the end effect is about the same anyway. The added benefit of having the GOP in the way is that it is difficult to point out how bad their ideas have failed if they don’t get the chance to enact them.

  • ||

    The sad part that Matt doesn't realize, I guess, is that progressives are completely serious when they suggest vacuous platitudes as actual governing policies.

  • maillot de bain magasin||

    At The American Prospect, Harold Meyerson compared Walker's actions to a "jihad" and suggested (paradoxically) that a post-union labor movement might just resort to rioting. Walker "wins one for the plutocrats," Joan Walsh lamented at Salon, without really explaining how the monocle-wearers could win 38 percent of the union vote.

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