The Blog

Wisconsin and the GOP's War on the Middle Class

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

In a post about Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's bid to strip public employee unions of collective bargainingVan Jones wrote:

If a foreign power conspired to inflict this much damage on America's first responders and essential infrastructure, we would see it as an act of war.

It is an act of war. America's class war has arrived on our doorstep with the subtlety of a daisy cutter. Now, the big questions are the outcome, and whether Democrats will show America whose side they are on.

What Conservatives Really Want

Conservatives are trying to eliminate the last "good jobs" left in America. They're not just targeting public employees and public employee unions, but the very concepts of a common good and a public interest. George Lakoff explained that "Conservatives really want to change the basis of American life, to make America run according to the conservative moral worldview in all areas of life," in which " ... it would be wrong for the government to provide health care, education, public broadcasting, public parks and so on."

When abstract budget cuts translate into fewer teachers, police officers, health workers, firefighters, etc. in our communities, we begin to realize that such cuts hurt rather than heal. We provide these things because we believe meeting certain needs, whether or not it's profitable is a common good.

We are faced with a conservative movement that rejects the common good, and sees it as the problem.

Ideology vs. Reality: Something Has To Give

Wisconsin and other states are where the irresistible force of ideology meets the immovable object of reality. Like the Johnny Mercer lyric that says, "something's gotta give."
As America looked on at the amazing protests in Egypt, we heard how Egypt's economic inequality catalyzed a movement. We learned that economic inequality is worse here than in Egypt. It's no coincidence protesters in Cairo and Madison have exchanged statements of solidarity.

What does it mean when Americans in Madison, Wis., see themselves in the same boat at protesters in Egypt? It means that our domestic economic policies have mirrored our economically driven foreign policy, with consequences as devastating to working and middle-class Americans. Mother Jones magazine spelled it out in just eight charts.

A Lost Middle Class, Unbridled Corporate Power

This attack on the things government does that support the middle class, comes when the middle class is already weakened by decades of conservative policies. If it succeeds, We're facing a "lost decade" in which middle and working-class Americans suffer the loss of these supports, facing stagnation and downward mobility, and worse. As Kevin Drum notes, destroying unions removes the only remaining counterbalance to corporate power.

Wisconsin illustrates that conservative economic and fiscal policies create crises that Republicans then exploit to accomplish political ends -- weakening their opponents and increasing power for themselves and their cronies. In a short time, Walker has destroyed (and threatened to destroy more) jobs than his policies are likely to create. The $117 billion in tax breaks that Walker and the Republican legislature pushed through for GOP cronies basically created the very crisis he claims to address.

That Walker refuses any compromise at all, even though the unions agreed to accept wage and benefit reductions as long as they keep the right to collective bargaining, shows that the budget isn't the point. Power is.

The Crossroads, In Washington And Beyond

America reached a crossroads in Wisconsin. And maybe in your state tomorrow.

From here, things can go a couple of ways. Either people resist because they are still believe in the possibility of change and their ability to affect change, or they are successfully crushed by economic pain and effectively disenfranchised the point that not only do they no longer believe in either.

We will soon face a stalemate in the federal government similar to that in Wisconsin. Since congressional Democrats won't have the option of flight, they had better be ready to fight. Their first step should be an unequivocal statement of support for public employees, unions, the rightzs to organize and bargain collectively, and the progressive values at the heart of the protests. Something like this:

"If American workers are being denied their right to organize when I'm in the White House, I will put on a comfortable pair of shoes and I will walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States."

-- Barack Obama, quoted by Slate, while making a campaign speech in 2007.

The conservative war against the working people and the middle class has burst out into the open. It's time for Democrats to leave no doubt whose side they're on, by publicly joining the fight.

(Read the unabridged post at