John Avlon’s wingnut-hunting shtick usually takes the form of biased anti-conservative tirades, but every now and then he manages to call out the other side, too. In his latest Daily Beast column, he takes on the left-wing protestors in my home state of Wisconsin for their hysterical opposition to Republican Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to get the state budget under control and reform public-sector unions. Aptly labeling the protest “an unwelcome recurrence of politics being treated as apocalypse,” Avlon writes:
We’ve certainly seen a full range of left-wing-nuttery at the protests, from the obligatory Nazi/Hitler comparisons on signs to Democratic elected officials getting into the overheated action. Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA) declared his solidarity with the mob, saying “every once in a while you need to get out on the streets and get a little bloody when necessary,” while the esteemed Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) said, “There is an unbelievable parallel and a real connection that I can readily identify with the people in the streets of Cairo and Madison, Wisconsin.” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) just cut to the chase and called Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker a “dictator.”
To top off the ugliness, there has been a mini-Twitter rampage of kindly folks calling for Walker’s death. They’ve forgotten about Gabby Giffords pretty fast, and the outrage should be more widespread than it’s been to date. But too often, situational ethics is the operative mode in politics, causing partisans to excuse the inexcusable as long as it comes from their side. The attitude seems to be “they may be crazy, but they’re our crazies.”
Indeed. These guys are continuing in the not-so-proud tradition of leftist vitriol and hypocrisy that has been practiced and affirmed for years by everyone from former Democrat presidents to successful media personalities.
But double-standards for extreme rhetoric is territory we’ve been over before; the more interesting question is: how can so many people (other than, of course, the ones being shipped in by SEIU and the President of the United States) be roused to such anger and displays of ignorance? How can a proposal for a state to reduce its own employees’ benefits, which “would still leave workers better off than those in [the] private sector,” lawfully submitted to the democratic process and subjected to a “61-hour debate that was the longest in living memory,” possibly be equated with the actions of a dictator who murdered six million Jews, turned his nation into a police state, and plunged the entire world into war?
One reason is that progressivism has largely succeeded in pushing a radical redefinition of “freedom” and “rights” as not signifying things man has by nature and may not be taken away, like his life and personal autonomy, but as things society must give man so he can live a full life, like housing, livelihood, healthcare, etc. Such an understanding broadens the concept of liberty so much that anything anyone might want can be called a “right,” the denial of which becomes an attack on “freedom.” Another reason is that pro-union propagandizing is actually mandated by law in Wisconsin—in late 2009, former Democrat Governor Jim Doyle signed a law requiring public schools to teach “the history of organized labor in America and the collective bargaining process.” A third reason is that the schools simply fail to teach accurate, unbiased history and political science. Kids in Wisconsin will learn all about (a sanitized version of) union history, but Locke? Publius? Sound economics? Forget it. Rick Esenberg of Marquette University explains the full extent of the Walker-as-Hitler historical illiteracy:
Walker hasn’t proposed the abolition of public employee unions – much less “unions” in general – and there actually were unions in the Third Reich. In fact, the national trade union organization, the Deutsche Arbeitsfront, was run by an alcoholic and corrupt socialist sympathizer named Robert Ley. It administered a wide variety of often elaborate worker benefits as part of a program called Kraft durch Freude (“Strength through Joy”). Ley ultimately hung himself before he could be tried at Nuremberg.
To be sure, the DAF was controlled by the state. But everything in Nazi Germany was controlled by the state and party pursuant to a policy of “Gleichschaltung” – or “coordination.” That’s precisely why the comparison – even were it true – would be so preposterous and shameful. In a very real sense, Hitler tried to abolish or transform every institution that is familiar to us (including the family).
Avlon goes on, explaining that there is indeed a link between collective bargaining and fiscal solvency:
Let’s fill out the picture with some facts. Nearly 40 percent of government workers are unionized, compared with 7 percent in the private-sector work force. The average state and local government employee now makes 46 percent more in combined salary and benefits than his private sector counterpart does, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Four of five public-sector workers have lifetime pensions. State and local governments owe more than $1.5 trillion in unfunded health-care and non-pension benefits, according to one estimate by Credit Suisse. This isn’t going to end pretty.
He also puts this nonsense about Walker’s secret overlords at the Koch Foundation in context, noting that Big Union, Big Education, and the Democratic Party have a financial stake of their own in the outcome:
In the spirit of “follow the money,” there’s an additional issue: public-sector union check-offs, which automatically deduct a portion of unionized government workers’ salaries and direct them to union coffers. In the case of the two national teachers’ unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, the check-offs amount to $2 billion a year, a portly portion of which goes to campaigns and ballot initiatives. This is taxpayer money being automatically redirected to partisan politics to advance special-interest aims.
Avlon concludes with a warning that “[c]ivic debates are “derailed when special interests resort to fear-mongering,” and that “[w]e are going broke, and doing nothing is not an option.” Well said. That’s the most shameful thing about the protests and dishonesty on display in Madison right now: the very people who are supposed to be setting examples for Wisconsin’s children and helping them become responsible members of civil society are instead teaching them that greed and entitlement are virtues, that public service is more like public mastery, and that the public good is always someone else’s problem.