Wisconsin and Learning from Our Mistakes


    Five hours ahead and one day behind, I went to bed last night, having  just watched Rachel Maddow begin her Tuesday broadcast by roundly proclaiming that the people of Wisconsin had won the battle of wills against their governor’s intransigence.

    Now I wake up this morning to find that, despite Rachel’s joyous declaration that the people of Wisconsin had won, that the shifty-eyed corporate tool, who happens to be the duly elected Governor of Wisconsin, had budged, the Governor’s party had, in fact, managed to rewrite the odious bill in question, in such a manner that it could be rammed through the legislature and in one fell swoop, a basic right of working people with a fifty-year pedigree had been consigned to the dustbins of history. Dead as a dod. Kaput. No refunds, no returns.


    Let’s be brutally honest, people. This was never about fiscal responsibility. It was never about balancing a budget and job creation, two of the major subjects the Republican party whined and groaned about throughout the fall campaign of 2010, two of the major accusations of failure levied at their Democratic opponents.

    It was all about, it was ever about busting union power, bringing those organisations formed by working people, of working people and for working people, to their proverbial knees. It was about quashing the little man. It was about keeping the peasants in their place.

    We have it on record. Scott Walker said as much – in fact, he bragged about it – in his oleaginous twenty-minute telephone conversation with faux David Koch.

    The demise of the union and the quelling of their remaining power is a major objective, not only of the Republican Party, but also of their corporate puppetmasters, primarily the shady woodwork-dwelling Kochroaches.  It’s also worth mentioning that part and parcel of Walker’s landmark legislation colludes the sale of public utilities to private corporate entities, and we all know who’ll benefit from that. It’s so not rocket science, that even dummies understand it:-


    As amusing as the dummies’ take on this situation may be, the bitter irony is, simply, that it is the people of Wisconsin, and – by extension –  the working people and the working poor of our country, who end up being royally rogered up the backside by David Koch and his ilk, via any representative we elect from the Republican party.

    I grew up in a union home, in the South. If that sounds like an anomaly today, there actually was a time, in what’s traditionally been known as the Upper South, where unions were visably present and part of everyday working life, and even if they weren’t as strident as they were in the Northern industrial parts of the country, they certainly improved upon the lives of their members and their members’ families.

    My dad worked in a textile mill, a huge entity which provided employment for men and women in four predominantly rural counties on the cusp of that monster which grew to become known today as Northern Virginia. Most of the fathers of kids who went to my high school worked there.  The mother of Joe Bageant, author of Deer-Hunting with Jesus and one of the most strident practical Progressive voices of the South, worked there.

    In the era before clean air technology became a given, on certain days when the wind was right, you could smell the rotten-egg stench from the factory, certainly, where I lived and sometimes thirty miles south to the town where I attended high school. My dad brought it home on his clothes, and it saturated the interior of his car. But that union-backed stench provided him with fully comprehensive health insurance, which made it possible for me to get my teeth straightened. It paid the hospital bill for my younger cousin, whose appendix ruptured and who had to spend six weeks recovering at the University of Virginia hospital in Charlottesville. It paid for all my mother’s chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and it topped up my father’s Medicare until the day he died sixteen years ago.

    That union-backed stench gave us a living wage, and when I was in college in the mid-Seventies, and the union called its workers out on strike for six weeks, I opened an envelope one day at college, to find a check from the AFL-CIO for the princely sum of $100, as help toward paying for my textbooks, as my dad had been on strike for an overly-long period.

    Like the people being targeted inWisconsin, I began my professional life, after taking my degree, in the public sector as a teacher. Virginia, being one of those states who embraced Taft-Hartley and who fervently worshipped at the altar of “right-to-work”, had made it impossible for state employees to unionise. We had to make do with pithy “Education Associations”, professional organisations which were unions in name only, with no collective bargaining allowed. I recall the one time we pushed our weight and even threatened to strike, we were summarily told that, were we to do so, they had enough applications for employment on file, that they’d have the classrooms staffed within two days.

    Keith Olbermann, blogging on his new website, FOKNews, reckons the Wisconsin governor and his cronies, by coming out of the thugs’ closet, have effectively signalled the incipient suicide of the Republican Party. Nate Silver reckons this action will do more than anything else to galvanise the base of the Democratic Party.

    I wish I could be so hopeful, because we certainly are in need of some adhesive to bind the gaping wounds rent asunder by our own self-destructive tendencies.

    Rachel’s all-too-preciptous cry of triumph two nights ago makes me think of the way everyone from the media to the grassroots declared themselves openly Leftist enough in November 2008 to predict that the Republican Party was dead in the water, only to find that by March the following year, the Right had taken a leaf from Saul Alinsky’s book and had organised themselves into a movement that was, at once, strident, vociferous and very ugly. It received its battlecry in the early morning rant of a CNBC business commentator and its backing from the omnipresent Koch machine. It’s field lieutenants were the willfully ignorant Vice Presidential candidate from the losing ticket and an ex-rodeo clown, who was also a recovering alcoholic. They fed their base on fear – fear of a seminal President, like no other we’d had before in our history. Their object was to demonise the Democrats and de-legitimise the first African-American President.

    But it was never about race.

    Forty years ago, in the wake of the VietNam fiasco, the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and the violent shambles of the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, the Democratic party reformed itself, removing its base from the rural Midwest of agricultural cooperatives, Southern working poor, Rust Belt industrial workers, and unions. Didn’t you hear? Like the Don McLean song, the Democrats took the last train to the Coast (Left Coast or Northeastern) and developed attitude.

    That attitude basically gave a shrug and a disdainful nod to the old base, turning its back on the old union organisers. The Midwestern farmers were rubes, the Southerners all racist and people like George Meany, many of whom barely had grade school academic credentials, didn’t fit into the cosmopolitan, city-centred, elitist mindset of the newly-minted Democrats. They would lead and the old base would follow. After all, what else were they going to do? Vote Republican?

    Fast forward ten years to 1980, the year all this shitstorm we’re suffering now started in earnest with the election of Ronald Reagan, and that’s exactly what they did. The unions endorsed Reagan and he busted their asses. The Reagan Democrats were formed, and the South and rural Midwest bled red. The Republicans communicated with these people on their level, in language they understood, and with operatives with whom these people were familiar.  Like the seasoned conmen they became, they built trust. With the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, the culture war battles began in earnest on the airwaves. With the advent of Karl Rove, heir apparent of that king ratfucker, Donald Segretti, the die was cast.

    The aim was an unbroken hegemony of Republican rule, appealing to the basic instincts of their uneducated and undereducated base – play up religion, emphasize family values, and use every occasion to keep them scared and compliant. Walk into any remaining factory or warehouse in certain parts of the country today and you’ll see people at work, their minds being indoctrinated over loudspeakers by Rightwing talk radio stations, screaming Rush, Beck or Michael Savage. It’s mind control by osmosis.

    And from 2009, we, ourselves, on the Left, became our own worst enemies. Lulled into a false sense of security and faux wealth since the Gipper’s regime, and fed on a diet of instant gratification, whilst nurturing a total ignorance about the way our government functions, instead of actually listening to the President, we chose to have various and sundry celebrity talking heads, so-called scions of the Left, corporately paid, analyse and interpret every word spoken or unspoken, every action completed or contemplated and every thought assumed by the President, not for the way we saw or heard ourselves, but the way they thought we should respond.

    They told us so much they confused people who were already confused.

    They endowed the President with so many powers of government that, had he chosen to use a fraction of those which they deemed he had, he’d have been successfully impeached. As much as the Right pushed the big lies of death panels, socialism, soft cell terrorism, and phony birth certificates, the Left heard their own tell them that Obama was weak, he was a pussy, he hated Progressives, he wasn’t enough like Bush, he was too much like Bush, he was a coward, he caved, he just wasn’t into the all-pervading Middle Class (which, somehow, seemed to have pushed the working class and working poor into some limbo located between irrelevance and non-existence). One progressive talking head went so far as to issue a clarion cry for all Progressives to boycott voting in the Midterms in order to teach the President a lesson. And the LGBT community was so convinced of the President’s concealed homophobia because he hadn’t whipped out an Executive Order repealing DADT (he couldn’t), that 30% of LGBTs who voted in the Midterms, voted Republican.

    Well, that worked out nicely, didn’t it? Especially since, not two weeks ago, that selfsame talking head was screaming into the cameras that the President had better get his ass to Wisconsin and get on the picket lines or risk being a one-term President.

    I’m wondering who voted for Scott Walker, because they were sold a bill of sale. Were they people who’d previously voted for the President in 2008 or who’d kept Russ Feingold in the Senate in previous years? Were they decent people who’d been scared shitless by the Tea Party’s virulent warnings about the plug being pulled on Grandma or the myth that the President was really a Manchurian candidate? Or was Walker elected as much by those so-called Progressive sulkers and pouters who stayed at home to make a point? Because as much as the people who voted for this dangerous dolt, the people who didn’t vote enabled him.

    Now, like a cancer, we’re seeing this union busting legislatively spread across the Rust Belt and heartland of the industrial Midwest. We’re seeing a South Carolina governor employ an education advisor who’s openly stated that he hates the idea of public schools. We’re watching a redux of Joseph McCarthy sit in the House of Representatives and target a group of American people for having a particular religious belief that labels them, in his eyes, terrorists, whilst it’s actually the Congressman in question, Peter King, who’s not only palled around with real terrorists, the IRA, he’s danced, sung and contributed to their cause.

    Maybe Keith and Nate will be right. Maybe this will be our carpe diem moment, and maybe the Democrats genuinely are having an epiphany and remembering that they were, ever and always, the party for working people and not the intellectual idealogues who ponder what might be in a Utopian future over a skinny latte and some New World merlot, the sorts who, even know, are contemplating a great white Progressive hope who’ll primary the President, thereby insuring that Karl Rove’s vision of one-party Republican rule becomes a reality.

    It’s important to remember that all roads now in the Republican party are leading to the Koch brothers, who not only had real Nazi relatives, they actually had real Nazi associations. It’s important to remember that the first thing that nice Adolf Hitler – the one who made the downtrodden and conquered German people feel good about themselves – did upon assuming office as Chancellor, was outlaw all the trades unions.

    This is starving the beast that is the Democratic party, considering that a very large proportion of its major contributors are unions.

    History repeating itself? Well, those who are ignorant of the past are condemned to repeat it, so they say. A culture war has been raging in the United States for the past thirty years, with the Republicans presenting themselves and their operatives as guardians of God and fetuses, whilst leaving the women and children to fester and fend for themselves. The wanton destruction of the unions will be the tinder which starts a conflagration.

    And the issues at hand for the 2012 election won’t be the deficit or jobs or healthcare reform or Afghanistan, although they’ll be cleverly disguised as such. The main issue will be cultural. And the deciding factor will determine how we define America.

    Caveat emporium.



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