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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Walker v Obama

by folkbum

And, no, I am not talking about 2012.

I tweeted yesterday, only half-kiddingly, "Have lost track of number of ppl who complained Obama refused to compromise w Republicans and say Walker should stand firm." The twit-speak is embarrassing to reprint here on the blog, where brevity is far less a concern than clarity. But the message is something that needs to be reinforced.

You might recall 2009-2010, and the protracted debate over the health care bill that ultimately was passed as the Affordable Care Act. Some of the initial policy proposals offered a radical shift in the way the federal government treated health insurance, including a proposed public option (which would have created greater savings than the final bill does). The process of getting those original ideas into a final bill took nearly a year. It included hundreds of often-contentious town hall meetings, scores of demonstrations and rallies for and against reform, very public Congressional hearings, very private Congressional negotiations among the Senate's bipartisan Group of Eight, and even a White House-hosted round table with leaders and experts from both parties convened to try to hammer out a solution. All of this while Democrats held the presidency and a majority in both Congressional houses.

Ultimately, the Affordable Care Act is a mishmash of watered-down Democratic reforms, Republican policy positions (the individual mandate was a favorite of Republicans right up until it went into the bill), and vague nods toward systemic change. It was not the reform I wanted, but it was perhaps the best bill possible under the circumstances, and though certainly included tons of compromise, I celebrated its passage.

And yet, the steady Republican and media-pundit line was the same: Obama needs to reach out to Republicans more; Obama needs to compromise. Despite the moderation and compromise that riddles the ACA and is apparent in the year-long record, the take-away for our great pundit class and legions of conservative and tea-party Republicans is that Democrats quickly rammed through an ultra-liberal bill with no sop to Republicans at all. Which is, clearly, false. (Anyone who thinks it's true, please try to explain in comments. I need a laugh.)

Flash forward to 2011 in Wisconsin. Scott Walker has proposed a radical policy change in a bill that is about fixing a budget hole, not changing policy. (Walker campaigned on not putting policy in budget bills.) Walker continues to insist, even in his "fireside rap" last night, that the hold-up is over economic concessions without admitting that his opponents long ago agreed to those concessions. (Those concessions may not even be necessary for the state budget to balance, anyway.) No, the hold-up is over changing 50 years of Wisconsin state policy--indeed, national leadership from this state--on workers' rights, with no justification given for doing so.

Whereas Obama campaigned on health care reform, Walker did not campaign on dismantling state employee unions. And in contrast to the tediously long track that health care reform took nationally, Walker introduced his bill on a Friday and expected it to be approved the next Tuesday. Wisconsin Republicans have refused to hear from the public--the hearing rooms were open because Democratic leggies stayed to listen; Republicans shut down the state's legislative hot line. Republicans even illegally voted on aspects of the measure before the posted start time of the legislative session to avoid having to debate the matter. (They later rescinded the vote, obviating their culpability.)

There have been no bipartisan groups of legislators working through the matter. There have been no town halls for legislators to hear concerns in their districts. (Republicans warned their caucus members not to have such town halls, out of fear for their "safety"; to date, no one has been injured at the Capitol and, in all the media reports I sought and I have read, there have not even been arrests). There has been no great Walker-hosted round table on collective bargaining. Indeed, Walker made clear in the prank call conversation with notDavid notKoch, any offer he might make to listen to Democrats is a trick. (About the call: I mostly agree with Ezra Klein. Nothing said is too damning, but the fact that he took notKoch's call at all, and said anything to notKoch, is damning alone.)

So it ought to be surprising that the conservatives and tea-party Republicans, as well as the national media pundits, are telling Walker to stand firm and not at all to compromise. It ought to be surprising since, after all, Walker with collective bargaining is engaging in exactly the opposite behavior of Obama on health care--and Obama's was not nearly enough effort to appease Republicans and opponents of reform.

But it is, of course, not surprising at all. There is a reason that IOKIYAR is a common acronym: it's okay if you're a Republican. There's also the media frame that Democrats must always appear weak (and attempts to appear strong--as when Republicans invited Obama to their Congressional retreat and he challenged their talking points--it's sandbagging or playing dirty) and Republicans must always appear strong. As Atrios noted today, Walker is "a GOP Daddy" so any action he takes "will be praised as 'bold.' " Refusing to compromise is part of the GOP ethos, and as such cannot be criticized, even by those who hold compromise sacred.

(Remarkably, Republican governors across the country have gotten the message that Walker refuses to hear. Governors in Indiana, Ohio, Florida, and Michigan have backed off many of their plans to gut collective bargaining their states. None of them, like Walker, can explain how rescinding those rights solves temporary or even structural budget gaps, especially when unions have already agreed to economic concessions, and have decided that the damage to their own reputations and the people in their state is not worth the fight.)

So I ask those who want Walker to stand firm: Why is compromise now anathema when Obama couldn't compromise enough for you? Why is Walker's mandate unbreakable even in the face of massive protest when Obama's mandate was non-existent in the face of the tea-party rallies? Why are party-line votes in Congress on health care bad while party-line votes in Madison are a consequence of Democracy? Why is Walker's plan to trick Democrats into submission just fine with you when Democrats' transparent and above-board passage of the Affordable Care Act a travesty? And, relatedly, why is the flight of 14 state senators to break quorum worse than Republicans' unprecedented and record-setting filibuster efforts in the US Senate?

These are not idle questions.

I could ask more: Why is it okay to lessen the tax burden on Wisconsin's millionaires while upping the pension burden on public health workers making barely more than minimum wage? Why is it okay to allow Walker to sell state assets with no bids but Doyle's no-bid contract to Talgo was an outrage?

IOKIYAR is the answer I predict.

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