Democracy may be safely contained

I guess I have to rain on the parade. I usually do, so this won’t come as a surprise.

Rather than signaling a reversal of a conservative tide that appeared to me as a backlash to the counter-culture movement of the 1960s and that certainly intensified during the Carter era, it is beginning to appear that recent events in Wisconsin will mark the historic demise of progressive political influence culminating in a new robber baron era in which elites face no serious challenge for the foreseeable future.

Wisconsin Democratic Party state senators fled the state to deprive the state senate of a quorum needed to enact legislation that Governor Scott Walker alleged was essential to balancing the budget, that also would deprive government workers of collective bargaining rights. Democrats, progressives, and labor activists argued that Walker was using the budget situation as a pretext to advance an anti-union agenda.

While unions should act to protect workers, and this may impede certain tactics in balancing the budget, the Republicans were effectively arguing that to balance the budget, it was necessary both to strip workers of collective bargaining rights and to cut their pay and benefits. Even if the appropriate means of bringing costs into line with revenues is to take it out of workers’ hides, labor unions could reasonably argue that this could be done without busting unions.

And as Michael Moore so eloquently pointed out, Republicans are refusing to consider options such as raising taxes on the rich, particularly those who benefited from a bailout that rescued them from the consequences from their own criminal actions.[1]

But now Republicans have accepted Democrats’ word that collective bargaining is a distinct issue from budgeting, and passed a bill accordingly, possibly violating Wisconsin’s open meetings law.[2]. Even if this vote was illegal, I’m guessing the Senate merely needs to hold another vote under legally acceptable conditions. And Democrats can only object by asserting the originally Republican argument that collective bargaining is a fiscal matter requiring an elevated quorum, which can now presumably be assembled as the Democratic senators are now returning.

As this dispute escalated, I heard Wisconsin being compared to the Middle East, where the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes fell by popular demand; a brutal civil war now rages in Libya; Bahrain, Yemen, and Jordan have taken steps to try to diffuse protests; and unrest seems to have spread throughout the region. Indeed, if one views all of these events through an elite lens of privilege, that a particular class of people exclusively possesses the gifts necessary to govern the masses and that they are entitled to do so with minimal regard for those masses, then it is essential that any outbreak of true democracy—in which the people directly assert their voices in governance rather than rely on dubiously elected representatives who more often act in favor of vested interests—must be contained. This principle ultimately outweighs any electoral advantage that some members of the elite may hope to gain by temporarily advocating union interests and it certainly explains the U.S. government’s—and in particular, the Obama administration’s—oft-noted reluctance to condemn dictators[3] and its ambivalence on the overthrow of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras.[4]

And for all the hue and cry about Wisconsin electoral politics, if it is in fact true that a majority of people support unions, it remains that we have acquiesced to a system that continues to advance the interests of the extremely rich over everyone else.[5]

We have only ourselves to blame. We were diverted by televised consumerist delusions of wealth while we were worked to the bone.[6] We chose sitcoms, football, beer, and boobs over our own survival. And now, to borrow some heavily used clichés, we’re dead meat, roadkill on the so-called “information superhighway,” a highway used not just by financiers in ever more intricate schemes that Warren Buffet labeled as “financial weapons of mass destruction,”[7] but by manufacturers to export jobs, to force U.S. workers to “compete with the world,” not to raise working conditions overseas, but to destroy them here at home.

Against this tide, the Wisconsin uprising appears to have been far too little, much too late.

  1. [1]emptywheel, “Confirmed: Official Administration Policy Is to Continue Foreclosures,” Firedoglake, October 11, 2010,; Amy Goodman, “When Banks Are the Robbers,” Truthdig, October 19, 2010,; Andy Kroll, “Fannie and Freddie’s Foreclosure Barons,” Mother Jones, August 4, 2010,; Michael Moore, “America Is Not Broke,” Huffington Post, March 6, 2011,; Matt Taibbi, “Courts Helping Banks Screw Over Homeowners,” Rolling Stone, November 10, 2010,; L. Randall Wray, “Right Now, A Complete Collapse Of The Financial System Is Not Out Of The Question,” Business Insider, November 4, 2010,
  2. [2]Alternet, “Updated: State Troopers Dragging Protestors Out; Wisc. Dems Head Home After GOP Union-Busting Measure Rammed Through,” March 9, 2011,; Jefferson Locke, “Wisconsin Senate possibly breaks the law in passing union-busting measure,” Gather, March 9, 2011,
  3. [3]Mark Landler and Andrew W. Lehren, “Cables Show Delicate U.S. Dealings With Egypt’s Leaders,” New York Times, January 27, 2011,
  4. [4]Kevin Bogardus, “Kerry, Berman want controversial Honduras report to be retracted,” The Hill, October 27, 2009,; Laura Carlsen, “The Sham Elections in Honduras,” Nation, December 14, 2009,; Dana Frank, “US: Wrong on Honduras,” Nation, January 13, 2011,; Robert Naiman, “WikiLeaks Honduras: State Dept. Busted on Support of Coup,” Huffington Post, November 29, 2010,; Fiona Ortiz, “Honduras pact crumbles over unity government,” Reuters, November 6, 2009,
  5. [5]Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (New York: Henry Holt, 2005); Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned Its back on the Middle Class (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010); William Selway, “Americans Oppose Republican Attack on Unions in Poll Divided Over Benefits,” Bloomberg, March 8, 2011,
  6. [6]Associated Press, “U.N.: U.S. workers are world’s most productive,” MSNBC, September 3, 2007,; Jared Bernstein, “Productivity growth and profits far outpace compensation in current expansion,” Economic Policy Institute, April 20, 2005,; Charles A. Reich, The Greening of America (New York: Crown, 1970).
  7. [7]BBC News, “Buffett warns on investment ‘time bomb’,” March 4, 2003,

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