"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Wisconsin strife overshadows Packers now

Democrats need to be very careful how closely they associate themselves with what is happening in Wisconsin. Wisconsin? Isn't that state pretty meek and low-profile? I suspect that culturally it mirrors Minnesota and yet you don't hear the term "Wisconsin Nice," you hear "Minnesota Nice."
How often does Wisconsin enter the national news for reasons other than sports? But even in the sports realm, Wisconsin has a curiously background role because its teams are named for cities, not the state.
I have written before about this big difference between Wisconsin and Minnesota. Wisconsin has a team at the top of the NFL firmament but it's not the "Wisconsin Packers." It's the "Green Bay Packers."
Green Bay ought to be a minor league city. Don Riley, whose idiosyncratic sports column graced the St. Paul newspaper for many years, wrote that there are two pastimes in Green Bay: watching football and watching haircuts.
Green Bay is "The Little Engine That Could" in major league sports. They also knew when it was time to jettison Brett Favre. Aaron Rodgers' indignity of being backup QB come hell or high water is over. Rodgers has the euphoria of being the most accomplished quarterback in the world.
Favre stayed at the dance too long and now his peccadilloes have come out. Such are the highs and lows of American life.
Now it's in Wisconsin, of all places, where we're seeing raw political conflict of the type that gets the whole country's attention. The meek Midwestern temperament is being tested. The scenes seem nearly identical to what we saw in Egypt very recently. Many observers and commentators can't help but draw parallels.
I would say the comparison is only a superficial one. It would be easy to get misled.
The young people who drove the Egypt protests were seeking liberation. They harnessed the new media to organize, reach a consensus and beat down barriers. Truly they represent a new wave of people empowerment.
What's happening in Wisconsin is the opposite of what it might seem. The people making all the noise, carrying banners and "calling in sick" are those representing the old staid order. They represent the regime under assault. They represent a system that people tolerated, with a grimace, for a long time.
But now, with the empowerment of new media, people can coalesce around ideas that truly make sense and beat down the barriers of entrenched systems.
The public has long been fed up with public employee unions. They have long been irritated by teachers unions and how their objectives can contradict the best interests of education.
People probably weigh their words when they're around teachers, but their feelings are unmistakable about this. I'm talking about the majority of people.
Most teachers are likable on a personal level and we don't want to make this personal.
Public employee unions have acquired leverage that defies fairness. It's an unfair fight.
Government is a monopoly. Unions don't lend themselves to a system like this. There's nothing at stake for the people who negotiate with unions on behalf of the public entities. They're guided into the path of least resistance. That is, until the excrement hits the fan with austere times setting in.
What we see happening in Wisconsin could easily be happening in Minnesota too. Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer came within a hair's breadth of winning. He surprised me because in the early stages of the campaign, he seemed like one of those marginal Republican candidates, too zealous conservatively to get broad support.
Emmer's strong showing really said something about the mood of the electorate. The public was tired of the old Democratic power players who are cozy with unions. Take away that TV commercial about Emmer's DUI problem and he probably would have won.
Mark Dayton is governor and he has said he's "miserable" looking at the state's budget situation. I wish he hadn't used that word. He wanted to be governor, didn't he? Does he not want to accept reality?
Unions aren't good at accepting reality. They are good at making noise like an inebriated heckler at a sports event.
Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin did not sound miserable at a press conference he conducted Friday. Dayton seems lucky compared to him, because Dayton is not (yet) at the vortex of a controversy that pits two sides vs. each other in a warlike way (almost).
But the Wisconsin governor in fact seemed cool as a cucumber. I'm sure he doesn't enjoy the conflict. but he acted in a calm manner suggesting that he's quite sure and firm about his ideas.
"Miserable?" Not at all.
Unions have become a festering issue in America. It's monumentally unfair that the public sector, where they don't belong at all, has become their last bastion.
Advocates say unions fight for the working class. Horse hockey. Unions fight for only one thing. And that is themselves.
We should be so fortunate that unions advocate for the broad working class. But if you exclude the public sector, only a sliver of American workers belong to unions and enjoy those benefits.
Unions should be universal if they're so great.
I became disenchanted with unions during my media career when I saw the extreme level of acrimony in union vs. management disputes. It's dysfunctional and rather scary, really. It's primal and not in a good way.
The vast majority of working people have to respect management. Certainly this is what we want in the public sector.
About a year ago, I wrote a post in which I noted that the "Morning Joe" TV program (with Joe Scarborough) was becoming a leader in expressing skepticism about teachers unions. I think I wrote that these unions were like the weather in that "everyone complains about it but nobody does anything about it."
Scarborough seemed to want to rattle cages. In the past, this kind of talk seemed rather taboo. It was intemperate. In the Upper Midwest especially, we frown on intemperate talk.
Being temperate is a trademark of ours, helping inspire the movie "Fargo," so it's ironic and significant that Wisconsin has emerged as the laboratory over whether public employee unions can truly be slayed.
I'm writing this on the weekend and as of now, it appears that the cool and collected Governor Walker and his advocates are standing firm on principle.
Again, Democrats need to be very careful about this. The broad swath of the general public has been pissed for a long time about public employee unions.
I have heard the argument that we need to support unions because they are the only major organizations left that can funnel money to Democratic candidates, whereas Republicans get all that money from big corporate interests.
We might be underestimating the wisdom of the American people here. People are fully capable of recognizing their own best interests. I totally advocate for the interests of the working class. But I reject the notion that unions are the only tool for accomplishing this.
Unions behave like cornered animals too often. They seem to reveal the worst of human nature. Oftentimes these animals get rabies. An observer just seeks escape.
In Wisconsin, the governor and those behind him aren't blinking (yet). There are money realities staring them in the face.
Actually I could develop an involved economics argument here, and assert that the conflict is really not to be laid at the doorstep of either labor or management. I could argue that the fundamental problem is the diminishing value of our money. This in fact could foment quite serious conflict down the road with Wisconsin just being a minor early hint.
In the meantime, we have to get real. Public employees need to shed some of their unreasonable privileges.
It's time we recognize teachers unions for what they are: advocates for teachers in the most parochial sense. That's what unions do. They aren't crusaders for humanity.
The public has long been aware of this but has just collectively shrugged, up until now. There's a new empowerment - no more mere resignation.
Perhaps because of the communications tech revolution, causes with merit like this one are pushing forward and not laying back in the weeds.
Egypt was lesson No. 1. Wisconsin is another exhibit and it's not the union activists setting the example, it's their critics. The union people are reactionary. The forces of our time are against them.
We can only hope that no one gets hurt now. But when it comes to union zealousness, nothing can be ruled out.
The glow of the Packers' Super Bowl win is receding fast now. And why can't they be the "Wisconsin Packers?" The baseball team is named for Milwaukee as is the basketball team.
What's wrong with Wisconsin anyway?
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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