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A Crisis Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

The decision by the Wisconsin Senate to approve a bill (by an 18-1 vote) to strip public employees of some of their collective bargaining rights had its slightly comical side, including legislators who fled the state complaining that what Republicans did was an “affront to democracy.” It seems to me that when you’re an elected representative who leaves a state in order to prevent a vote on a bill, you’re not in a terribly strong position to lecture others on what is and what is not an “affront to democracy.”

This point aside, the procedural maneuver that was used (see here) was unfortunate but necessary. As Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said, “The people of Wisconsin elected us to come to Madison and do a job. Just because the Senate Democrats won’t do theirs doesn’t mean we won’t do ours.” And so Wisconsin Republicans did the deed. One of the broadest challenges to organized labor in our lifetime has succeeded.

This has provoked a furious reaction among labor supporters, who are vowing retribution, including efforts to recall some state GOP senators. We’ll see how well that works out. But the fact is that labor had better get used to the new reality we’re in. Record deficits and debt have reshaped the political landscape; our slumping economy and the prospect of a crushing fiscal situation have created the conditions for governors like Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, John Kasich, and others to engage in far-reaching, systemic reforms of government. Things that weren’t possible in the past are possible now. Governors are using this moment to implement policies of enormous reach and consequence. After all, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.