Commentary Magazine


Topic: union movement

Is the AFL-CIO Bailing on Obama?

Payback for President Obama’s decision to refuse to get personally involved in the Wisconsin recall fight may not be long in coming. U.S. News reports that the AFL-CIO will “redeploy funds away from political candidates” in the coming campaign in favor of spending on strengthening the union movement’s infrastructure. The magazine’s Washington Whispers blog quotes a spokesman as saying that this will mean a drastic cut in donations to candidates including the man at the head of the Democratic ticket, but that “this will not be a slight to President Obama.”

This is, as the magazine points out, a major policy change for the organization that once provided much of the money and the muscle for the Democrats’ national campaigns. But whether it is being done out of spite or, as is entirely possible, merely a recognition that the shrinking union movement needs to concentrate its dwindling resources on keeping itself alive, it must be considered a blow to a Democratic campaign that has already found itself facing a Republican presidential campaign that may be able to match the president’s ability to raise money. Either way, it is just one more sign that the Democrats will not be enjoying the same fundraising advantage in 2012 that they had in 2008. It also means that the AFL-CIO is conceding that its days as a national political force to be reckoned with are finished.

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Payback for President Obama’s decision to refuse to get personally involved in the Wisconsin recall fight may not be long in coming. U.S. News reports that the AFL-CIO will “redeploy funds away from political candidates” in the coming campaign in favor of spending on strengthening the union movement’s infrastructure. The magazine’s Washington Whispers blog quotes a spokesman as saying that this will mean a drastic cut in donations to candidates including the man at the head of the Democratic ticket, but that “this will not be a slight to President Obama.”

This is, as the magazine points out, a major policy change for the organization that once provided much of the money and the muscle for the Democrats’ national campaigns. But whether it is being done out of spite or, as is entirely possible, merely a recognition that the shrinking union movement needs to concentrate its dwindling resources on keeping itself alive, it must be considered a blow to a Democratic campaign that has already found itself facing a Republican presidential campaign that may be able to match the president’s ability to raise money. Either way, it is just one more sign that the Democrats will not be enjoying the same fundraising advantage in 2012 that they had in 2008. It also means that the AFL-CIO is conceding that its days as a national political force to be reckoned with are finished.

The timing of the announcement is bound to feed into speculation that the unions are mad about the president’s wise decision not to waste any of his own political capital on the Wisconsin recall. In the closing weeks of that campaign, the White House rightly saw that there was much to lose and little to gain from a presidential campaign stop in Wisconsin to bolster the flagging effort to oust Republican Governor Scott Walker. Though he was rightly mocked for only contributing a solitary tweet of encouragement to Walker’s opponent, no amount of presidential involvement would have saved the unions from their foolish desire to exact revenge on Walker for his successful campaign to cut back their ability to hold the state hostage in contract negotiations.

But even without the anger about their loss in Wisconsin, the AFL-CIO’s decision marks a sea change in the way our national campaigns are fought. In past decades, the union movement was a central, if not the major player in organizing Democratic presidential campaigns. The Democrats are no longer solely dependent on big labor, and they also understand that the price paid for too much help can be politically expensive. Nevertheless, the unions remain an important part of the Democrat coalition, and if they have decided to stop being players in electoral politics, the void they are leaving behind will be difficult to fill.

Though President Obama will probably not miss the union money too much, other candidates further down on the Democratic ticket will. It’s one more sign that a difficult election year just got a bit tougher for the president and his party.

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More Bad News for Unions From California

As if the epic defeat of their effort to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wasn’t enough, the union movement got even more bad news from California last night when voters in San Diego and San Jose gave huge majorities to referenda that called for cutbacks to retirement benefits for municipal workers. If only a year or two ago states and cities throughout the country appeared helpless to stop the march toward insolvency caused by the enormous expenditures required to pay for the generous benefits and pensions given public employees, it now appears the tide has turned in favor of the taxpayers.

Where once there was no greater political power in most states than the unions representing state workers, these once mighty groups look like paper tigers. The voters have rightly determined that the burden of the contracts is too great for the taxpayers to bear in a time of a shrinking economy when private sector workers cannot hope to do as well. Politicians who feared to cross the unions or to stand up to them in negotiations — because doing so meant running the risk of strikes and slowdowns that could bring states and municipalities to their knees — are suddenly discovering the courage to not only say no to further demands on the public exchequer but to request and get givebacks that make fiscal sense. After Scott Walker’s big win in Wisconsin and the 66 and 70 percent majorities won in California, this could be just the start of a broad movement that will end the stranglehold unions once had on state budgets.

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As if the epic defeat of their effort to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wasn’t enough, the union movement got even more bad news from California last night when voters in San Diego and San Jose gave huge majorities to referenda that called for cutbacks to retirement benefits for municipal workers. If only a year or two ago states and cities throughout the country appeared helpless to stop the march toward insolvency caused by the enormous expenditures required to pay for the generous benefits and pensions given public employees, it now appears the tide has turned in favor of the taxpayers.

Where once there was no greater political power in most states than the unions representing state workers, these once mighty groups look like paper tigers. The voters have rightly determined that the burden of the contracts is too great for the taxpayers to bear in a time of a shrinking economy when private sector workers cannot hope to do as well. Politicians who feared to cross the unions or to stand up to them in negotiations — because doing so meant running the risk of strikes and slowdowns that could bring states and municipalities to their knees — are suddenly discovering the courage to not only say no to further demands on the public exchequer but to request and get givebacks that make fiscal sense. After Scott Walker’s big win in Wisconsin and the 66 and 70 percent majorities won in California, this could be just the start of a broad movement that will end the stranglehold unions once had on state budgets.

To those who cry foul over the pension reform measures in California or Walker’s clipping of the unions’ wings in Wisconsin, we need to point out that treating public employees as a privileged class is what we might find in dictatorships, not a democracy. The ascendancy of the unions was the product not only of political muscle but the vast expansion of government during the last century. The bigger government got, the greater its appetite for revenue and the more leverage state worker unions had. Having used that power to extract exorbitant contract concessions from the people supposedly representing the taxpayers, the unions were determined to hold onto their grip on the nation’s purse strings.

But like any Ponzi scheme, this was a concept that had to go bust sooner or later. The costs of these contracts and pensions continued to grow with only the seemingly unlimited power of the government to confiscate more of the taxpayers’ income to pay for it. The Tea Party revolt that swept the nation in 2010 was an expression of the public’s disgust at the way states and cities were locked into spending patterns that could not be sustained. Rather than merely stopping the spigot of public funds flowing into union coffers, Scott Walker sought to put in place measures that would ensure unions could never again put a figurative gun to his state’s head in order to get a bigger share of the budget. In California, mayors have acted similarly by passing measures that will reverse the giveaways conducted by their predecessors.

Scott Walker’s defeat of a union movement determined to punish him for undermining their hold on Wisconsin’s finances as well as the result from California ensures that others will follow in those footsteps. The era of unions holding up states and cities is over. A new age of fiscal sanity may not be far off.

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Walker’s Example: Courage Rewarded

There are a lot of ways to explain Scott Walker’s decisive victory in the Wisconsin recall election. Democrats will talk about the influence of money and, if they are honest, admit they were wrong to allow the anger of their union allies to drive them off the cliff as even moderates came to view the recall as an example of political misbehavior. Republicans will make hopeful predictions about this win being a harbinger of the defeat of President Obama this November even as the White House tries to claim it will have no influence on that race. But no amount of partisan spin can divert us from the basic narrative of this remarkable result: courage was rewarded.

In the face of an angry and violent union movement and hostile media, Scott Walker chose to attempt a fundamental reform of his state’s budget woes. He was told he couldn’t get away with it, and for a time it appeared as if his critics would make him pay for his resolve with his job. But by not merely surviving the recall, but winning big, Walker demonstrated that it is actually possible for a conservative Republican to not only win an election by promising change but to successfully deliver it.

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There are a lot of ways to explain Scott Walker’s decisive victory in the Wisconsin recall election. Democrats will talk about the influence of money and, if they are honest, admit they were wrong to allow the anger of their union allies to drive them off the cliff as even moderates came to view the recall as an example of political misbehavior. Republicans will make hopeful predictions about this win being a harbinger of the defeat of President Obama this November even as the White House tries to claim it will have no influence on that race. But no amount of partisan spin can divert us from the basic narrative of this remarkable result: courage was rewarded.

In the face of an angry and violent union movement and hostile media, Scott Walker chose to attempt a fundamental reform of his state’s budget woes. He was told he couldn’t get away with it, and for a time it appeared as if his critics would make him pay for his resolve with his job. But by not merely surviving the recall, but winning big, Walker demonstrated that it is actually possible for a conservative Republican to not only win an election by promising change but to successfully deliver it.

It should be recalled that in the spring of 2011, after the newly elected Walker and the Republican majority in the Wisconsin legislature decided to keep their campaign promises and to pass legislation that would restrain the ability of unions to hold states hostage, the conventional wisdom heard was that Walker had overplayed his hand and would be punished by the voters–even if he overcame the thuggish attempts of both the unions and the Democratic minority in the legislature to stop him.

It was widely believed that the controversy his stand on collective bargaining rights and the ability of unions to automatically deduct dues from unwilling members would never stand up if he were to be forced to face the voters again. Last year, even many Republicans thought Walker had gone too far and praised those GOP officials who avoided the sort of fight the Wisconsin governor had dared to make. That is why Wisconsin liberals and the union movement were sure that a recall would not just work but set an example for Republican governors throughout the nation.

Walker has not only proved them all wrong, but established that even in a generally blue state like Wisconsin with a long tradition of a strong labor movement, it is possible to challenge the unions and not just win, but win big.

After his recall victory, never again will union thugs storm a state capitol, as happened last year in Madison, secure in the belief that they had the muscle to intimidate a governor and a legislature with a fresh mandate for change from the people. Never again will liberals assume that the status quo they defend with such fervor is unassailable. The reforms Walker advocated and then passed have been shown to be more than theoretical ideas aired at symposiums at conservative think tanks. His recall victory shows that rather than being an example of how extremists always fail, he may well prove to be the first of a wave of reform-minded conservatives to successfully defeat the unions.

All it took for Scott Walker to accomplish what every liberal editorial page in the country was sure was impossible was the courage to try. The reward for his courage will ensure that he won’t be the last to make the attempt.

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Democratic Disaster Looms in Wisconsin

With one day to go before Wisconsin voters vote to decide whether or not to recall Governor Scott Walker, polls are still showing the Republican clearly favored to retain his office. After more than a year of effort by a vengeful union movement and their Democratic allies, the decision to try to punish Walker for passing legislation that cut back on the power of unions to hold the state hostage in negotiations may turn out to be the biggest miscalculation of 2012. With President Obama looking on fearfully (and carefully avoiding any personal involvement in the contest), the only thing bitter Wisconsin liberals may have accomplished is putting their state in play for Mitt Romney this November.

With Walker looking like a winner tomorrow, the coverage of the race has shifted to a discussion of how the recall will affect the presidential contest, with even the New York Times now conceding the recall may have helped to turn Wisconsin from a solid Obama state in 2008 to a crucial swing state that could cost him re-election. If the GOP emerges victorious tomorrow, liberals will not only have transformed Walker from an embattled incumbent to a national powerhouse, but they may also have set the stage for a Democratic debacle that could cost their party the White House. If that happens, the party will have only their union allies to blame for a decision that was rooted in anger rather than smart politics.

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With one day to go before Wisconsin voters vote to decide whether or not to recall Governor Scott Walker, polls are still showing the Republican clearly favored to retain his office. After more than a year of effort by a vengeful union movement and their Democratic allies, the decision to try to punish Walker for passing legislation that cut back on the power of unions to hold the state hostage in negotiations may turn out to be the biggest miscalculation of 2012. With President Obama looking on fearfully (and carefully avoiding any personal involvement in the contest), the only thing bitter Wisconsin liberals may have accomplished is putting their state in play for Mitt Romney this November.

With Walker looking like a winner tomorrow, the coverage of the race has shifted to a discussion of how the recall will affect the presidential contest, with even the New York Times now conceding the recall may have helped to turn Wisconsin from a solid Obama state in 2008 to a crucial swing state that could cost him re-election. If the GOP emerges victorious tomorrow, liberals will not only have transformed Walker from an embattled incumbent to a national powerhouse, but they may also have set the stage for a Democratic debacle that could cost their party the White House. If that happens, the party will have only their union allies to blame for a decision that was rooted in anger rather than smart politics.

Looking back on the process that led them to this situation, the problem for the Democrats is that there never seems to have been a point at which either state or national party leaders sat down to ponder a cost/benefit analysis of an attempt to unseat Walker. The political drama that unfolded in Madison throughout 2011 was an emotional roller coaster on which liberals realized only too late the ride had no escape hatch.

Wisconsin elected a Republican governor and legislature in 2010 as the Tea Party revolt against President Obama and his stimulus and ObamaCare plans fed conservative anger about taxes and spending. Much to the surprise of his foes, Walker and his allies in the legislature decided they would fulfill their campaign pledges and seek to ensure the state worker unions would be prevented from dragging Wisconsin steadily over the financial cliff again. Though the proposal to cut back on some collective bargaining rights for state workers was controversial, the violent reaction from the union thugs who stormed the statehouse and the absurd decision of Democratic legislators to flee the state to avoid a vote on the measure didn’t help the liberal cause. Though Walker may have seemed vulnerable after winning this battle, the idea to push for a recall was based on emotion, not political calculation. Liberals were so angry at Walker for keeping his word to the voters and not backing down in the face of protests that they never stopped to think that an effort to reverse the 2010 election results would strike many voters as both unnecessary and unfair.

The immediate problem in Wisconsin for liberals is not so much that Walker has persuaded a majority of voters that he is right — though there is clear evidence he has made headway despite the avalanche of criticism he got in the mainstream media — but that even many of those inclined to side with the Democrats have been convinced the left is dead wrong. The recall election is rightly perceived as nothing more than a form of payback for the drubbing the unions got in the legislature last year, and that has left a bitter taste in many voters’ mouths. If Walker survives tomorrow, the consequences will not only mean he will be strengthened, but that Democrats will emerge looking both petty and weak.

But the blowback from this foolish effort will not just be felt by a thuggish union movement that thought it could intimidate Walker last year and bulldoze the state in 2012. It will be President Obama, who won Wisconsin by 14 points in 2008, who may ultimately pay the biggest price for the rush to recall. Though a Republican has not won the state’s electoral votes since Ronald Reagan did it in 1980 and 1984, it should be remembered that George W. Bush came close in 2000 and 2004. If it turns out the state changes back from solid blue to tossup, President Obama will look back at a recall that was the fruit of his supporters’ unchecked anger as the source of his troubles.

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Labor Headed for Wisconsin Catastrophe

The labor movement and its left-wing allies in the Democratic Party thought they were doing something extremely clever when they reacted to their defeats at the hands of Scott Walker in the Wisconsin legislature by starting a recall campaign. The recall enabled the losers of the 2010 election where Walker and the GOP swept to power in the state to, in effect, get a do-over in which they could act as if the previous result didn’t really count. But as the latest polls from Wisconsin show, they are on the eve of a catastrophic loss that will not only leave Walker in power and stronger than ever but also deal the Democrats a crucial loss that may be a harbinger of more setbacks in the fall.

The latest We Ask America poll in Wisconsin shows Walker expanding his lead over the Democratic alternative, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Walker, who was shown in previous polls to have a smaller advantage, now is ahead by a decisive 52-43 margin. With Walker going over the 50 percent mark for the first time in this race, this is a devastating result as it was assumed that once the Democrats picked their candidate the race would get closer. Instead, Barrett’s victory in the Democratic primary over a candidate preferred by the unions seems to have reminded Wisconsin voters that they already had a choice between Walker and Barrett in 2010 and picked the former.

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The labor movement and its left-wing allies in the Democratic Party thought they were doing something extremely clever when they reacted to their defeats at the hands of Scott Walker in the Wisconsin legislature by starting a recall campaign. The recall enabled the losers of the 2010 election where Walker and the GOP swept to power in the state to, in effect, get a do-over in which they could act as if the previous result didn’t really count. But as the latest polls from Wisconsin show, they are on the eve of a catastrophic loss that will not only leave Walker in power and stronger than ever but also deal the Democrats a crucial loss that may be a harbinger of more setbacks in the fall.

The latest We Ask America poll in Wisconsin shows Walker expanding his lead over the Democratic alternative, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Walker, who was shown in previous polls to have a smaller advantage, now is ahead by a decisive 52-43 margin. With Walker going over the 50 percent mark for the first time in this race, this is a devastating result as it was assumed that once the Democrats picked their candidate the race would get closer. Instead, Barrett’s victory in the Democratic primary over a candidate preferred by the unions seems to have reminded Wisconsin voters that they already had a choice between Walker and Barrett in 2010 and picked the former.

A victory in a recall would not only humiliate Walker and discourage conservatives around the country in advance of the presidential election. It would also legitimize the unions’ thuggish obstructionism in 2011. The unions sought by means of intimidation and extra-legal efforts to stop the legislature from voting to prevent Walker from fulfilling his campaign promises about enacting a fundamental reform of the budget process.

Walker stood his ground last year and passed measures that will prevent municipal and state worker unions from holding the state hostage and bringing it to the edge of bankruptcy. His effort to remove some — though not all — of their collective bargaining rights led to his demonization in the press and a vicious campaign aimed at making it impossible for Walker to govern.

But rather than making an example out of him and showing that any challenge to union domination of state government will be punished, the recall may turn out to have the opposite effect. It may not only elevate Walker to a figure of national stature. It could effectively demonstrate that the power of the union movement is finished.

With three weeks to go before the June 5 recall, the Democrats and unions will pull out all the stops in their quest to defeat Walker. But with the GOP governor already holding a large lead, President Obama — to whom the unions once looked for help in this struggle — would be well advised to stay out of Wisconsin until after the vote. He doesn’t want any of the taint of what may well be a catastrophe for the left to be attached to his re-election campaign.

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Wisconsin Recall Shows Citizens United Bolstered Democracy

Ironies abounded in the Sunday New York Times’ front-page feature about union efforts to force the recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. The newspaper is right about the fact that the recall may turn out to be a warm up for the presidential election this fall, but it speaks volumes about both the bias of the piece that nowhere in it does the Times mention the fact that all the recent polls of the contest show him ahead and gaining ground. Flawed though the piece was, it also served to skewer one of the main political narratives that the Times has worked so hard to promote in the last year: that the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision was undermining democracy.

As the article illustrates, far from the court’s defense of freedom of speech harming the political process, what it has done is to allow the free flow of ideas — and the cash that helps bring those ideas into the public square — to flourish as the public is presented with a clear choice between Walker’s attempt to reform public expenditures and the union movement’s effort to defend the status quo.

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Ironies abounded in the Sunday New York Times’ front-page feature about union efforts to force the recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. The newspaper is right about the fact that the recall may turn out to be a warm up for the presidential election this fall, but it speaks volumes about both the bias of the piece that nowhere in it does the Times mention the fact that all the recent polls of the contest show him ahead and gaining ground. Flawed though the piece was, it also served to skewer one of the main political narratives that the Times has worked so hard to promote in the last year: that the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision was undermining democracy.

As the article illustrates, far from the court’s defense of freedom of speech harming the political process, what it has done is to allow the free flow of ideas — and the cash that helps bring those ideas into the public square — to flourish as the public is presented with a clear choice between Walker’s attempt to reform public expenditures and the union movement’s effort to defend the status quo.

The Times makes clear that the unions, just like their conservative opponents, have been allowed by the law to put forward their positions unfettered by the attempt of liberal campaign finance laws to restrict expenditures. And while the paper does its best to bolster the contrived story line that this is a battle between working people and the billionaire Koch brothers, the political showdown in Wisconsin is one in which the voters will be allowed to decide whether state employees will be entitled to force the state into bankruptcy. The result is a political free-for-all in which both sides are having their say. Had the Times and other supporters of campaign finance laws had their way, the unions and the conservatives opposing them would have been largely silenced.

The Times does deserve credit for puncturing part of the left’s propaganda campaign against Charles and David Koch, the industrialists who have been falsely smeared as the plutocrats funding a vast right-wing plot to destroy democracy. It turns out liberals attempting to promote boycotts against companies owned by the brothers, including Georgia Pacific, have been criticized by the unions that represent the firm’s workers because the brothers’ companies treat their employees well and have negotiated fair contracts with them.

The attempt to demonize the brothers because of their support for conservative think tanks has flopped. So, too, may the recall, in large measure because Wisconsin voters, who elected Walker and a Republican legislature in 2010 when they campaigned on the measures that they have since passed, understand what is at stake in the election. The recall is nothing less than an all-out power play by unions who realize that their grip on power and the public purse is slipping. Reformers like Walker are determined to put in place a process that will prevent Wisconsin from being pushed to insolvency by public worker contracts that are negotiated with a figurative gun to the state’s head in the form of strikes.

That the Times can write more than 1,200 words about this without mentioning the fact that Walker is leading in the polls says something interesting about the paper’s bias. But it is even more interesting that the thrust of the piece proves that the editorial position of the paper about Citizens United trashing democracy is utterly without basis.

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Thug Democracy on Display in Wisconsin

Liberal conventional wisdom claims the rise of the Tea Party has put an end to any hope of civility in American politics and that the political right is a stronghold of intolerance that makes reasoned debate impossible. That’s the line President Obama and the Democrats have maintained while trying to portray the Republican Party as being in the grip of extremists. However, events in the battleground state of Wisconsin have once again given the lie to these liberal myths.

Just as unions and their liberal and Democratic allies sought to use physical intimidation to prevent the state legislature from considering or voting on measures they didn’t like, similar behavior is part of their effort to recall Governor Scott Walker. Politico reports that Governor Walker revealed that his family has been subjected to various forms of intimidation tactics during the past year with his children and elderly parents being harassed at a supermarket. His children were also targeted on Facebook.

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Liberal conventional wisdom claims the rise of the Tea Party has put an end to any hope of civility in American politics and that the political right is a stronghold of intolerance that makes reasoned debate impossible. That’s the line President Obama and the Democrats have maintained while trying to portray the Republican Party as being in the grip of extremists. However, events in the battleground state of Wisconsin have once again given the lie to these liberal myths.

Just as unions and their liberal and Democratic allies sought to use physical intimidation to prevent the state legislature from considering or voting on measures they didn’t like, similar behavior is part of their effort to recall Governor Scott Walker. Politico reports that Governor Walker revealed that his family has been subjected to various forms of intimidation tactics during the past year with his children and elderly parents being harassed at a supermarket. His children were also targeted on Facebook.

The Wisconsin recall is being seen as an indicator of how the fall presidential election may go. Given that polls there show the race to be dead even, perhaps that is right. But the conduct of Walker’s opponents ever since he took office last year has demonstrated that the notion of liberal civility is a fallacy. Union thugs sought to physically harass legislators and the governor last year while the Democratic minority in the state house took to hiding out in another state in order to prevent the democratically-elected majority from holding a vote on issues where they disagreed with Walker.

Like the Occupy Wall Street protesters who pose as the guardians of democracy but instead actively seek to suppress the free speech of their opponents, the Walker-haters are not content with a mere discussion of the issues. So it is hardly surprising to learn that Walker’s family is being treated with the same lack of civility.

Neither side in our political battles has a monopoly on virtue or good behavior. But the assumption by the left that only the right engages in bullying can only be preserved by willful blindness. The good name of the trade union movement has been tarnished by conduct in Wisconsin that blurs the line between bad manners and criminal harassment. We suspect the voters of that state will be more influenced by the spectacle of anti-democratic conduct by the left than they are by liberal demagoguery against Walker’s prudent attempt to reform the state’s finances.

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