Whatever the relative degree of success or failure conservatives have had in convincing Americans that deep spending cuts are necessary to reduce debts and deficit at the federal level, I don’t think there’s much doubt they’ve done pretty well in blaming public employee benefits and pensions for budget problems at the state level. But it’s important to understand that what Gov. Scott Walker is trying to do in Wisconsin right now goes a lot further than any effort to trim benefits and pensions. Here’s Slate‘s Dave Weigel, who is not unsympathetic to conservative spending reduction efforts:
This goes much, much further than reckoning with the size of public employee pensions. This is clearly designed, as Taft-Hartley was clearly designed, to make it impossible for labor to retain its strength. And this is happening in most states now; the table’s set for cuts to public sector union benefits, so it’s not altogether difficult for Republicans to go a little further, while they have the chance. (It’s tough to imagine Wisconsin retaining its lopsided GOP majorities after 2012.) The difference between what states can get away with now and what the Democrats could get away with in 2009-2010 — when they were always a few votes short of passing [card] check — is dramatic, but it’s not new.
It’s also pretty clear that pols like Scott Walker (and Christ Christie, and Rick Scott, and others) see themselves as enjoying the same political benefits from busting public employee unions as Calvin Coolidge, the obscure Massachusetts governor who broke a police strike and was quickly elevated to the vice presidency and then the presidency. As in so many areas of public policy and politics, today’s conservatives are taking us down a long memory lane deep into the last century and beyond.