By Ruth Conniff
There he was, our own Scott Walker, hosting Squawk Box on CNBC this morning.
He and the regular hosts spent a few minutes playing footsie and coming up with dueling cliches: "You can't keep putting things off down the road" . . . "Kicking the can" . . . "Whistling past the graveyard."
The point was that Walker has made the "tough choices" that will impose fiscal discipline on Wisconsin.
The show segued to Wisconsin from a segment about Greece, which Walker compared to his home state. Cheeseheads, like the Greeks, face "both an economic and a fiscal crisis," he said.
The answer to this crisis, according to Walker, CNBC, and the free-market fundamentalists they appeal to, is austerity and suffering for the poor and middle class, and relief from regulation for big corporations.
Walker and his CNBC colleagues seemed delighted about the prospect of turning the Upper Midwest into a kind of Third World oligarchy, noting that sticking it to the unions in the state that was the birthplace of AFSCME was "politically bold" and commiserating that the media coverage failed to note all the "communist signs" among the protesters. Walker even repeated the ridiculous spin (if you were here and saw the crowds) that the protests were a "national" union strategy, with people "bussed in" from Washington, DC, Nevada, New Jersey, and Illinois. He even blamed the notably silent President Obama and the national Democratic Party for orchestrating the Wisconsin rebellion. As if…
Walker took his star turn on CNBC just as he was preparing to sign the budget he rammed through the Wisconsin legislature along strictly partisan lines in an unprecedented "extraordinary session," after gaining support from the Republican-dominated state Supreme Court both for his union-busting bill and for the notion that the legislature is free to violate open meetings law and operate outside the bounds of normal democratic process.
The connection he drew between his own autocratic regime and the kinds of austerity measures the IMF imposes on debt-ridden countries was fascinating.
Wisconsinites, take note.
Here is Walker's vision for our future.
In his words: "It ties in with what Paul Ryan has been doing nationally and even with Greece."
Let's look again at the comparison to Greece. As Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, wrote in a May 10 op-ed on Greece in the New York Times:
"From a creditors’ point of view, which the European Union authorities have apparently adopted, a country that has accumulated too much debt must be punished, so as not to encourage 'bad behavior.' But punishing an entire country for the past mistakes of some of its leaders, while morally satisfying to some, is hardly the basis for sound policy.
"There is also the idea that Greece — as well as Ireland, Spain and Portugal — can recover by means of an “internal devaluation.” This means increasing unemployment so much that wages fall enough to make the country more internationally competitive. The social costs of such a move, however, are extremely high and it rarely if ever works. Unemployment has doubled in Greece (to 14.7 percent), more than doubled in Spain (to 20.7 percent) and more than tripled in Ireland (to 14.7 percent). But recovery is still elusive."
Walker claims that he will bring prosperity to Wisconsin. His success will be evident within a year, he says. But then, he also claims that $1.6 billion in cuts to K-12 education will improve our schools (because they will save so much money on teacher pay and benefits). He makes the same claim for his 30 percent cuts to our technical colleges.
He says he is protecting the vulnerable with his $500 million in Medicaid cuts and massive hike in prescription drug costs for the elderly.
He makes a race-to--the-bottom case that most middle class people in the private sector would say to Wisconsin's newly disenfranchised public employees, "I'd love to have a deal like that."
On CNBC, the hosts made no bones about it: Private sector unionization is down to 7%--as a result, private sector workers look at unionized teachers, firefighters, and other public employees with envy. Insecurity, lousy benefits, long hours, lay-offs, and pay cuts are the order of the day.
And, at the same time, corporate profits are booming. Walker has given away $2.3 billion over the next decade in new corporate tax breaks.
No wonder CNBC is so admiring.
One host did wonder, for a moment, how Scott Walker, whose poll numbers are "in the toilet," could continue to be a leader--if the people don't want his leadership. But he brushed that aside. In his view, leadership is all about doing unpopular things--ignoring the people, ramming through legislation they don't want, and subverting the whole democratic process so they don't have a voice.
What brought Wisconsinites together were Walker's extreme cuts to public services, to schools, to health care, to our infrastructure (except highways--including a massive new interchange in Milwaukee that will suck up more than half of a whopping $410 billion increase in highway spending, while municipalities absorb a $310 million cut to road repair and maintenance).
We were outraged by the unfairness of eliminating public employees' right to even come to the table to bargain over working conditions and benefit cuts. We were upset that our teachers and nurses and firefighters and cops and snowplow drivers and university professors and students and women and families and hard-working folks from all over the state were being so poorly treated.
But this CNBC segment connects the dots--to use one of the cliches they love on these business shows. It's important to understand that, beyond Wisconsin, Walker is part of a larger corporate worldview that sees workers and families, infrastructure, schools, public services, environmental protection, and community itself as a barrier to profit.
Smashing socialist schemes like health care (Walker not only cuts $500 million from Medicaid but seizes unprecedented executive power over the state's BadgerCare program for children and families in the current budget) is an important goal of this group.
As Paul Krugman wrote back in February in a New York Times opinion piece, "Wisconsin Power Play".
"There’s a bitter irony here. The fiscal crisis in Wisconsin, as in other states, was largely caused by the increasing power of America’s oligarchy. After all, it was superwealthy players, not the general public, who pushed for financial deregulation and thereby set the stage for the economic crisis of 2008-9, a crisis whose aftermath is the main reason for the current budget crunch. And now the political right is trying to exploit that very crisis, using it to remove one of the few remaining checks on oligarchic influence."
On CNBC, Walker was being celebrated by the oligarchy for overcoming the riffraff in Wisconsin.
Speaking of benefits for public employees, and spending on our state's high-performing public school system, he said, "If you don't get these things under control, you're in trouble."
Let's hope he doesn't.
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Wisconsin Supreme Court Voids Lower Court Ruling: Ends Collective Bargaining."
Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter