As I said previously, I think the challenge in looking at events unfold in Wisconsin between the Governor, the Legislature and the Unions, is trying to figure out how this plays out. Even though this week so a resolution that had clearly been likely all along - that Republicans would simply enact the union-busting provisions without the budget votes that needed Democrats present - where things go from here is still something of a mystery.
Partly, Wisconsin is a reflection of the worst effects of deep polarization in politics, where there is no common ground, where two sides can never agree. More than that, though, Wisconsin strikes me as being about the roots of that polarization - the "articles of faith" that drive true believers in both parties, beliefs that are, in many ways, unshakable.
Democrats have been dealing with their own damaging articles of faith during the health care "reform" debate and the aftermath of the 2010 elections. These were the assumptions that all the reform proposals were good and right, and that by being good and right, they would win with public support. Many liberals - good, thoughtful people otherwise - are bewildered to discover that so much of the health care reform plan is highly unpopular, did little to encourage voters in the last election, and still cannot be entirely sold to the public.
In my idealistic youth - and believe me, I had one - I too would have been mystified. We have a great ideas. We are right about so many things. Who doesn't see that? It took years, a number of painful Democratic defeats and some real immersion in the conservative side of arguments to realize that there are, in fact, more ways of looking at things - still, not necessarily the right ones, but listening to counterarguments made me think harder about what I consider facts, and what are simply, deeply held beliefs.
For conservatives, it's an article of faith that unions are bad, dangerous, and counterproductive (as well as a corrupt, slushy, source of funds for Democrats and their political goals). Their belief in this is unshakable, unbowed by facts... and not generally susceptible to negative public opinion.
Yes, it's also counterintuitive - especially when one considers that white working class voters - who make up some of the angriest and most vigilant conservative supporters - owe a great deal of their working rights, and their incomes, to the work of unions. A lot of this is regionally driven, an example of how views from the formerly confederate South have taken over the conservative movement and the GOP; it's the "right to work" South that was always the staunchest opponent of unions and unionization. And much of the recent anti-union effort has been driven by transferring "right to work" ideas from the South into the midwest.
We won't know, I think, for a while yet if these efforts take hold firmly enough to damage what remains of the union movement... but in a sense, it doesn't matter how this plays out to many conservatives. Win or lose, some will hold onto that article of faith that is antiunion. That's the real lesson of Scott Walker, who has shown the kind of absolute faith in an unpopular idea that may well lead to his political defeat.
In a sense, we were always bound to get to this point in American politics: the last few years have been, on both sides, a challenge to previously long held beliefs, certainties about how the world works, what people will agree with us about, and who's really right. Democrats have paid a huge price for insisting on a course of action on health care "reforms" that steamrolled public opinion, ignored reasonable opposition, and stifled even internal dissent. Similarly, Republicans have decided that the Walker play has to be defended at all costs, and unpopular arguments about fiscal discipline, steamrolling of public objections, ignoring reasonable discussions about compromise, and stifling internal dissent.
This is about true believers, and deeply held beliefs. And chances are, Republicans in many states will pay a price quite similar to theone Democrats just paid in the House elections. Because America, mostly, is not a nation of true believers... just situational ethiics and foxhole prayers. Wisconsin should never have come to this. But here we are... and if the true believers, and their absolutes, are rejected on both sides... then what?