Here's the question I keep having about the events unfolding in Madison: how does this all end?
The threat of our left-right divisions, after all, is not that one side will prevail... but that, in fact, the conflict keeps getting ratcheted up and no resolution is found. And the events in Wisconsin have to end at some point... don't they?
I've spent a lot of time - at least, as much time as I'm willing to, before I get exasperated - listening to arguments on all sides and, naturally, I come down on a decidedly left, but fiscally conservative side: there's no reason to eviscerate collective bargaining rights, but the way public service workers are compensated has to change. Lots of us can find common ground on something along these lines... but I don't think that's the point of what's unfolding in Wisconsin.
From the intransigence of the state's Governor, Scott Walker, to the "Senators on the run" sitcom of the Democrats who fled rather than see Walker's measure passed, it seems to me that real lesson in Wisconsin is each side testing the other for limits. How far will you go? How outrageous will you be? How many people can you rile up? And which side will cave?
Tht's why I ask again... how does this all end?
As a nation, we are generally conflict-averse and fairly comfortable and easily bored. Envisioning more mass labor protests, in other states, even with all that's happened and could happen on labor regulations, is hard to do. The energy to sustain this really isn't there. Around the country, looking at Wisconsin, I get the sense people - wherever theiir politics lie - wish Wisconsin officials would figure out a solution and end this.
The political and economic decisions we face do not get easier in the coming months and years; and maybe, given the passions surreounding some of these topics, there will be more taking it to the streets, more breakdowns of legislative comity, grinding our work and social lives to a halt. Maybe... but I kind of doubt it. I think no one knows how Wisconsin will end, but when it ends... there will be both a sense of relief that it's over and a resolve to figure out how to not let that unfold elsewhere. Whatever the price.
It's worth pointing out, after all, that with both side in Washington daring the other to reject a resolution to fund government operations through March and have a government shutdown, both sides managed to find a compromise they can live with. This, I thnk, is the real sense of our new normal: ugly compromises, barely manged week to week.
I'd love to say, as a good liberal, that this is all about union-bashing and we need to stand up for the workers and the unions. But the reality is that less than 10% of the country is unionized, and much of the unionized work force is public sector workers - teachers, emergency services, civil service. It's worth asking just what liberals think we are defending and where we think things go from here, when it comes to labor. I'd feel a lot better about a liberal, progressive movement that looked beyond unions, and worked harder to protect union gains for non-unionized workers, especially in service industries where unionization is unlikely to grow. And of course, I'd feel better about conservative pushes for fiscal responsibility that didn't involve mistreating members of the poor and working classes, while protecting the rich and comfortable.
This is not the world we have. The world we have is the world that's on display in Madison. And that disagreement that's out in the streets, cannot be resolved. That's the reality. And knowing that... I still don't see how this all ends to anyone's satisfaction. But it does have to end... right?