Scott Walker’s victory in Wisconsin boldly underlined many of the trends we’ve been tracking here at Via Media for a long while now: the writing is on the wall for many blue institutions, which have grown increasingly unpopular and have proven to be unsustainable as the financial crisis has ground on.Walker’s victory dealt a severe blow to public sector unions, but the symbolism of his success is broader: the institutional left, whose base is by and large blue to the bone, is repeatedly being blindsided by the changes the country is going through.
The left gave this fight everything it had. It called all the troops it could find; it raised all the money it could; it summoned the passion of its grassroots supporters, all the moral weight and momentum remaining to the American labor movement and every ounce of its strength and its will.And it failed.The tribes of the left danced and rallied in the streets of Madison. They knocked on doors. They staffed phone banks. They passed fliers. They organized on social media. They picketed. They sang. They brought in the celebrities and the stars; they marched seven times around the city blowing the trumpets and beating the drums. They hurled invective; they booed; they cheered.And they failed.
The storm clouds are gathering. Union membership has been dramatically in decline for the past 12 months across the country. And perhaps even more ominously for the future of the pro-labor left, Mayor Tom Barrett’s lead among 18-29 year olds was halved by Walker’s bid to stay in power.This dynamic doesn’t map neatly onto partisan politics, however—it’s a question of good governance rather than a simple Democrat versus Republican affair. In bluer-than-blue New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo is taking on the public sector unions with the help and support of private sector unions. In Rhode Island, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras has been taking a hatchet to future pension obligations. And the people of San Jose and San Diego voted to curb pension costs by overwhelming margins. The problems are real and they are being addressed. But the sad reality is this: If you’ve been assured by your politicians—Republican or Democrat—that your promised government pension is safe, be very wary.Other story lines we followed:
- Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta continued his trip across Asia, the significance of which was notably downplayed by the Chinese. While he was in Kabul, the outlines of what a post-withdrawal Afghanistan may look like began to emerge. The heightened involvement of India is sure to displease Islamabad, and Panetta’s sharp words for Pakistan certainly won’t help the U.S.’s already-ailing alliance with that country.
- Speaking of India, it has taken steps to strengthen both its trading and security ties with the newly liberalizing Burma. Burma for its part was facing the prospect of fresh ethnic and religious violence—a predictable but sad consequence of lifting a ban on political repression.
- Arab Spring looked more and more like Arab Thermidor, as Ahmed Shafiq, an official from Mubarak’s widely reviled government, surged forward in the polls as a law-and-order candidate. (It could have something to do with the increase in the number of incidents of revolting thugishness being perpetrated in plain view all across Egypt.)
- Regional actors started showing signs of willingness to arm the Syrian opposition with increasingly powerful weapons, ensuring that Assad will have an ever-nastier intractable civil war on his hands.
- On the good news side of the ledger in the Middle East, only Iraq seems to be doing passably well these days. Ironically some of President Obama’s most valuable assets in the region are based on the achievements of his much-disliked predecessor.
- And in a story that with every passing week starts to sound more and more like Groundhog Day, Europe continues to muddle along, still unable to address the deep structural problems which plague it in any serious way.