The effort by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the Republican-led state legislature to deprive the state’s teachers of collective bargaining rights was catnip to rightbloggers last week. This is because it involves two of their traditional objects of hatred: Unions and public education.
You know things are serious when the intensely rightwing Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government and the Washington Times actually use the famous communist President Franklin Roosevelt as a stick to beat the teachers’ union. (Real Clear Politics even added, “FDR’s Ghost Is Smiling on Wisconsin’s Governor,” perhaps in admiration of his nerve.)
Liberals suggest that Walker deliberately blew a hole in the state budget so that he could claim an economic necessity to deprive the local union of its traditional right to bargain. (This became easier to believe when the union offered concessions on wages — it had made others previously — and Walker ignored them.)
The apparent goal is to destroy the teachers’ union. (See Joshua Treviño‘s Guardian column, accurately summarized by him as “my Guardian piece on the need to smash Wisconsin’s public-sector unions.”) But long acquaintance with conservative rhetoric suggests that their ultimate goal is to “smash” all unions, via anti-union front groups and legislation.
As we have seen in our own Labor Day coverage, and in countless excoriations of “Big Labor,” rightbloggers are on the union-smashing case. The Wisconsin controversy has only strengthened their resolve against “international socialist labor unions.” Some, like The Anchoress, admit that unions were perhaps useful once — that is, back when their parents relied on unions to help them earn enough to feed and clothe their kids — but now “unions have overplayed their hands, and we’ve reached a point of unsustainability.”
Since they hate unions, rightbloggers seemed to feel, they ought to hate the people who belong to them, too. So they heaped abuse on teachers.
National Review‘s Jay Nordlinger denounced teachers as “some of the most petulant, greediest, nastiest unionists around.” While once upon a time, he said, “teachers were rather like missionaries. You practically had to take a vow of poverty to be a teacher,” now they are “well paid,” which Nordlinger considered an outrage.
Bookworm of Right-Wing News, while generous toward his own, underpaid teacher-father, called current teachers “well-paid cogs benefiting from the union’s depredations,” said that “because of tenure, too many incompetent teachers occupying America’s classrooms, bringing the whole profession into disrepute” (he also blamed “women’s lib”), and called the Wisconsin standoff “the public sector’s Gettysburg or Midway or Battle of the Bulge.” (We’re sorry we couldn’t summarize his argument more coherently, but look what we had to work with.)
Rightbloggers also claimed that teachers were outrageously highly-paid. Does this contradict your actual experience of teachers? Ours too. Rightbloggers had to play around with the numbers to make it look more convincing.
Robert Stacy McCain wrote that “the average teacher in Wisconsin receives $77,857 in total compensation, when the value of their generous benefit package is added to their salaries. Given that the median household income in Wisconsin is just above $50,000 (and the typical household has more than one wage-earner), this means that the striking teachers are earning substantially more than the people whose taxes pay their salaries.”
But according to McCain’s own sources, the Wisconsin median household income figure doesn’t include benefits (which, believe it or not, many employed non-teachers enjoy), and the Wisconsin teachers’ average salary is $49,093 — close to the norm, it would seem.
Piece of Work in Progress more honestly admitted the similarities in teacher/non-teacher salaries, but moved on to this interesting attempt: “A two-teacher family employed in Wisconsin public schools (and it’s not uncommon), is pulling in double what the average Wisconsin family does.” Yes, and if that teacher-family has two teacher-kids living at home (or if liberals succeed in their plan to institute polygamous teacher-marriage), they could earn four times as much as the non-teacher kind!
“Wisconsin Teachers are Damn Greedy,” snarled Conservative Blogs Central. “Political muscle-flexing by a well-funded special interest group,” scoffed Timothy Carney of the Washington Examiner. “Wisconsin Hatemongers Control the Children,” roared Nevada News and Views. “Teachers in Wisconsin are demonstrating… that their greed knows no bounds,” quipped The Conservative Libertine.
Some rightbloggers seemed to sense that ordinary people don’t despise teachers as they do, and tried to sugar-coat it. Kyle Olson of TownHall, “Founder and CEO of Education Action Group Foundation,” allowed that “the majority of public school teachers are dedicated and hard working,” but had been let down by the unions who are “Cheapening Our Profession” by making teachers take decent wages and job protections against their wills. Olson also said “there are myriad examples where the union has to ‘rein in’ an eager teacher who willingly works beyond her contractual duties,” but failed to provide one example, let alone a myriad.
Rightbloggers weren’t all negative. They lustily applauded the heroism of Governor Walker. “We need more leaders like Scott Walker,” bellowed Angry White Dude, and “less of the RINO turds currently in office.”
John Rosenberg of Discriminations compared Walker to Wisconsin’s famous Progressive governor, Bob LaFollette, but in reverse (a Regressive?): Rosenberg quoted an old paen to LaFollette’s battle against “corporate exploitation,” and said, “all one need do is substitute ‘union’ for ‘corporate’ in the passage above to see the striking resemblance.” And if one substitutes “Scott Walker” for “Jesus” in the Bible, this also speaks well of the Governor.
When the Wisconsin Democratic state senators left the state rather than supply the GOP with a quorum for a vote, rightbloggers considered it a cynical ruse — sort of like filibusters when someone other than Republicans is using them. “It serves as further proof the loathing progressives have for the will of the people,” said Eye of Polyphemus.
Some plotted to remove the senators from office. Republican operatives have actually started a recall movement against some of the missing senators, but Mouth in the South developed his own unique plan: Since the state constitution allows the governor to fill “vacancies” in the senate, reasoned Mouth, Walker “is well within his rights to call an election” for the absent senators’ seats. Vox populi, ladies and gentlemen.
Rightbloggers endeavored to show that, despite the hordes of protesters surrounding the state capitol, the people were on their side. But they had some trouble finding Wisconsinites to go on record. The Weekly Standard listed several opponents of Walker who were native to the state; the Walker proponents they drummed up were the Governors of Ohio and New Jersey. The sole local supporter they cited was an unnamed “long-term substitute teacher.”
Not to worry — Phil Boehmke at Pajamas Media had the hometown team covered. He quoted several “friends” who were “positively beside themselves at the insane behavior of their public servants.” “A co-worker named Jason who hails from the Dairy State,” for example, allegedly told Boehmke, “Walker should do like Reagan did with the air traffic controllers and fire their a**es!” and “Jack-ass Jesse Jackson? That proves we’re right.”
Because Obama’s political organization, Organizing for America, more actively supported the strikers, Craig Crawford of CQ Roll Call asked: “Is it legal for a president to lobby a state legislature?” Sharon Rondeau went further, asking, “Are There Traitors in Wisconsin, and is Obama Among Them?” and “Could such activity be considered ‘high crimes and misdemeanors'” and thus grounds for impeachment?” Rondeau also suggested that the Democratic state senators’ flight could be “presented to a Wisconsin grand jury.”
Their news cycles being so close, comparisons were made between the Madison protesters and the Egyptians revolutionaries. These comparisons were made both by supporters, who equated the two groups’ fight for their rights, and by detractors like Glenn Beck, who believed that the Egyptian revolutionaries and the teachers were equally evil.
Traditonal rightblogger ordnance was not ignored. Many condemned the mean signs hoisted by protesters. Hinderaker found a reader who wondered why the protesters were “predominantly white,” insinuating some kind of liberal racial hypocrisy. (The population of Wisconsin is 89 percent white.) Ann Althouse told the world that the protesters were litterers, a popular favorite with Tea Party people.
Blackfive complained about the “reprehensible signs” the protesters were carrying while applauding a Tea Partier’s “SCOTT KEEP YOUR PIMP HAND STRONG” sign. “The cry that budget cuts will affect teachers is no longer going to gain any sympathy,” Blackfive claimed. “We have seen the teachers in action and we are probably better off with our kids being taught by someone else” — whom he would call something other than teachers, we suppose, and pay much less.
As a Tea Party contingent was scheduled to appear at the protester-infested capitol on Saturday, Pajamas Media’s Richard Fernandez suggested that the Egypt comparison might become more literal, comparing the proximity of pro and anti forces in Madison to the naval confrontation which triggered the Battle of Jutland in World War I, “a clash of dreadnoughts which happened that day because the stars were right.” To help readers assign blame, Fernandez dragged in the rightwing bete noir Frances Fox Piven.
There was no violence — merely the usual publicity coup as the small Tea Party group got coverage comparable to that received by the larger pro-union protests. But doctors were seen offering to write notes for teachers who had called in sick so they could protest, which “exemplifies everything that’s wrong with the Soros-controlled, hard left Democrat Party,” said Doug Ross, who also claimed President Obama, whose name does not appear on the doctors’ notes, was “busy urging state workers to commit fraud.”
Other rightbloggers spent a lot of time imagining scenarios to capture and punish both the protesters and the doctors. “Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?” cried Michelle Malkin. “White House used fake doctors to promote Obamacare.” (Malkin is referring to real doctors who wore lab coats at an Obama photo op; Malkin had previously tried to make it seem as if the doctors were not real, but now she’s just flat-out saying they were fakes. That’s how the pros do it, folks.)
Given Walker’s intransigence, the conflict seems destined to go on a good deal longer. We expect the pattern will hold: Conservatives will continue to denounce the teachers as parasites, and encourage their readers to be jealous of their advantages. Later they’ll use the same schtick on another group of organized employees — maybe the hotel and restaurant workers union will strike, and rightbloggers will tell us how waiters get free meals and bellboys make so much more than bellboys did in their day, and did you know the hotels give them free uniforms?
The great work won’t be done until every conservative who imagines everyone else is getting over on him — that is to say, all of them — is mad as hell at anyone whom they think has a sweeter deal than they’ve got.
Except the bankers and brokers who ruined our economy. Unlike teachers, those guys are indispensible.