Scott Walker: The Confidence of His Convictions

Republicans believe the same thing on Wednesday as they did on Monday, no matter what happened on Tuesday.

Josh Marshall’s headline to this TPM report tells it well:  

State Held Hostage

Walker to Dems: Come back to Wisconsin or the schools get it.

That seems pretty much what Walker is saying, and it also seems that he is heading into deep political trouble because of it.  So then why is he doing it this way?  The unions have already made concessions on wages and benefits: Walker could have won a major political victory, and then gotten out.  So he is just foolish?

Well, maybe.  More likely, it is because to the extent that the Republicans win here, they will succeed in their long-term goal of smashing whatever remains of the labor movement.  But it seems to me that something more basic is at work here.  Ever since Ronald Reagan, conservatives have been imbued with the idea that the country is “really” behind them, and that only a strange conspiracy of liberal elites is stopping them from achieving the will of “the people” — which of course maps neatly onto the policy preferences of movement conservatives.  They have enormous confidence that they can do these sorts of things because they “know” that the public will back them.

Thus, Walker and his supporters can argue that he campaigned on destroying public sector unions because they “know” that that’s what people really want, even if it wasn’t really a significant part of the campaign.  The Gingrich Congress could shut down the government because they knew that that’s what the public really wanted; ditto the current Congress.  The 1995 shutdown was a disaster, but in retrospect, the official history reads, that was only because Gingrich was an incompetent Speaker.  Similarly, a midterm election in the midst of the Great Contraction was really about enacting Grover Norquist’s wet dreams.

Both parties do this to some extent, but the Republicans do it far, far more.  The examples used by right-wing pundits to demonstrate similar “overreach” from Democrats simply pale in comparison.  Obama ran on something very close to the ACA, for example.  Ditto on financial reform.  He supported TARP, and then applied it General Motors — a policy which has turned out to be a stunning success.

There is something practical to be said for the GOP’s sort of confidence, not least of which is that if someone is able to enact their policy program, it becomes part of a status quo that is more accepted.  People’s preferences change depending upon they see as part of the “baseline normal” situation.  Moreover, given the multiplication of veto points in the American system, it is difficult to undo.  But it could lead to electoral disaster for them.  We can hope so.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

14 thoughts on “Scott Walker: The Confidence of His Convictions”

  1. “The unions have already made concessions on wages and benefits:”

    What, all of them?

  2. Cf.– the real polling data supports Walker, and left-leaning musicians have access to this real data and therefore only Peter Yarrow was willing to come to the rallies!

  3. I’d argue that it goes back to Nixon’s invocation of the “silent majority.” Walker looks out the window at protests but believes everyone in (my) Wisconsin that hasn’t shown up to the capitol agrees with him and they constitute the silent majority.

  4. Yeah, pretty much, Brett. All of them, all of the public employee unions in Wisconsin agreed to give-backs that would have repaired the damage the successor of Robert M. La Follette caused. Think about that. Fighting Bob was a Republican Governor, too. The mind reels. Actually it doesn’t. Par for the course these days. Alas.

  5. I think I recall hearing it’s more than “all of them”, in the sense that the unions that had endorsed Walker, and that he had exempted – Firefighters and Police – offered to take the same pay cuts if the union-killing measures are removed. I think I recall hearing that it’s about an 8% pay cut, which is just incredible. I don’t think Wisconsin is facing an 8% deficit, either.

  6. No, Brett’s comment was on how small a role unions play in current employment practice. Insightful. You really can’t get much blood out of a small stone.

  7. Ever since Ronald Reagan, conservatives have been imbued with the idea that the country is “really” behind them, and that only a strange conspiracy of liberal elites is stopping them from achieving the will of “the people” — which of course maps neatly onto the policy preferences of movement conservatives.

    Ever since Reagan? Really? You don’t think it traces back to Nixon’s “Silent Majority” speech? Hmmm….

    The other point is that Walker does not think he needs the people or popular support. He mistakes full campaign coffers–thanks to the Kochs and their friends–for true popular support. Meanwhile, he has just jettisoned union households in Wisconsin–in a poll mock-up of a re-run of 2010 elections, he went from a 14 point deficit among households with at least one union member to a whopping 31 point deficit, while winning no greater share of non-union households. And these elephants never forget–unlike the general population that is as fickle as their disposable income. And if Kevin Drum is correct, that will also lead to a 2% loss in support across the board for Republicans, especially to the gains they made in union states of the Rust Belt in 2010. If this holds, this will make Obama’s reelection that much easier and will make the mountain to climb for the next batch of Republican governor and Senate hopefuls that much higher–might not make a difference in Conrad’s seat, but will be huge in Michigan and Washington state.

  8. Buck correctly points out that Walker and other Republican union busters have done something Democratic politicians have not been able (or willing) to do: energize the Democratic base. If nothing else, events in Wisconsin will help ensure that Democrats will vote in larger numbers at the next opportunity.

  9. No, by “What, all of them” I meant to imply that it’s *not* all of them. Rather, it’s two of them. Which is way short of some nonsensical “more than all of them.”

    It’s a sad commentary on news coverage in this country, the way two union leaders can make an offer, and soon it becomes “the” unions, and then morphs into all of them.

  10. I think that Republicans “know” this is what people want because most Congressional Republicans are extraordinarily insular. They come from small towns that are not ethnically or racially diverse and virtually everyone they have ever known are white, small-town Christians. They have little experience with anyone outside their own background. Thus, the people they talk to are just like them. They get their news from Fox News. I question whether they even see the polling or read any of the non-right wing press.

  11. Obama ran on something very close to the ACA, for example.

    In my memory, he ran against the key feature of the ACA–the individual mandate.

    There are many health-care-funding structures that work without a mandate, but the ACA is not one of them.

  12. This is what happens when you get your news from republican-leaning (ahem) media and your analyses from republican-stacked “think” tanks. A side order of “Silent Majority” blather repeated until you believe it yourself helps with the delusion.

    In a way, the right-wing tilt of major media is helpful for progressives: we never lose sight (for better or for worse) of what the rightwing is thinking.

  13. In a way, the right-wing tilt of major media is helpful for progressives: we never lose sight (for better or for worse) of what the rightwing is thinking.

    A supporter once called out, “Governor Stevenson, all thinking people are for you!” And Adlai Stevenson answered, “That’s not enough. I need a majority.”

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