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Andrew Sullivan Gets it Wrong on Wisconsin

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By Ben Cohen: The fallout from the bitter recall election in Wisconsin is reverberating around political circles and the media. The Right is claiming victory in an election that they believe should never have happened, and the Left is busy licking its wounds and crying foul play. Depending on who you listen to, the election was a major affront to the Democratic process, or a brave attempt to stop the disintegration of worker's rights.

Former Bush Republican turned Obama Democrat Andrew Sullivan is taking an interesting and basically centrist position on the election that on the face of it looks reasonable, but really betrays a fundamental misunderstanding about workings of the modern American economy and just how serious Walker's transgressions were against organized labor. Sullivan's take on the events in Wisconsin is an important one as he basically represents the intellectual center in America and helps define the parameters of acceptable debate. Given his transformation in recent years, Sullivan's analysis is usually very astute, but this time his argument is misleading and factually wrong.

In a post on The Daily Beast, Sullivan argued that despite Walker's extremism, it was wrong of the Democrats to wage war on an already elected official. He wrote:

The Democrats refused to allow Walker to serve his full term and then seek the judgment of the voters. They acted throughout as if he were somehow illegitimate. They refused the give-and-take of democratic politics, using emergency measures for non-emergency reasons. And in this, they are, it seems to me, a state-based mirror-image of the GOP in Washington.

Sullivan contended that the war fought against Walker was a 'case study in the complete breakdown of our political system, and of public trust' and accused the Democrats of being just as partisan as the Republican Party.

The first major flaw in this argument is that the Democratic Party largely disavowed the recall election. Obama barely mentioned it at all, and did no campaigning on Democratic candidate Tom Barrett's behalf. The best the President could do was to send out a solitary tweet the day before the election:

Not exactly a massive show of solidarity. The establishment Democrats clearly sided with Obama on this, allowing Barrett to be seriously outspent and heavily reliant on grassroots campaigning - clearly not enough to defeat the well oiled, corporate funded Republican Party.

The second and most serious flaw is Sullivan's argument is his comparison between the grassroots campaign that tried to protect workers rights and restore collective bargaining in the state, and the Republican efforts to dismantle organized labor and buy elections.

There is no doubt that the modern Democratic Party has sold out to corporate interests and engages in underhand manipulation to win elections, but compared to the radical incarnation of the Republican Party that no longer disguises its complete subordination to corporate America, they still resemble a functioning political organization.  I outlined in a piece yesterday Walker's radical legislation against working people in Wisconsin. In short, Walker's budget repair bill in 2011 saw government workers rights slashed, their salaries decreased, collective bargaining rights vanish and mandatory yearly votes for unions to continue representing government workers.

Andrew Sullivan wrote:

While I don't see the harm in allowing public sector unions to retain some collective bargaining rights, especially in an era when unions can be seen as institutions putting a break on soaring economic inequality, I also believe there's a difference between public sector and private sector unions, and that curtailing the massive collective costs that public union benefits place on the public is a perfectly legitimate way to cut spending. It may be vital if we are to regain some fiscal balance.

Taking a mild position on the role of unions in America may seem reasonable, but only in the context of American political culture which is far to the Right of any other industrialized nation. Sullivan's support of public sector unions retaining 'some collective bargaining rights' amounts to nothing when compared to bargaining rights in other countries. Just check out this fascinating report by Krissy Frazao on the RT network that highlights the stunning difference between unions in the US and in Europe. Some key points:

* At least 134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of the work week. The US does not.

* In the US, 85.6% of males and 66.5% of females work more than 40 hours per week.

* Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours that British workers and 499 more hours than French workers.

* There is no federal law requiring sick days in the United States.

America does have a deficit crisis, and it does need to be addressed, but to further strip the rights of public sector workers is absolutely criminal. It should be remembered that the deficit came at the hands of the banking system that blew a multi-trillion dollar hole in the economy by speculating on real estate, not government workers getting paid too much. Sullivan is buying into the whole 'shared responsibility' meme floating around political punditry that equates the behavior of casino style gambling on the stock market with school teachers educating the next generation of Americans. It is grossly unfair and a complete distortion of the economic fraud coming from the top down, not the bottom up.

Sullivan does a great job of exposing the nihilistic culture of the Republican Party and has forcefully argued to keep them as far away from government as possible. And that is why equating their lunacy with the collective efforts to preserve long fought for labor rights is so troubling to read.

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