In the end, I think it was the threat of the national guard that did it.
Scott Walker could have gotten away with draconian cuts if he’d been a little less arrogant. He could have even have found a way to slip the stripping of the right to organize from public employees, if he’d just kept his damn mouth shut. Sure, the unions would have complained, but the unions are always complaining and never working, amirite?
No, Walker and the Wisconsin GOP could have finagled their base hatred of Democratic-leaning unions if he’d couched it right, if he’d appealed to tough times and a spirit of unity. Heck, if he’d been a little more circumspect, he probably could have gotten all the budget cuts he wanted, simply by appealing to the unions’ sense of state pride and patriotism. He could have succeeded politically, and more than that, he could have proven himself to be a governor of all Wisconsinites.
But the right has been taken over by the bomb-throwers, the insurgents, the spittle-flecked ranters. And so it never even crossed Walker’s mind that union members were as much his constituents as anyone; for Walker, the unions were simply enemies that must be defeated, like all Democrats and their supporters were.
And so he declared, smugly, that he would destroy the public employees’ unions, curtailing their right to organize, eliminating their source of funding, and removing their right to negotiate anything of meaning.
And if the unions didn’t like it? If they reacted to the removal of their collective bargaining rights negatively? Walker would call in the guard.
And that was what lit the spark. Because Walker was, in his first weeks in office, showing his true colors. He was saying that he now had the state government apparatus at his disposal, and he would use it to destroy his opponents, not just through the elimination of programs or the changing of laws, but by use of force.
Of all the powers delegated to the government, it the use of force that must be used with the most restraint. Calling out the guard is a last resort, something that should be done only when social order is literally breaking down.
Walker’s decision to use the threat as a first resort woke up those who might have simply blogged or complained; it told unions that they were no longer in a political struggle, but a survival one: that if they did not stand strong now, there would be literally no limit to the negative consequences.
More than that, it shows that Scott Walker has no business being elected to the library board, much less the office of governor. A leader who reacts to disagreement with threats of violence is not a democrat in the small-d sense; they are a tinpot-dictator-in-waiting. They do not have the slightest understanding that they are, first and foremost, servants of those they claim to lead.
Walker has proven that he is unfit to lead. And his actions have rightly harmed him politically. He may get things through the legislature in the next two years. But one suspects that if he survives a likely recall attempt, he will find himself soon enough facing a legislative minority.