Wisconsin is more than just ground zero in a fight over the future of public sector unions, it is the embodiment of the Republican Party’s commitment to bare-knuckle political warfare; their willingness to push the law to its limits to gain long-term political advantage for the party. While it is most evident in Wisconsin, this effort to structurally reshape our laws for the benefit of elected Republicans is happening all over the country.
The Republican commitment to all-out political warfare is both long term and multi-pronged.
Increase corporate power
One of the most important prongs was the Republicans’ push not just to stack the Supreme Court with very young conservatives but to redefine conservative judicial philosophy as extreme deference to corporations. The clearest fulfillment of this was the Citizens United ruling, which unleashed effectively limitless corporate campaign spending.
Destroy labor unions
Labor unions tend to donate to, campaign for and endorse Democrats. Union members are also more likely to vote for Democrats. As a result, Republicans for the past few decades have been working to slowly erode their numbers. Yet the recent Citizens United ruling — because you can’t free unlimited corporate campaign spending without also freeing unions — has given Republicans urgency to use the excuse of state deficits to make a bold push to destroy them now. This is what Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) goal is in Wisconsin, but the same thing is happening in other states like Ohio and Iowa, and to a lesser degree in Congress.
Citizens United has given unions the potential to also increase their political influence along with corporations, so the Republicans are seeking to cripple them, leaving big spending corporations solely to gain in power.
Disenfranchise the young and minorities
From the poll tax to the literacy test, using the law to create a structure that systematically disenfranchises people unlikely to vote for you has a long tradition in America’s political warfare. The latest “anti-voter fraud” laws pushed by Republicans are hardly different. By taking away same-day registration and requiring photo IDs to vote, they are making it harder for traditionally Democratic-leaning groups — students, young people, the poor, and some minorities — to exercise their right to vote. The basic strategy is if you can’t win their vote, keep them from voting altogether. While these actions have gained publicity in Wisconsin, the same tactic is being pushed by the GOP in places like Kansas and New Hampshire.
Starving the Public Sector
The best way to prevent the public from thinking the government or progressive ideas can be the solution is to structurally make the government or progressive solutions unworkable. This is why Gov. Walker signed a bill requiring a super majority vote to raise taxes — to remove the possibility of closing the budget deficit with progressive tax increases. It is also why he is pushing to cap the ability of municipalities to raise property taxes — to force towns to use only the conservative solution of cuts, layoffs and sale of public property to close budget deficits.
Due to incompetence, infighting or corruption, the Democratic party has totally failed in recent times at moving the structural goalpost in the opposite direction.
With full control of the federal government, Democrats had a perfect chance to use public anger over Citizens United to push for the Fair Election Now Act to make corporations even less politically powerful than before the court ruling yet the failed to even pass the watered down DISCLOSE Act.
With Republicans out to fully crush unions, Democrats failed to pass a compromise version of EFCA to arrest the steady drop in union membership.
Most egregiously, when Democrats had the chance, they didn’t even try to address the horribly historic disenfranchisement of the primarily African-American city of Washington, D.C. by granting it statehood. Instead, they only attempted to give them one member of the House, still leaving D.C. residents second class citizens without full representation. Yet they even failed to pass this weak compromise.
Despite the Republicans’ goals to structurally reshape our laws and society for their long-term advantage being unpopular, they are still winning. It isn’t because Republicans are particularly effective at this political warfare. If you are the only side actually fighting, you are going to win.