We don't know how the battle of Wisconsin will turn out, but there are a lot of straws in the wind, and they all suggest labor is winning. Consider:
1. The polls show the public is siding with labor. One poll, by the Democratic firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner but using straightforward questions, shows the majority of Wisconsin voters oppose Scott Walker's anti-union moves. Another national poll from Gallup shows a national majority of voters would oppose a change like the one Walker is proposing. (A Rasmussen poll found different results, but seems to be transparently cooked.)
2. Among opinion elites, Walker's proposal is being seen as transparently partisan and one-sided by Andrew Sullivan, a hard core fiscal conservative, and David Brooks, the consummate moderate Republican. These are the kinds of opinion leaders that a deficit fighting, anti-public union governor ought to be able to get on his side.
Thompson, who said he talks to Walker, said he'd never heard Waker "beat up on the unions" and noted that he himself "had good labor relations."
The public sector unions' power "didn’t bother me that much," Thompson said. "But that’s a different time and different fiscal conditions and the governor is looking at things as they are today."
I asked Thompson directly if he supports the specific rollback of labor power that Walker has proposed. "That’s a question you’re going to have to ask the governor," he said. "I'm not privy to the inside information as to why he made that decision. He must have a basis for it."
It seems to me that the Democrats' gambit of fleeing the state and holding protests is doing what it's supposed to: Raise the profile of the issue and increase the political cost to Republicans of carrying out their plan. Now, conservatives are charging Democrats with hypocrisy for thwarting the majority will. To wit, Jonah Goldberg:
I keep hearing people try to defend the Democratic legislators in Wisconsin who’ve fled town. Last night Juan Williams tried to make the case that they were similar to the Republicans who just said no to Obama’s agenda. But the analogy only works if you consider fleeing the state in order to prevent a quorum to be just another legitimate parliamentary tactic.
And if you do believe that, the hypocrisy cuts both ways. Republican obstruction, via threats of a filibuster etc., were not only denounced by all of the usual suspects, they were taken as a sign that the American system was broken. Or as John Podesta famously put it at the time, America’s political system “sucks.” Tom Friedman argued that Republican refusal to cave to the Obama agenda was proof that China’s tyrannical system was preferable to our own. Let’s not even recap Paul Krugman.
But now, even though Gov. Walker ran on this agenda and won, many of the same voices are celebrating the fugitive lawmakers as heroes. Or they simply have nothing to say on the matter, save to condemn the Republicans for keeping their campaign promise and trying to do their jobs.
This is unpersuasive. First, to make a narrow point, the notion that Walker campaigned on a plan to attack the public unions' right to organize -- and that, rather than the benefit cut, is the area of disagreement -- is flat out false. This is a drastic change that Walker sprung on the public without campaigning on it.
Second, the liberal argument against the filibuster is not an argument for making the Senate like the House. That's the pro-filibuster caricature of the reform argument. The reform proposals opposed the routine supermajority requirement, but they all kept some place for the minority to slow debate in cases of extremely strong disagreement. I don't know anybody who thinks the Wisconsin Democrats should be able to stop Walker's anti-union plan indefinitely. At some point, there will be an up-or-down majority vote. But not even the strongest advocate of Senate reform denies that there's a place for the minority to slow down the process and engage the public when the majority is hastily rushing through a far-reaching change.
That is exactly what's happening now. And it seems to be working.