Wisconsin's Teachable Moment

Tuesday, 22 Feb 2011 09:22 AM

By Lowell Ponte

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Wisconsin's unionized public school teachers have walked off the job, claiming sickness but apparently feeling well enough to march with protest signs and occupy the state capitol in a scene reminiscent of 1960s New Left activism.

But let's be fair — these government employees are teaching the children of Wisconsin right now. Should the lessons they are teaching America's children by their example be rewarded with higher pay or punished with summary firing?

The chief lesson these teachers apparently want to impart is that might makes right, and that political and economic differences are to be settled not by reason and compromise, but by intimidation, name-calling and obstruction of democracy.

Radicalism is a Wisconsin tradition dating back a century to the American Progressive Movement shaped by its wild-eyed native son, and former governor and senator, Robert LaFollette.

Progressivism was a loose amalgamation of ideologies and grievances. It opposed monopolies and trusts, favored income redistribution via an inheritance tax and income tax, promoted big government programs such as national healthcare, and sought to clean up government corruption. Its candidates often ran with Socialist Party support.

LaFollette progressivism helped empower ordinary people by making referendum, initiative, and recall part of the constitutions of many states. In California, which elected progressive Hiram Johnson as its governor in 1910, progressivism paved a populist road to Proposition 13 as outraged homeowners rose up to limit their own property taxes.

LaFollette, a radical Republican, was bested for control of the progressive movement by former President Teddy Roosevelt.

The new progressive, or "Bull Moose," party was simply not big enough for two such gigantic egos, so LaFollette split from Roosevelt.

LaFollette would later run his own presidential campaign in 1924, carrying only Wisconsin, a state whose politics retain much his homegrown eccentric extremism.

By 1948 the Progressive Party had effectively been taken over by outright communists, socialists and friends of the Soviet Union like its presidential candidate that year, former FDR Vice President Henry A. Wallace of Iowa.

When liberal Democrats such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton boast that they are "progressives," we are left to guess whether they identify with LaFollette, Teddy Roosevelt, or the later Marxist-socialist-run Progressive Party defeated by President Harry Truman. Today "progressives" have taken control of the Democratic Party.

For a week we have seen many progressive-left factions coalesce in support of the teacher "strike" against a newly-elected Republican governor and legislature that are trying to close a $3.6 billion budget shortfall.

The unionized teachers initially defied a Republican measure that asked them to contribute 5.8 percent of their pay to their pensions and pay 12.6 percent of their healthcare costs — both about half of what private sector workers pay in Wisconsin.

Strikers at first won sympathy until people learned that the average Wisconsin teacher salary-plus-benefits is $89,529 per year — 50 percent more than the average private worker.

Why, Dairy Staters began to ask, are our families being milked to pay for teachers who earn 50 percent more for nine months' work a year than we earn in 12 months?

Republican legislation would also give teachers the right not to join unions and prohibit unions from automatically deducting money from teacher paychecks. The head of the teacher union in Wisconsin reportedly is paid around $450,000 a year.

National organized labor is terrified because it now represents only around 7 percent of private workers, but nearly 40 percent of government employees.

With state and local government tax revenues falling, and a public employee pension shortfall of around $2.5 trillion, the old tax-and-spend, keep-enlarging-government gravy train has reached its end.

In a new Clarus Group Poll 64 percent — nearly 2 of 3 respondents — said that government workers should not be unionized. Such workers already have civil service protection. When politicians pay them more, this money comes not from a rich corporation but from already-overtaxed citizens.

In 2010 the two biggest teacher unions gave more than $69.2 million to politicians, 99 percent of it to Democrats.

No wonder that Democrat members of the Wisconsin Legislature fled the state to deny the Republican majority a quorum for budget votes.

LaFollette today would recognize government and public employee unions as greedy, corrupt self-serving monopolies, and runaway Democratic lawmakers as deserving recall.

These strikers are the new robber barons, and we are their victims.

The striking teachers are holding the children of Wisconsin hostage and are scarcely better than domestic terrorists. This is the lesson our children should learn from this "teachable moment" in Wisconsin.

Lowell Ponte's new book, co-authored with Craig R. Smith, is "Crashing the Dollar: How to Survive a Global Currency Collapse," available at crashingthedollar.com

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