Daily Israel Report

Wisconsin as Ground Zero of the Budget War

Wisconsin has gone national with both parties raising stakes in the political battle. Poll: Economy is main issue in the US, not the Middle East.
By Dr. Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 2/27/2011, 7:06 PM / Last Update: 2/28/2011, 8:43 AM

In the decade preceding the American Civil War, one of the battlegrounds between pro-slavery forces and the Abolitionists was the State of Kansas, where both sides sent in partisans to fight for their opinions. The violence that resulted gave the state the unenviable name of "Bleeding Kansas".

Hopefully, the only violence that will occur in Wisconsin's capital of Madison after the deadline for clearing the demonstrators from the capital has passed will be verbal violence and passive resistance. Governor Scott Walker's plan to cut down the power of the state civil service unions has mobilized both parties and unified them in polarized form around the issue, with the Republican Party backing Walker and the Democratic Party backing the unions.

If at first the Democratic National Committee tried to influence things behind the scenes in favor of the unions, the committee's winter meeting was an overt rally on behalf of the unions.  The Cabinet's Labor secretary Hilda Solis brought the DNC to its feet Saturday morning with a rousing pro-union speech at telling the assembled that the "fight it is on …We work together. We help those embattled states right now where public employees are under assault.”

An American Secretary of Labor is traditionally the best friend of the unions, just as the Secretary of Commerce serves as business' voice in the cabinet. But in this case Solis is far from alone, as Democrats from Barack Obama on down have entered the fight.

Rallying the Democratic base was the MoveOn.org, a group that managed to organize events at all 50 state capitals to support the anti-Walker protesters. It is worth recalling that this organization, representing the left wing of the Democratic Party, originated during the Monica Lewinsky affair when the Republicans tried to impeach Bill Clinton. The organization was not particularly known for its empathy towards the unions at the time. It seems that Wisconsin has united the Democratic Party.

It has also done the same for the Republicans. The Republicans are just as focused on the battle, making it part of their campaign to trim the deficit and get the budget back under control. Wisconsin Republicans have become the face of the national Republican Party. Its heroes are Walker, Representative Paul Ryan and now former Wisconsin GOP chairman Reince Priebus, who just replaced the embattled Michael Steele as chairman of the Republican National Committee.  Priebus was quick to tap Rick Wiley as the RNC's political director.

The RNC is using Wisconsin to kick start a fundraising drive. The party base is being solicited to provide the resources, advertising the need " so we can stand behind leaders on the hill and governors across the country who are leading on these issues instead of punting like the Democrats.”

A another indicator of the fact that both sides are focused on Wisconsin and the budget issue came last week when President Barack Obama announced that the federal government would no longer defend the "Defense of Marriage Act" in the courts. Normally, this decision in favor of gay rights would have aroused cheers on the left and vigorous denunciations from conservatives. Currently it only aroused a yawn. Social and cultural issues have taken a definite back seat to the economic issue.

A recent Gallup poll of US citizens who identified themselves as Republicans or Republican-leaning, taken in the midst of the current Mideast chaos,  showed that  care much less about the MIddle East and Israel than they do about the economic situation inside the USA. When asked which of four main issues interested them the most, 37% said government power and spending, 31% replied business and the economy, while only 17% said moral values and social issues and even less participants,  a mere15%, said foreign policy.