On a policy level, it is hard to imagine the dispute in Madison ending in any way other than with a victory for Governor Walker. All they have to do is wait for the protests to quiet down, the media cameras to roam elsewhere, and the Democratic legislators to return. And I think that at bottom, the protestors and those of us who sympathize with them, know this. But still there is something to the fact that they are playing out the string. That is the nature of a last gasp. That is, on all except a few red meat social issues like abortion and gay rights, I believe that we are in the early stages of a broadcloth surrender of American liberalism as we know it.
Even in the paralytic days of 2002, as the US solidified sweeping tax cuts, passed the Patriot Act, and careened into initiating a second war, liberals did not show signs of entirely giving up. But now we look at the political landscape in its totality, the cost of the last eleven years, and all we see is wreckage. Consider:
- The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continue unabated. Where are the protests? Where is the opposition? (It is fashionable now to speak of "war fatigue," and that economic concerns have emerged as primary. Perhaps there is something to this; although it's too bad that the deaths and the billions spent are not thereby rendered any less real.) I think that the anti-war protestors saw there was absolutely no way to stop US military adventurism, and so gave up. Look for very little hue and cry when the next one starts.
- Debate over government's role in the economy has been overtaken by quibbles over how much spending to cut, and where to cut it. The possibility of making meaningful changes to our tax code has been eviscerated and liberals know it.
- Relatedly, liberals have surrendered the idea that corporate power could be checked by governmental regulations.
- Um, it goes without saying that liberals have surrendered on health care as well.
Never in my lifetime have I seen such lethargy, such absence of liberal narrative or vision as we have known it in this country. Workers rights, poverty, education, the environment--all have been rendered less than afterthoughts in our national conversation. The words "Liberal," "Progressive," &c. will not go away however--they are simply shifting to mean different things, different priorities. Perhaps it will mean things like battling the repeal of child labor laws and opposing conscription.
In context, those will certainly be worthy battles, and they may even be winnable.
I think that, knowing something like this in their gut, liberals turn their eyes to Wisconsin and feel something stir. Maybe it is less a last gasp than a homage.