Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker handily survived the recall attempt brought by public employees unions angered over his efforts to weaken their ability to negotiate for higher pay and benefits. This proves that Wisconsin isn’t Greece, the nation whose residents violently object to similar reductions in public sector pay and benefits even as the country is going bankrupt.
Fiscal conservatives can take heart from this, but they shouldn’t learn the wrong lesson. That lesson (the wrong one, that is) would be that, once they take power, they can do whatever they feel is needed without regard to the political consequences. As the Antiplanner has previously noted, Walker’s strategy of reducing spending was fine, but his tactic of taking the unions head on was unnecessarily polarizing.
Too often, when power transitions from one party to another, the incoming party thinks it can do whatever it wants, and in doing so it radicalizes the opposition, which quickly retakes power. President Clinton had a Democratic Congress behind him for two years, then lost to Newt Gingrich’s Republicans. Similarly, Bush lost the Republican majority in Congress, while Obama lost the Democratic majority, both two years into their terms.
So the lesson that should be learned is that incoming leaders need to think tactically as well as strategically. The Republican governors of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and other states who were elected in the same year as Walker were able to cut budgets without generating such strong opposition. Walker may have won, but he should not be considered a model for any fiscally conservative state or federal officials who take office in 2013.