The Buzz

The Real Issue in Wisconsin

The Scott Walker detractors have been in overdrive since Tuesday in trying to interpret the Wisconsin governor’s big victory in his recall election. The aim seems to be to avoid at all costs the idea that they were on the wrong side of an issue that has become fundamental to America’s financial health.

Thus, it was all about the money. Republicans reportedly raised some seven times more cash than Walker’s opposition. And that money poured in, much from out of state, not just to save Walker and his effort to clip the power of his state’s public employee unions, but also, as The New York Times put it in an editorial, “to turn a once-reliable blue state into a laboratory for Republican ideas, where business could grow free of union fetters, taxes could be cut and thousands of people could be removed from Medicaid rolls.”

Nowhere in the Times editorial is there even a nod toward what the election was really all about—the power of public employee unions to lay claim to the public fisc with such effectiveness that many states and localities now face severe economic hardship.

Consider: Since 1946, the number of state and local government employees has increased from 3.3 million to 19.8 million—a 492 percent increase in a nation whose population grew by 115 percent during the same period. In 1947, national income was divided along these lines: 78 percent to the private sector, 16 percent to the federal government, and 6 percent to state and local governments. Now the percentages are 54 percent private, 28 percent federal government, and 18 percent state and local government.

This represents power, and public-employee unions have used this power to feather the nests of their members to the detriment of the fiscal health of the governmental entities they work for. That’s what this election was all about, as were the equally important elections in San Diego and San Jose.

The Times is free to fashion a kind of conspiracy theory of bad guys buying votes to upend sound government. But that’s manifestly a flawed interpretation.