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Roger L. Simon

Wisconsin: Liberals as Reactionaries

February 21st, 2011 - 8:59 pm

Jonah Goldberg has famously linked liberals with fascism, but in these times I think they are more like reactionaries, desperately clinging to past views when they are no longer functional or even relevant, if they ever were.

I admit I have been using the term “reactionary” for a while when referring to contemporary liberals. This has been quite intentional, something of a deliberate hoisting by their own petard. In my old days on the left, we would brand everyone we didn’t like as a reactionary, mired in the then supposedly-evil capitalist system. And I would like to use the events in Wisconsin to explain why I do it to them now. (Yes, it is partly to get their goat, but it is also to make a point.)

Let’s review what happened: In November, Wisconsin voters delivered a serious and obvious message. Their state (and our country) was going broke. It could no longer afford the massive entitlement programs that had been enacted and in place for some time. Demographics had made them untenable. Something had to be done to avoid bankruptcy and a calamitous economic situation, both for the state and the country. And it had to be done soon. (This was indeed a worldwide phenomenon, as most of us know.)

Newly-elected Governor Scott Walker then proceeded to follow the voters’ wishes and put before the Wisconsin legislature a bill that would cut government pensions slightly and curtail the power of public unions. Not only would this curtailment help keep the state budget in line, it would encourage some equality between increasingly rich public sector workers and their increasingly impoverished peers in the private sector.

And then all Hell broke loose. In opera bouffe imitation of the events on Tahrir Square, angry demonstrators — some waving placards identifying their governor with Hitler and/or Mubarak — marched on the Wisconsin state house while teachers stayed home from school and doctors wrote those same teachers fake excuses in full view of video cameras. Meanwhile, Democratic legislators had fled the state, all this with the seeming support of the president, until negative public opinion became clear and necessitated a White House pullback.

My PJM colleague Richard Pollock thinks much of this was planned from the center. I am not so sure. I think it was a more spontaneous eruption of deeply nostalgic (now reactionary) views, dating, for Wisconsin, from as far back as SDS and the Port Huron Statement through the “glory days” of anti-Vietnam War protests. The president simply jumped on a bandwagon that, unlike the 2009 democracy demonstrations in Tehran, fit his worldview, then jumped off again when it became inconvenient.

But whether Richard is right or I am right is basically immaterial. The results are the same. These events — prompted by a culture stuck so completely in the past it cannot see the society around it with any clarity — occurred and are continuing to occur.

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