Oh, how sunny and bright and positively limitless the future must have seemed.
For American liberals, Barack Obama’s inauguration signaled far, far more than a new administration. In their new president they had a man who not only shared their disdain for America’s history but who traveled the world apologizing for it, a man who knew how to stiff America’s allies and kowtow to her enemies. And what was wrong with that? Any country that had remained on friendly terms with America through the wretchedness of the Bush-Cheney years was surely just as worthy of contempt as America itself. But all of that was about to change: Guantanamo would be closed, perhaps to be offered to Fidel Castro in a show of contrition for all the trouble we’ve caused him. Iraq (the Bad War) and Afghanistan (the Good War that somehow became another Bad War) would be abandoned to the care of their rightful masters, again with our apologies. The whole strategic map of the Good Guys and the Bad Guys was about to be inverted, and how the former Bad Guys would love us now.
And here at home, free health care for all! Never mind that a majority of Americans said they didn’t want it. What did they know? We, the coastal elites, the graduates of the finest schools, the guests on Meet the Press, the anointed ones, we had to pass the bill so they could see what was in it, and then the ignorant proles would all dutifully fall into line. And who cares that not a single Republican voted for it in the Senate or the House. Soon there wouldn’t even be any Republicans, so discredited, so retrograde, so completely unhip and unworthy of their New Leader were they. Barack Obama was president, Nancy Pelosi was speaker of the House, and Harry Reid was Senate majority leader. The country, as they warned, was about to be fundamentally transformed, and your choice was between allowing yourself to be transformed along with it or else be trampled and forgotten.
So who could blame liberals if in the early days of 2009 they pranced giddily about strewing roses out of their hats?
How different things look today, how short-lived was the liberal hegemony. The proles, as it turned out, were not so eager to see their country or themselves transformed, and they registered that reluctance with blistering clarity in the midterm elections, prying the gavel from Mrs. Pelosi’s fingers and demoting her to the post of minority leader. Guantanamo remains open for business, American troops remain in a relatively stable Iraq and are succeeding in Afghanistan.
And now, insult upon insults, the foot soldiers of the once almighty liberal dynamo, public sector labor unions, who only months ago were fat and happy and looking forward to a long, comfortable ride with all their friends firmly in position to help them, now they find themselves battling on the ramparts and trying to fend off a sneak attack in, of all places, Madison, Wisconsin. Yes, the very Eden of progressive politics is in the control of budget-cutting Republicans. It couldn’t have been more surprising if it had happened in Berkeley.
But they would not go quietly. The spirit of old Madison, the one in place before all those nasty Republicans showed up, that spirit was revived, and soon the capitol building was the site of a 24-hour carnival, complete with rousing speeches, lively chants, and a variety of what we might charitably call music, produced mostly on an assortment of improvised percussion instruments. And of course there is no carnival so vulgar that it cannot be made more so by the presence of Jesse Jackson, who found the spirit of the assembled protesters “infectuous.”
Indeed. And with all those people, some of whom appeared to be hygienically challenged to begin with, parading around cheek by jowl and occupying the place all day and night with little access to the normal daily amenities, the spirit probably wasn’t the only thing that was “infectuous.”
But let us for the moment put aside concerns for aesthetics and concentrate on that spirit Jesse Jackson found so appealing. “It was wonderful!” said one Wisconsin school teacher to another. “You should have been there! It’s just like the Sixties!” Yes, how they long for Woodstock.
As one who recalls the Sixties, I’m afraid I don’t share this fond nostalgia for that particular era. Oh, I suppose if you overlook the riots, the assassinations, and the political upheaval, not to mention the ugly clothes and the bad music, you might be able to conjure up a pleasant memory or two, but I think most people, that is most people not gathered in the capitol building in Madison, would prefer not to relive those days, and they look with profound curiosity on those who do.
Which brings me, finally, to the point I raised in my previous column, to wit, the appeal made by my union, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, for its members to join in pro-union marches organized and sponsored by MoveOn.org, Media Matters, the Daily Kos, and a number of other leftist organizations whose members the typical police officer would most often choose to avoid.
An analogy that’s often made about such unlikely partnerships is the alliance between the Western democracies and the Soviet Union during the Second World War. The West was willing to overlook Stalin’s crimes in the name of combating what was seen as the greater evil of Hitler’s Third Reich (though as it turned out, when it came to mass murder Uncle Joe made Hitler look like a piker). But in the case of World War II, the outcome of the conflict was still very much in doubt when Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill held their noses while shaking hands with Stalin.
In Wisconsin, however, the unions are fighting a battle that has already been lost, so much so that the only way for them to continue the pretense of a fight is for the state Senate’s Democrats, the Fleeing Fourteen, to continue their holiday in Illinois for as long as they can. The state is out of money, yet its citizens — the ones who haven’t lost their jobs — are paying substantially more for their own pensions and health benefits than are the workers they are being asked to subsidize.
And yet we witness the spectacle of police officers, firefighters, nurses, and teachers marching alongside avowed socialists whose interest in these public servants is limited to co-opting them as useful idiots in their campaign to bring down capitalism and usher in the Workers’ Paradise so long dreamed of on college campuses but almost nowhere else. Returning to the Soviet theme for a moment, it appears that a good number of the people protesting in Madison would tell you that the wrong side won the Cold War. I’m as concerned as anyone about the future of my pay and benefits, but the enemy of my enemy is not always my friend.
All those cops, firefighters, nurses, and teachers aren’t doing themselves any favors by marching with this bunch. They may be having a jolly old time singing and banging their drums and reliving the Sixties there in the capitol, but outside the doors it’s 2011. They’d better get their clocks fixed.