Madison on Wisconsin: What Would the Founder Think?

Republican lawmakers should be as concerned about the taxpayers they employ as they are about those who only fund such employment. But that doesn't mean they should give in to whatever the union boss says his members want, nor should they fold in the face of political threats.

Perhaps counterintuitively, they must also resist being swept up in the long-festering anger of the majority that would exact retribution on the unionized minority whose machinations have driven the state to the fiscal precipice. Cooler heads must prevail.

Lawmakers must be guided by principles that exalt personal liberty and responsibility as well as foster level playing-field competition. In other words, they must do the right thing for employees, even if employees via their union spokesmen don't yet realize what that right thing looks like.

At the same time, they must legislate constitutionally. That means that they should not argue that collective bargaining contracts cost too much, or that teachers get paid too much. These extravagant expenses are symptoms. The causes arise from the breach of republican principles. Repair the foundation, and the walls won't crack.

Republicans are not at war with people who, often involuntarily, pay union dues. In fact, Republicans want what's best for government employees.

This is not to say that there can never exist a place in republican government for organized labor. Most folks want a challenging, rewarding work environment structured for long-term sustainability. The ideal public-sector union might help them to achieve this via professional standards, continuing education opportunities, networking to disseminate best practices, and by providing a feedback loop with the public who is the real boss.

If unions somehow transformed themselves from mandatory collective-bargaining shakedown artists and political operatives at odds with the taxpayer, into value-adding voluntary associations of excellence, their members would be in demand in the labor market -- whether private or public sector -- rather than stomping, clapping, and chanting in the streets offending the very citizens they aspire to serve.

Madisonian republicans seek energetic effective government within the focused sphere in which government must operate. They legislate for individuals, not groups. And they protect the rights of the minority as they reflect the will of the majority under the umbrella of sovereignty established by we, the people.

In other words, Wisconsin Republicans, and their associates nationwide, have an opportunity to teach the public school teachers about the principles that undergird our great republic, to rise above the partisan jousting, and to thus demonstrate credible concern for the general welfare of all citizens.

If Republican republicans restrain their passions, deliberate on their constitutional options, and legislate with bold conviction, then from the still-supple parchment page of history, we'd hear James Madison exclaim: On Wisconsin!