Scott Walker’s dan­ger­ous dem­a­goguery

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - DANAMIL­BANK Twit­ter: @Mil­bank

“First off,” Scott Walker pro­claimed, “we took on the unions, and we won. We won!” Tak­ing on the unions is usu­ally first off for Walker, the Wis­con­sin gover­nor and Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. It is the very ra­tio­nale for his can­di­dacy. And on Thurs­day, he took a de­tour from the cam­paign trail to ap­pear here be­fore the an­nual meet­ing of the con­ser­va­tive Amer­i­can Leg­isla­tive Ex­change Coun­cil, a group of state leg­is­la­tors ded­i­cated in large part to de­feat­ing unions.

ALEC, which inspired many of Walker’s an­ti­la­bor ef­forts in Wis­con­sin, drew sev­eral hun­dred union protesters as leg­is­la­tors ar­rived here last week for its con­fer­ence — and this de­lighted Walker. “I un­der­stand you had a few protesters yesterday,” he told the con­ser­va­tive leg­is­la­tors. “For us, that’s just get­ting warmed up. That’s noth­ing. We got 100,000 protesters.”

Walker then went on to celebrate his tri­umphs over the de­mon­stra­tors who ob­jected to his dis­man­tling of Wis­con­sin’s public­sec­tor unions, por­tray­ing the prounion forces as vi­o­lent thugs. “Those big gov­ern­ment in­ter­ests — they be­lieve they can win by in­tim­i­dat­ing elected of­fi­cials,” he said. “There were amaz­ing things they did to try to in­tim­i­date us. The good news is we didn’t back down. We re­mem­bered the rea­son we were elected was not to serve the few in our state capi­tol, but to serve the masses.”

This is the essence of Walker’s ap­peal— and why he is so dan­ger­ous. He is not as out­ra­geous as Don­ald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (RTex.), but his tech­nique of scape­goat­ing unions for the na­tion’s ills is no less dem­a­gogic. Six­ty­five years ago, another man from Wis­con­sin made him­self a na­tional rep­u­ta­tion by fright­en­ing the coun­try about the men­ace of com­mu­nists, though the ac­tual dan­ger they rep­re­sented was neg­li­gi­ble. Scott Walker is not Joe McCarthy, but his tech­nique is sim­i­lar: He sug­gests that the na­tion’s ills can be cured by fight­ing la­bor unions (fore­most among the “big gov­ern­ment spe­cial in­ter­ests” hurt­ing the United States), even though unions rep­re­sent just 11 per­cent of the U.S. work­force and have been at a low ebb.

This year, Walker likened the union protesters in Madi­son, Wis., to the mur­der­ous Is­lamic State: “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.” Be­fore that, he de­scribed public­sec­tor union mem­bers as the “haves” tak­ing ad­van­tage of the “havenots”— the taxpayers.

He de­nounced the protests against his ef­forts to undo the unions as “thuggery.” He de­scribed col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing as a “cor­rupt sys­tem” and di­ag­nosed union lead­ers as hav­ing a “sense of en­ti­tle­ment.” Af­ter beat­ing public­sec­tor unions and sur­viv­ing re­call, Walker this year signed an­tiu­nion right to work leg­is­la­tion. He has said he doesn’t think the min­i­mum wage serves a pur­pose, and he has op­posed pre­vail­ing­wage and liv­ing­wage re­quire­ments.

ALEC, which cham­pi­oned many of Walker’s an­tiu­nion poli­cies, pro­vided a friendly re­cep­tion Thurs­day. ALEC of­fi­cial Leah Vuk­mir (R), a Wis­con­sin state sen­a­tor, in­tro­duced him by talk­ing about the “un­hinged wrath of the forces” who op­posed him and their “un­prece­dented vile be­hav­ior.”

The bulk of Walker’s stump speech to the Koch broth­ers fi­nanced ALEC was about how his “big, bold re­forms took the power out of the hands of big gov­ern­ment spe­cial in­ter­ests” — namely, unions. Left un­men­tioned: how his big, bold re­forms pro­duced only about half the num­ber of jobs he promised and re­sulted in de­layed debt pay­ments and deep cuts to ed­u­ca­tion to over­come a bud­get deficit.

Walker, de­scrib­ing the bar­gain shop­ping he does at Kohl’s depart­ment store, said he would do the same with taxes. Ar­gu­ing that “few peo­ple could af­ford” high tax rates, he pro­posed that “we can lower the rates, broaden the base and in­crease the value of peo­ple par­tic­i­pat­ing in our econ­omy. Years ago, a plan like that worked pretty well. We called it the Laffer curve back then. To­day, I call it the Kohl’s curve.”

It was a zany anal­ogy. Kohl’s of­fers dis­counted mer­chan­dise for mid­dle­and low­in­come con­sumers. The Laffer curve, as the ba­sis for sup­ply­side eco­nom­ics, meant huge tax breaks for the rich that never trick­led down.

But de­cep­tion is the dem­a­gogue’s tool. Walker spoke Thurs­day about “the death threats not just against me and my fam­ily but against our law­mak­ers” and about the nails put in the drive­way of one law­maker to punc­ture his tires. Such be­hav­ior is be­yond the pale — though hardly unique to Walker’s op­po­nents. And some of Walker’s claims — in­clud­ing the al­leged threat to “gut” his wife “like a deer” and of protesters “beat­ing” and “rock­ing” a car he was in— could not be sub­stan­ti­ated by in­de­pen­dent author­i­ties.

Such de­cep­tion, how­ever, is in the ser­vice only of the larger de­ceit at the core of his can­di­dacy: By scape­goat­ing tooth­less trade unions as pow­er­ful and ma­lign in­ter­ests, he en­lists work­ing peo­ple in his cause of aid­ing the rich and the strong.

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