March 14, 2011- Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin has taught the nation some very important civics lessons. The price is high, but we should pay careful attention to what he teaches by example.
The first lesson: Citizens should not be hoodwinked by rhetoric. Governor Walker said that the state was broke. He said that public sector workers had to make larger contributions to the cost of their pensions and health care, even as he handed out generous corporate tax breaks for the same amount. Doing a reverse Robin Hood, he took from the middle class to enrich the powerful. The unions promptly agreed to pay what the governor proposed, effectively cutting their compensation, but the governor would not take yes for an answer. He insisted on breaking the unions, even though no financial issues were involved.
Lesson two: It is really important to vote. Only 51.7% of eligible voters in Wisconsin cast a ballot last November, and they ended up with a governor and a legislature who are wreaking havoc on state government and decimating vital public services.
Lesson three: Voters should listen carefully to the candidates and ask for details about what they will do if they win. Scott Walker promised to balance the budget but he didn't reveal his intention to strip away collective bargaining rights from public sector workers. Journalists and citizens should have asked how he planned to balance the budget.
Lesson four: Politics in a democracy is different from politics in an authoritarian state. When there is strong opposition to their decisions, they negotiate and compromise. Negotiation and compromise are not signs of weakness, but of the disposition needed to build consensus.
Lesson five: Leaders in a democracy do not crush their opposition. Politics is not war. Leaders may not agree with the people on the other side of the aisle, but at the end of the day, they recognize them as "my loyal opposition," not my enemy. That spirit of comity is at the heart of our democracy. Elected officials do not destroy those with whom they disagree.