Joke Line (Time Magazine's Joe Klein) is the guy who was supposed to be a liberal back during the build-up to the Iraq War, but apparently forgot which side he was supposed to represent and decided to go with the other team. Apparently, Klein is still confused about which team he's supposed to be playing for.
Are there problems with teachers unions and other public-employee unions? Yes, I'm afraid there are. Klein does a good job of sketching out what those problems are. Are those problems the reason, the cause, the focus of the protests in Wisconsin? Not in the slightest.
Paul Krugman does an excellent job sketching out what the protests in Wisconsin are really about.
So it’s not about the budget; it’s about the power.
In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.
Given this reality, it’s important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.
As Rachel Maddow pointed out via an interview with Wisconsin State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D), the fight is entirely about the continued existence and viability of unions. Are unions important to the non-wealthy? Heck, yes!!! Of the top ten institutions that contributed money to the 2010 Congressional campaigns, three of them were controlled by progressives and all three of them were unions. Without unions, progressives can't put much of anything into the field.
As Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN) put it in the wake of the ACORN “sting” (James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles didn't actually uncover anything in the way of illegal conduct, but ACORN was disbanded anyway):
“Defunding the left is going to be so easy,” said Bachmann, “and it’s going to solve so many of our problems.”
The idea on the right wing of “defund the left” has a history that stretches back to the Civil Rights Movement as the Movement used the tax-exempt status of their foundations to fund voter-registration drives. Real pushback against the sources that provide funding for left-leaning political movements started with the Reagan Administration and The Heritage Foundation with the two of them working arm-in-arm to do as the anti-environmentalist Ron Arnold claimed: "We want to destroy the environmentalists by taking away their money and their members."
How useful is money to the left? Well, probably the most high-visibility project that the anti-war left in Philadelphia undertook in recent years was the “Sea of Tombstones” done by the Delaware Valley Veterans For America. It was lots of fun to take part in that project, but it involved a bit of money. We met in the backyard of one of our prime members, he purchased wood and hammers and nails and paint and rented a truck to get the “tombstones” down to the area of the Liberty Bell and spent several hours setting it all up. We all took turns guarding the set-up and answering questions and handing out literature.
The Coalition for Peace Action is also a reasonably successful peace group. If one does a Google search for “news of..” the CFPA, it's clear that they're a well-known group in New Jersey. They do fund-raisers and concerts and are active in nuclear issues. On the other hand, a search for the less-cash-rich Philly Against War comes up with not a whole lot other than the publicity that the group and allied groups have themselves generated.
The lesson here is that a peace group can have a fair impact on public perceptions without spending a lot of money, but money sure helps! Money magnifies your impact many times over. The right wing is absolutely correct in that going after progressive sources of funding is a good way to weaken the public impact of progressives in general.
The fight in Wisconsin is absolutely critical. Progressives must win or their influence on the rest of America will pretty much evaporate.