Both sides doing the Wisconsin spin
Both the winners and the losers in this week's Wisconsin-recall drama have reasons to prefer that some parts of the story gain more attention than others.
For starters, labor groups that sank millions of dollars and many volunteers into the failed bid to oust Gov. Scott Walker might find it expedient to blur the distinction between public and private employee unions. But that difference proved key.
The idea behind unionizing mines, transportation companies, factories, building sites and warehouses has to do with promoting the livelihoods and safety of those whose labor helps produce profit for business enterprises.
For public employees -- most of whom in Wisconsin saw their collective-bargaining rights erased by Walker and his allies -- the taxpayers, and by extension the voters, are the ultimate boss, looking to keep down the cost of the people's government. Profits aren't there to be shared.
Most federal employees do not have collective bargaining rights for pay or benefits. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose tenure would vex the political right for generations to come, voiced a rationale for this in 1937.
"All government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service," Roosevelt wrote. "The very nature and purposes of government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with government employee organizations."
But 73 years later, in 2010, official figures showed that for the first time, among all union workers, employees of government -- states, counties and municipalities -- outnumbered those in the private sector.
Unlike Wisconsin, New York's government entities will undoubtedly continue to bargain with their employees.
The part of the story that the victors may wish to downplay -- at a time of ever-wider income inequality -- involves the cash tsunami from wealthy donors to help Walker and other Republican elected officials stave off the recall.
As of three weeks ago, the last disclosure deadline before the vote, Walker reported having raised $30.5 million and opponent Tom Barrett, $3.9 million, according to a compilation of reports by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a non-partisan good-government group. To those detached from the fray, this might devalue the wailing of some GOP-allied groups about billionaire George Soros' bankrolling of liberal causes.
Billionaire industrialist David Koch reportedly gave $1 million out of the $8.7 million supplied the Walker effort through the Republican Governor's Association and its Right Direction Wisconsin entity. Koch and his brother Charles were involved in founding Americans for Prosperity, which sent a reported $3 million. Other big-dollar donors included Diane Hendricks, of Wisconsin, head of ABC Supply, a leading roofing and siding company, and Wyoming investor Foster Friess, who helped bankroll Rick Santorum's presidential campaign, as well as Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson, a key financier of Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign, and Houston home-builder Bob Perry. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce logged $2 million for Walker.
Many of these individuals, of course, have a private, rather than public, incentive to limit wages and benefits.
Slapping the "special interest" tag on either the unions, or Walker's patrons -- but not both -- requires blotting out part of the true picture.