A few short weeks ago the buzzword in American politics was "civility." The mainstream news networks, liberal newspapers, the left-wing blogosphere and their assorted allies were in high dungeon claiming Tea party conservatives and the new Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives was responsible for what they viewed as an uncivil tone in the national debate.They even suggested, in some cases stated outright, the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords by a madman was somehow related to conservative rhetoric.
But, in the past couple of weeks it is the American Left which has come unhinged and engaged in some decidedly uncivil actions. A combination of new Republican majorities in governorships and legislatures across the nation and the inevitable fiscal impact of the recession on state budgets have thrown into reverse gear the gains liberal/progressives made over the past two years.
And they are reacting poorly.
The most visible example of leftist rage has come in the state of Wisconsin where new Governor Scott Walker and a newly empowered majority in the state legislature ended collective bargaining privileges for state employee unions. It was a fiscally necessary action, but the labor unions flew into a rage. This despite the fact comprehensive collective bargaining privileges for public employee unions are far from universal, with workers in 24 states not having them.
In Wisconsin, as with many other northern states, unions were accustomed to winning such fights. This time it was clear they were going to lose. In a childish move state Senate Democrats fled to Illinois in an unsuccessful effort to prevent the repeal of collective bargaining privileges from coming to a vote. Union workers abandoned their jobs to stage a raucous protest at the state capitol.
It would be charitable to describe the union protest as uncivil. The demonstrators were loud, frequently profane, borderline violent and generally unruly. It took days of negotiations to get them to leave the capitol rotunda at night so crews could clean. Contrast their behavior and the mess they left behind with that of Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally in Washington, D.C. last summer and you get a clear cut picture of how conservatives and liberals conduct themselves at public events.
Wisconsin is not the only state where leftist thugs have behaved inappropriately. In Idaho an education reform bill that would have eliminated tenure and seniority and allowed more charter schools to be established drew the ire of unions. The superintendent of Idaho's public schools, Tom Luna, who championed the reform plan, had his car vandalized. One protestor even showed up at the home of Luna's mother.
Here in Pennsylvania radical environmentalists invaded the offices of former Governor Tom Ridge's consulting firm. Ridge is now a high profile lobbyist for Marcellus Shale gas drilling companies. The protestors were angry over Governor Tom Corbett's refusal to place a severance tax on gas extracted from the Marcellus Shale reserve. Despite the fact Ridge is a private citizen and his office private property; they stormed the place demanding to talk with the former governor.
The conservative media has made much of this wave of uncivil behavior, but the establishment media has been largely silent. Imagine if you will that conservatives behaved in such a manner. If a deranged shooter who is a devotee of Karl Marx somehow unleashed liberal finger waggling, such behavior as exhibited by liberal activists by conservatives would have brought about a hail storm of condemnation.
Unfortunately we can expect more uncivil behavior from labor unions, radical environmentalists and other components of the Left. Republicans at the state level are grappling with massive budget deficits brought about by years of overspending and by the lingering economic recession. It is clear to voters that the current levels of public spending cannot be maintained, and the policies that created growing deficits must be reversed.
Given that labor is a substantial part of any state budget it is inevitable that public employees will have to join their private sector counterparts in paying more for health care and other benefits, contribute more to their pension plans, and do more work with fewer workers. Collective bargaining stands in the way of accomplishing those goals, so it will be a target in more and more states as the fiscal year progresses.
So far, unions and their allies have not handled the situation in a civil manner. Few expect they ever will, and fewer still expect they will be held to the same standards of public behavior as conservatives.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman CEO of the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc. and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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