There’s an old Abbott and Costello routine where Lou Costello responds to one of Bud Abbott’s propositions with the rejoinder, “That’s a great idea! In fact, I was just about to think of it myself.” That’s how I felt about Roger Kimball’s observations about the scene in Wisconsin yesterday, especially the observation about the irony that this showdown is taking place in Madison, named for the founder who warned us about the dangers of factions acting against the public interest.
I agree with Roger that this is a watershed moment. I think it is George Will who supplies the appropriate term for what we are seeing: “reactionary liberalism.” The petulant public employee unions and their associated goons swarming the Wisconsin capitol remind me of nothing so much as George Wallace blocking the schoolhouse door against integration, or the scenes, played out on national television in the early 1960s, of Democratic politicians whipping up mobs and setting dogs on civil rights marchers in the South. It was a clear sign the old order, also dedicated to preserving illegitimate privilege, was collapsing.
There’s another rough parallel that comes to mind. The early 1990s witnessed a crop of big-city mayors who threw out the old way of doing things and proved that it was possible to govern large cities effectively, especially with regards to crime, but also in other ways. Rudy Giuliani gets the most nods, along with Indianapolis mayor Steve Goldsmith, but there were also reformist Democratic mayors like Milwaukee’s John Norquist, and Cory Booker right now in Newark (both champions of school choice, incidentally). Christie in New Jersey, Walker in Wisconsin, and other new governors look to be reprising that reformist role on the state level right now. Some Democrats may follow. Right now Andrew Cuomo looks like the Democrat most likely to break with the old order of his party, but don’t count out Jerry Brown.
Finally, if you need any more evidence that things are changing, just check out E.J. Dionne today in the Washington Post. He’s unhappy that “The Tea Party Is Winning”:
Take five more steps back and you realize how successful the Tea Party has been. No matter how much liberals may poke fun at them, Tea Party partisans can claim victory in fundamentally altering the country’s dialogue.