If I had to guess, my bet is that the union-busting governor of Wisconsin believes his path to national greatness is to stage a replay of another famous governor waging another famous war against organized labor, one that led him straight to the White House on the accolades of joyous and appreciative conservatives.
In 1919, then-Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge catapulted to national prominence after calling out the state militia to break the Boston police strike that year.
In a now-famous telegram sent to American Federation of Labor founder Samuel Gompers, Coolidge may have written his own ticket as the Republican ticket's nominee for vice-president, and then the White House, when he said: "There is no right to strike against the public safety by anyone, anywhere, anytime. I am equally determined to defend the sovereignty of Massachusetts and to maintain the authority and jurisdiction over her public officers where it has been placed by the Constitution and laws of her people."
Yet, as even Coolidge's famous telegram makes plain, if there is a sliver of justification for denying public sector workers their right to bargain collectively, it resides in the potential threat to public safety that exists whenever those charged with protecting the public's safety walk off the job.
But no such justification can excuse Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's attack on his state's government workforce. After all, conspicuously exempt from the Governor's draconian measure to effectively terminate public sector organizing in Wisconsin, are precisely those police, fire and state police unions that are both the primary bulwarks of public safety in Wisconsin and the only public unions to endorse the crusading anti-union Governor Walker in the last election.
This is an exemption that is so base in its motivation, so obvious in its intent and so egregious in its corruption that when you think about the conflicts of interest, the lack of political integrity and the absence of common decency involved, you can only conclude that Governor Walker - like so many other Republicans today - just doesn't care.
On dramatic display in Governor Walker's radical assault on his own public workers is, I think, the extent to which the Republican Party is willing to go to transform America into a one-party state -- finally achieving Karl Rove' dream of a GOP that is the country's "permanent" governing majority.
Conservatives talk a good game about "competition" to justify the fact that, almost always, they are Kings of the Hill. But then, just like schoolyard bullies or the pampered prep-school scions of great wealth, conservatives always seem to be working the refs or gaming the system to make sure they always win.
And if Republicans are as confident as they say they are about better representing the American people, then why is it that Republicans also seem to be so obsessed with undermining the foundations of their competitors, the Democratic Party? Republicans don't seem content to just beat Democrats fair and square in free and open elections. They are equally determined to destroy Democrats as a viable, competitive party.
The attack on trial lawyers under the smokescreen of "tort reform" in the health care debate was one obvious shot across the Democrat's bow. The light-speed collapse of the community organizing group, ACORN, on trumped-up corruption charges that were subsequently debunked as groundless by a number of state-level investigations, was another high-profile demolition mission by the right wing to weaken the structural integrity of the Democratic Party.
And now we have this attack on public sector unions in Wisconsin, only the most ruthless and brazen example of what is likely to become a nation-wide trend whenever Republicans have it within their power to destroy organized labor in the one area where conservatives' historic foe remains formidable, the public sector.
What each of these sorties proves again is the truth that for political power to exist, even in a mature democracy like ours, it must be organized.
Having 65% of the American people on your side is meaningless if you can't also gather together that support to land a potent political punch. It's a lesson conservatives seem to learn at birth, even if liberals don't, since right wing American conservatives have always been an outnumbered minority forever trying to divide themselves into a governing majority.
No one has been better in the past six years at chronicling and explaining the inexorable drift of American politics to the right than political science professors Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson.
In their 2005 book, Off Center: The Republican Revolution & the Erosion of American Democracy, Hacker and Pierson describe how a relatively small cabal of right wing radicals were able to hijack the Republican Party and systematically move it to the right by centralizing control of the legislative agenda, controlling the party's purse strings and purging the party of liberal and moderate "RINO's" by running well-funded, far right challengers in lightly-attended primaries, even against long-time incumbents with seniority on important committees.
And in this year's best-seller, Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer -- and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, Hacker and Pierson go national with their basic message about the critical connection between political organization, political power and political radicalism by showing how the decline of unions has let corporate and Wall Street predators prowl American economics and politics unchallenged, distorting and corrupting both.
It's not supposed to be like this, Hacker and Pierson insist. "According to conventional wisdom about American politics, this shouldn't be possible," they write in Off Center. "Our system of government is supposed to thwart the ambitions of slim majorities. Our political leaders are supposed to obey the dictates of surveys and focus groups, afraid to run afoul of the all-powerful oracle of public opinion. Our parties are supposed to be weak, fragmented and ineffective. Our electoral structure is supposed to encourage two major parties vying for the center, not a major party heading for the fringes."
Yet, they say, today's Republican Party has defied all the normal laws of political gravity, thanks to the twin pillars of money and organization - two things which explain Governor Walker's unprovoked and unilateral invasion into worker rights on the baseless "weapons-of-mass-destruction" pretext that Wisconsin's imaginary budget crisis could only be managed on the backs of labor.
Why should any of this matter to the rest of us? Why should it matter that a right wing governor from the Midwest is going after middle class public sector workers?
Well, as Professor Hacker points out in an important essay in American Prospect this week, "Middle class" is more than an income category. It's also the image of a certain kind of society - one that once described America, one "in which the gains of prosperity are broadly shared and those who work hard have a good shot at upward mobility and the security of a basic safety net."
Polls show that only about half of all Americans still believe in the promises of an American Dream where if you work hard you will get ahead, said Hacker. The roots of this dark mood of discontent, he says, go beyond the current recession. They also undermine the belief that America is any longer a "middle class nation" governed by political democracy.
The familiar foundations of post-war "Middle class America" were laid with programs like the GI bill that allowed millions to gain a college degree or vocational training, buy a home, or start a business, said Hacker. "Pressed by labor unions, employers provided decent wages and developed extensive health and pension benefits that provided security to workers and their families. Social Security and then Medicare transformed secure retirement into a mass experience."
Earnings rose rapidly for workers up and down the income scale because there was "an implicit social contract that emphasized joint economic gains and financial security." But equally important, said Hacker, economic equality was grounded in broadly distributed political power - power that was supplied by "strong labor unions, cross-class civic organizations, and political institutions less inundated by and responsive to money. These were the foundations of middle-class democracy."
Echoing what many others have said as well, Hacker says this middle class bargain is unraveling. Middle income earnings have risen only modestly over the last generation while those below the middle have stagnated or fallen.
"The story of the last 40 years is of a huge divorce between aggregate productivity, which has continued to rise handsomely, and wages for most workers, which have stagnated or declined," he said, as the ethic of shared prosperity has given way to one of winner-take-all.
And what explains this disconnect? Part of it is the new global economy and changes in technology that always destabilize societies until the law and politics catch up with changes in economics. Equally responsible, Hacker says, is "the imbalance in organizational power and resources between the middle and the top."
Beginning in the late 1970s, corporate America organized on an unprecedented scale to influence government policy, which in turn led to an increasingly radicalized Republican Party, a divided Democratic Party, "and powerful, growing currents of public hostility toward American government itself."
The increased organizational muscle of business and the GOP's success in locking down the conservative evangelical vote has encouraged the party to shift ever rightward on economic issues, said Hacker. Democrats, by contrast, "have been cross-pressured, torn between their historical commitment to the 'little guy' and the pull of money from the big guys," said Hacker.
Further, Democrats and progressives have yet to confront an inconvenient truth, says Hacker: "They are losing on economic issues not because Americans' judgments are clouded by social issues or racial animosity but because, battered by economic trends and bombarded with mixed messages, many middle-class Americans are wondering whether progressives can really deliver a better economic life."
There is for many liberals a sense of dread as the nation seems to be slipping backwards as right wing governors from historically progressive states attempt to dismantle organized labor with a rhetoric and a civic not heard with this frequency or ferocity since the last time the court's and the law treated unions as little better than criminal syndicates.
Yet, if the late Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. is correct, this sense of despondency and futility at the backward drift of events is uncalled for. History has never been linear, says Schlesinger, it's cyclical. History repeats itself because historical conflicts are never resolved once and for all, not really.
The same, old familiar battles between rich and poor, between capital and labor, between liberals and conservatives that we might imagine were finally decided and put away long ago, must always be fought over and over again once changing circumstances, or some new invention, or some earth-shattering event gives one side or the other an advantage which tempts it into re-fighting an old war, or re-litigating an old dispute or re-opening an old wound.