Tuesday's steel cage death match in Wisconsin did not go well for the labor unions that had staked their futures on kicking Gov. Scott Walker out of office. Walker prevailed in the recall election by a fairly comfortable margin. Day-after commentary blamed the Democrats'/unions' loss on the avalanche of out-of-state conservative money that flowed into the state.
But a simpler education is simply this: The unions overreached.
Walker was elected on a platform of balancing the state budget and requiring state workers to pay more of the costs of their health care and retirement benefits. With a Republican legislature behind him, he succeeded, despite a Democratic walkout that delayed the action. After that, the unions and Democrats decided to teach Walker and the Republicans a lesson: They would recall the upstarts and return the state to its liberal roots. You can hardly blame state employees for squealing at the loss of benefits, but they misunderstand the impression that many public-sector taxpayers have. For most state voters, the nearly free health insurance and attractive retirement pensions are more than an object of envy; they are a topic of bitter consternation.
Taxpayers in Wisconsin and across much of the country have griped about the salaries and benefits given to federal, state and local government employees at taxpayer expense. This anger is most frequently directed at Congress, whose members receive pay that is several times the average pay of their constituents and whose perquisites, privileges and pensions look like a Mega-Millions win to those paying the bills. Resentment is also directed toward the high pay and enviable benefits of state workers, as can be seen in the Wisconsin results. If this resentment can be organized in Wisconsin, it can be deployed in other states as well.
What Tuesday's Wisconsin results mean for the presidential race and congressional elections in November remains to be seen, but organized labor has not helped itself by pouring so many resources into a losing battle, leaving less for November's decisive campaign.