At this point, the video above probably doesn’t need an introduction. On Wednesday, weeks after its Democrats fled the state to defer voting, the Wisconsin state legislature called a meeting on 110 minutes notice to vote on a bill that strips public-sectors unions of many of their negotiating rights and raises their pension and health care premiums. On Thursday, a 13 year old on the Upper East Side knowing nothing of Wisconsin remarked to me that “the poor pay for the poor more than the rich do.” Amid insane collusions of government, business, capital, and populism over the past two administrations, Wisconsin has offered some relief of common sense and an easy foothold onto a more naked, almost mythic drama than the news usually allows: a lying and thieving Republican administration, the privileged few, conspiring in the halls of power for more power and working to crush the working class.
It’s a familiar American myth, but a crucial one. However more damning WikiLeaks and bailouts have been of America’s interests—Wisconsin’s workers were stripped of rights many other state’s employees never had—Wisconsin has finally offered this familiar narrative to make sense of fucked-up politics: the righteous, ragtag American mavericks against the entrenched elite. However lost this role of underdog is to most major modern news, it’s still a default ideal for anyone who learned about America not through news but culture: in symbols of Lincoln and Roosevelt, in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Paths of Glory, Bad News Bears, A Few Good Men. For once in the past decade there’s been an illusion that the people could and would stand up for their own interests.
The video above of the vote clearly marks the dramatic climax of the past months, as State Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, a democrat, cries for accountability as the State Senate call roll and head into their chambers to take a vote. Outside, hundreds—thousands?—of protestors cry “Shame!” Without context, it’s a rousing movie on its own: a single pan opens the scene up to its chorus, and the whole thing is like a bureaucrat’s vision of Greek tragedy, with Minority Leader Barca as holy martyr. As he’s denied intelligence of the bill by the rest of the Senate (they won’t let him hear), and as he reads the clause specifying the illegality of the vote while they take it (they won’t hear), Barca casts himself as an American hero, maybe the only one, to play people’s mouthpiece of rage against an indifferent elect. One of the first things that’s extraordinary is how ordinary he is: his cheesehead voice and nervous “like”s betraying his tenor's debt to so many movies.
It’s extraordinary also to anyone who’s watched C-Span or Wiseman’s State Legislature. The health care debates last year showed a pretty funny, chaotic sort of order: legislators talking around each other in a tortuous protocol, trying to ask questions in split-second intervals but tangled in the rut of formulated answers and tangential formalities. But the video above shows the chaos finally erupting in Barca’s rogue element, so rogue that he can’t even be admitted into the consciousness of the establishment and its established conventions. The scene is another variation on one Kubrick put in almost all his films. That the Republican legislators are shown to be stooges to their system, retreating behind a mask of propriety and social codes while they break the law and make it in ways petty and great, is the point. Who are the agents of convention, and who are the agents of chaos?
“After a three-week stalemate, Republican senators pushed the measure through in less than half an hour even as the Senate’s Democrats remained many miles away, trying to block the vote.” — “Wisconsin Senate Limits Bargaining by Public Workers,” New York Times
“All 8 Republicans eligible for recall voted to strip public employee unions of their rights, despite clear public opposition. Many of these Republicans, frankly, are going to recall as early as this summer, and if just three of them lose, the balance of power will switch to Democrats in the state Senate.” — “Anti-Public Employee Bill Passes Senate in Wisconsin; Only the Beginning of the Fight,” FDL News Desk
“Walker's proposals do have important fiscal elements: they roughly double health care premiums for many state employees. But the heart of the proposals, and the controversy, are the provisions that will effectively destroy public-sector unions in the Badger State. As Matt Yglesias notes, this won't destroy the Democratic party. But it will force the party to seek funding from sources other than unions, and that usually means the same rich businessmen who are the main financial backers for the Republican party.” — “What’s Happening in Wisconsin Explained,” Mother Jones
“There is fierce debate over the approach Walker took to address the short-term budget deficit. But there should be no debate on whether or not there is a shortfall. While not historically large, the shortfall in the current budget needed to be addressed in some fashion. Walker’s tax cuts will boost the size of the projected deficit in the next budget, but they’re not part of this problem and did not create it.” — Wisconsin Journal Sentinel
“Wisconsin’s Budget Wasn’t Manufactured by Walker and the GOP” — Openmarket.org
“Billionaire Brothers’ Money Plays Role in Wisconsin Dispute” — New York Times
“It’s Not Over in Wisconsin” — New York Times