Right-wing media and conservative financial interests are touting Gov. Scott Walker's latest anti-worker move as a model for America, but his policies will harm the economy and stand in stark contrast with the GOP's recent attempts to rebrand the party as a champion of the middle class.
This week, Wisconsin governor and 2016 GOP presidential hopeful Scott Walker signed into law a so-called “right-to-work” bill, which will hamper the ability of private-sector workers to organize into labor unions and bargain collectively. Walker proclaimed the bill “sends a powerful message across the country and around the world” and boasted about its economic advantages. His signature follows weeks of championing from conservative media. The Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece written by the CEO of Americans for Prosperity that lauded the right-to-work bill in Wisconsin, while misinforming readers about its likely economic impact. Fox News repeatedly praised the bill as well, while the editors of National Review called the Wisconsin bill a “righteous victory” for Walker and described organized labor as a “cancer.”
Of course, economists point out that quality of life -- as measured by a variety of factors such as poverty and income rates -- is lower in right-to-work states. In fact, economist Gordon Lafer found that right-to-work laws “lower wages for union and non-union workers by an average of $1,500 a year” and lead to pension and health benefits cuts -- findings echoed in other economic studies.
But politically, Walker is hoping to bolster his conservative bona fides among right-wing media and others in anticipation of a competitive Republican primary season -- by taking a swing at the labor movement. And Wisconsin's latest attack on labor is just the latest chapter in a broader campaign against the middle class being waged in tandem by conservative media, corporate financial interests, and the whole of the Republican Party.
The nexus is easily demonstrable -- the right-to-work law Walker signed is a nearly word-for-word replica of model legislation crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization funded mostly by corporations and conservative organizations, and whose purpose, according to Fortune magazine, is to “bring business-friendly state lawmakers together with lobbyists for corporations.” ALEC receives large sums of money from billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch to push legislation that supports the their political agenda, one often at odds with the well-being of middle and working class Americans. Indeed, the right-to-work bill in Wisconsin is just the latest in a string of such laws sweeping through GOP-controlled legislatures in the Midwest thanks to ALEC and the Kochs.
Walker has also been the beneficiary of the Kochs' financial clout. The Kochs directly and indirectly contributed millions of dollars to his gubernatorial campaigns while the Koch-funded group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) provided manpower in the form of political rallies and hundreds of volunteers contacting voters in support of Walker. Walker attended a “gathering of rich conservatives” along with other presidential hopefuls convened by the Koch brothers earlier this year.
On Fox News, praise for Walker is over the top -- he is a "sexy" 2016 candidate that makes one host's "toes curl." Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh has lavished Walker with compliments, mostly by suggesting Walker has adopted the host's own conservative ideas, while the Drudge Report crowned Walker the “clear GOP frontrunner.”
If Walker's corporate-bought anti-worker agenda is the top choice for the conservative media, it symbolizes a striking detachment between conservative policy priorities and policies that would benefit average Americans. As an example, one economist found that declining union participation rates have exacerbated the problem of income inequality in the United States.
Such support for Walker also signals a significant contrast between what conservative officials and media say and what they do. As an example, at a Koch-sponsored event in January, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (TX), Rand Paul (KY), and Marco Rubio (FL) bemoaned the problem of income inequality. As The Washington Post's Catherine Rampell noted, this was a rhetorical shift, as Republicans have historically been “dismissive and disdainful” of concerns about the gap.
Specifically, “Republicans' support for anti-union legislation is at odds with their professed commitments to helping the middle class,” The New York Times editorial board explained on February 26:
In a nation where the long decline in unions has led to a pervasive slump in wages, Republicans' support for anti-union legislation is at odds with their professed commitments to helping the middle class. Right-to-work laws do not attract businesses and create jobs, as proponents claim. Rather, they are linked to lower wages, fewer benefits and higher poverty. They win support among conservative lawmakers not because they are in the public interest but because cutting labor costs is a priority of far-right groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is tied to the Koch brothers.
Meanwhile, in front of voters, potential GOP 2016 candidates are trying to emphasize their working class roots on the campaign trail, even if that means going back more than a generation to find it. As the Times noted, “The last two Republican presidential nominees, each wealthy, lost in part because voters did not believe the candidates could relate to their struggles.”
With its coronation of Scott Walker and praise of right-to-work laws, conservative media further solidifies its 2016 game plan -- occasionally facilitated by mainstream media -- to elect Republicans by obscuring the GOP's advancement of policies that benefit wealthy interests at the expense of the middle class.
Image via Flickr user blue cheddar