President Barack Obama faces a broad array of challenges, from slow economic growth and high unemployment to emerging international crises. He is under mounting pressure to show leadership.
But all of these weighty national and international burdens have not prevented Obama from sticking his nose into a purely state matter.
Instead of concentrating on flashpoints in the Middle East or working with Congress to cut the budget and avoid a government shutdown, the commander-in-chief chose to jump in the middle of a budget battle between public unions and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
While the newly elected Walker seeks to keep his campaign promise to restore fiscal responsibility through reform of state employees’ generous benefits, President Obama is fanning the flames of acrimony by calling Walker’s actions “an assault on unions.” Obama’s comment, and the involvement of his Organizing for America operatives in coordinating the protests in Madison against Walker, highlights the president’s one-dimensional leadership. Despite a myriad of duties, Obama only appears passionate when it comes to advancing and protecting the progressive agenda. For example, he’s quick to impose mandated health care, clean energy requirements and preferences for labor unions but seems loathe to promote fiscal responsibility or stand up for our ally, Israel.
It appears Obama forgot — or ignored — how voter disapproval of his big-government agenda changed the political landscape in the 2009 and 2010 elections.
According to Wednesday’s Rasmussen Reports tracking poll, 40 percent of voters now strongly disapprove of Obama’s job performance. Playing “agitator-in-chief” in Wisconsin will likely further tarnish his image.
Governor Walker’s efforts to reform public employee benefits, on the other hand, has struck a chord with the American people. Another national poll by Rasmussen Reports found 48 percent of voters sided with Walker while just 38 percent sided with the union bosses.
Perhaps President Obama could learn from Governor Walker.
Wisconsin is now a laboratory for fiscal reform. It’s a battle between the liberal status quo and taxpayers who don’t have the money to subsidize, in this case, lavish benefits for unionized public employees. Reforming gold-plated benefit packages, Walker says, is necessary to balance the budget and put the state on the road to prosperity.
For too many years, union bosses with fat compulsory dues-subsidized campaign accounts found politicians easy marks when negotiating for perks unheard of in the private sector. Today’s sputtering economy, caused in large part by out-of-control government spending, is forcing a re-examination of fiscal priorities.
With Wisconsin facing crippling debt, the unfairness of organized labor’s alliance with the political establishment has been exposed. Hard-working taxpayers who are facing their own financial hardships do not want to cover lifetime benefits for state workers. It’s simply unsustainable, and people are demanding the benefits process be reformed to be more in line with the private sector.
President Obama and his union allies need to realize that their expectations are unrealistic. With nine percent unemployment and over 43 million Americans relying on food stamps, the era of guaranteed generous wage and benefits packages is over.
Keeping Big Labor happy serves Obama’s political agenda, but it fails the nation during this economic crisis. It’s this adherence to progressive doctrine — both in Wisconsin with unions and in other things such as the lack of entitlement reform in his 2012 budget — that exposes Obama’s lack of leadership.
Obama would be wise to follow Scott Walker’s lead — making the tough decisions and providing the leadership necessary to promote fiscal sustainability and long-term prosperity. Doing so would restore the support of the American people that he once enjoyed.
Deneen Borelli is a fellow with the Project 21 black leadership network, a program of the National Center for Public Policy Research.