Published in The Wisconsin State Journal on February 26, 2011
Let Them Eat Pizza!
by Karl Garson
The stories are touching, the ones on the national news about calls coming in from around the country to Ian’s Pizza on State Street in Madison, calls offering to buy pizza for the protesters at the Wisconsin Capitol. Those stories conjure up 60’s images of camaraderie, of grease-stained paper plates fringing the rings of breakout sessions, of guitars strumming Kumbaya to the collective notion: “Here we make an important stand.“
For the Scott Walker administration, bent on exacting draconian concessions from the public employees ringing the capitol gallery with signs and sleeping bags and enlivening its quiet with chants and drums, pizza is a win-win gift. Nothing contents Wisconsin’s distended bellies like pizza, which also clogs arteries. In the short run, pizza quiets Walker’s opposition. In the long run it weakens it by shortening its life.
And the long run is what the protesters have lost sight of by substituting rant for quiet resolve. They seem to have missed that Tom Barrett lost the governor’s race to Scott Walker and that their numbers are dwarfed by Walker’s winning vote count. Their cause has ceded power. Their mistake is in thinking that t-shirts, shouts and free pizza will win it back. They will not, even in the short run.
Resolve might, over the long haul. Few knew better how to work a cause than Chairman Mao who also knew there were times to plunge the knife deeper, figuratively speaking, and times to withdraw.
I emphasize figuratively speaking because dire reports are beginning to appear. On Tuesday, during a rally in Boston in support of Wisconsin workers, Massachusetts Representative Michael Capuano said, “Every once and a while you need to get out on the streets and get a little bloody.” On Wednesday, an Indiana deputy attorney general, Jeffrey Cox, was fired for advocating the use of live ammunition to clear demonstrators from Wisconsin’s capitol building.
Brittle statements from either side are irresponsible and dangerous. Representative Capuano’s encourages an atmosphere that gave Madison the 1968 Sterling Hall bombing. Cox would bring us back to the 1971 Kent State shootings.
Statements condoning bloodshed on any street or capitol floor must stop now.
Representative Capuano also said, “This is a struggle for the hearts and minds of America,” after noting the fight would go on for another two years, prompting the question, “Which hearts and minds?” The ones assembling Camrys in Georgetown, Kentucky or BMWs in Spartanburg, South Carolina or those in workers across America who have reluctantly accepted that tough times force difficult choices?
Looking ahead or back, we’re witnessing no two-year event. The struggle being played out now in the Wisconsin State Capitol and replicated across the country began well before Scott Walker became Wisconsin’s governor. It began before Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. It began when the ebb and flow of political power in this country was set in motion because this is a battle about power in the long run being masked by a short term battle about state finances.
What astounds and nettles Democrats nationwide and protesters here, is how, after President Obama’s victory in 2008, matters could have come so quickly to this. Simple. The Democrats overplayed their hand on health care reform, lost control of their message and failed to understand how hard times play better into the hands of a tea party mob than anyone’s reasonable cause.
In short, they blew it and that led to the 2010 national election results and those gave the state of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and a Republican controlled legislature.
If protesters in the capitol are ever to have it their way, they should leave the 30 square miles of Madison and enter Wisconsin’s state of political and economic reality; there to realize, resolve and regroup. To understand that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eaton is also to accept, as Joan Didion notes, that Napoleon wouldn’t have won with a crash course in cricket. Pizza has nothing to do with purpose. Eating it will make you fat but that won’t get you very far.