Last week, Representative Steve King threw a beauty pageant for Republican Presidential hopefuls in Iowa, and the pundits have anointed Governor Scott Walker as the early frontrunner. The clip of his speech fed to the networks was boilerplate conservative, with a dusting of technocratic libertarianism. Walker claimed that the success of government is measured not by how many people are dependent on it, but how many are not.
Considering the millions who draw their paycheck from the U.S. military, one might imagine Walker would have next proposed massive defense cuts so our men and women in uniform could learn to stand on their own two feet. He might have followed that up by upbraiding the millions of elderly recipients of Social Security and Medicare, as well as every single policeman, fireman, judge, prison guard, DMV staffer, sanitation worker and of course, governor in the United States. But of course we know who he really meant. "Dependent" is just code for all the supposed millions of "welfare queens" and mooching "deportables" that Fox News has convinced the rightwing base are sucking the country dry.
Scott Walker is the most anti-union governor in the country, so it's no surprise that he's a Koch brother favorite. According to their ideology, unions are antithetical to a dynamic and entrepreneurial economy that rewards innovation and success. But if one takes an objective look at their underlying philosophy, this actually makes no sense. Unions are actually based on a very libertarian principle: that a person should derive from his or her work the maximum compensation that the market will bear.
Admittedly, the manifestation of this aim looks very different depending on one's starting point. On the conservative side, it invariably involves ownership -- of an idea, of capital, usually both. Sometimes someone starts a business from next-to-nothing, but the current model is far more likely to involve some inherited wealth, as it did with the Koch brothers. In contrast, a wage earner may have a good idea, but rarely access to much money. Usually all he "owns" is his work, and only by banding together with other workers can he exercise any leverage. But the endgame is the same for both: to maximize one's value in the marketplace.
What makes Walker's crusade against "dependence" so galling is that a union member is precisely the worker most likely to be economically independent of government, to most depend on the fruits of her labor, while working and while retired. And yet Scott Walker, brandishing the libertarian ideological sword, made it priority #1 to dismantle Wisconsin unions. Why?
The honest truth is that neither he nor the Kochs have any real beef with the "bargaining" part of "collective bargaining." It's the "collective" part that makes them crazy.
When workers join a union, they are making a philosophical statement: What's good for the group is good for me. This tying of one's personal happiness to the well-being of many is an implicit reproach to objectivism, which revolves around the notion that the individual, via his or her supposed accomplishments, occupies the top spot in mankind's spiritual hierarchy.
Of course, the actual value of their achievement gets all mixed up with the validation of the free market. Money confers not only reward, but the notion of deservedness. This is essential, as no one could possibly justify accumulating more money than they could ever spend in a world of so much poverty and suffering. The silent but inevitable conclusion the rich come to is that so much material gain must be proof of their innate moral superiority.
What so panics libertarians about distributed wealth is that it represents a world where people find more meaning in equality than inequality, where success as a human being is not measured by how much higher on the totem pole you are than the person below you. In this utopia, how would the rich know they're better than anyone else? Even worse, what if people stopped asking that question entirely?
Scott Walker may have found the message that takes him all the way to the Republican nomination. It inverts the old maxim from the rich are different to the different are rich. By choosing such an anti-union politician to groom for power, the Kochs are trying to conflate organized labor and government dependency in the minds of the Republican primary voter.
If they pull it off, it'll be a neat trick. It may be the only formula that doesn't force the candidate to pivot so far to the right to get the nomination that he can kiss the possibility of a win on election day goodbye.