Scott Walker Very Well Could Believe Protesters Are Like Terrorists

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker provoked a geyser of denunciations Feb. 26, when he told the Conservative Political Action Conference in a presidential pre-campaign speech that he was qualified to take on ISIS because “if I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.”

“To compare Wisconsin citizens who are peacefully disagreeing with your policies to a terrorist organization known for gruesome beheadings is reprehensible and disgusting,” the state AFL-CIO responded. Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, whose Council 24 represents state workers, demanded an apology, saying Walker had insulted the public-service workers who’d actually responded to the 9/11 attacks, including Father Mychal Judge, the New York Fire Department chaplain killed when the World Trade Center collapsed.

“If Scott Walker sees 100,000 teachers & firefighters as his enemies, maybe it’s time we take a closer look at his friends,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) posted on Twitter Feb. 28. And the Internet buzzed with Photoshopped memes juxtaposing kaffiyeh-masked men with Madison’s most grandmotherly-looking demonstrators. Even the National Review Online criticized Walker, with writer Jim Geraghty saying the governor didn’t understand the complexity of taking on terrorists around the globe, and had insulted the protesters, “a group I take no pleasure in defending…. But they’re not ISIS. They’re not beheading innocent people. They’re Americans, and as much as we may find their ideas, worldview, and perspective spectacularly wrongheaded, they don’t deserve to be compared to murderous terrorists.”

Walker quickly denied that he’d compared the protesters to ISIS, claiming that he was actually touting his toughness and leadership skills. “What the governor was saying was when faced with adversity he chooses strength and leadership,” a spokesperson told National Review Online. “’If I were to run and if I were to win and be commander-in-chief, I believe that kind of leadership is what’s necessary to take on radical Islamic terrorism,” Walker told Fox News three days later. That “leadership” is Walker’s main selling point as a presidential hopeful, however. Without his ruthlessness toward workers, he’d be the relatively unknown governor of a mid-size Midwestern state.

He didn’t just drive a hard bargain with state employees when he took office in 2011, he obliterated their rights to collective bargaining. He’s now going after private-sector workers, with the Wisconsin legislature on its way to passing a “right to work for less” bill to ban the union shop. National Review Online’s news story on the speech, headlined “Walker Thrills a Packed House at CPAC,” hailed him precisely for comparing protesting workers to ISIS: “And he pointed to his 2011 face-off with public-employee unions as preparing him for these sorts of situations,” it said. The Daily Caller Web site defended him on the same grounds, asking, “Is it really absurd for Walker to suggest that—just as he was courageous in standing up to the unions—he might also be courageous in standing up to other foes?” The CPAC event wasn’t the first time Walker used this riff, either. Earlier last month, when Walker became the second Republican presidential hopeful to appear before the Committee to Unleash American Prosperity in New York—a group cofounded by Steve Forbes and Arthur Laffer that believes in “limited government spending,” “the lightest possible economic regulations,” and abolishing the progressive income tax—fellow cofounder Lawrence Kudlow lauded it. “Noteworthy, Walker argued that when Reagan fired the PATCO air-traffic controllers over their illegal strike, he was sending a message of toughness to Democrats and unions at home as well as our Soviet enemies abroad,” Kudlow wrote. “Similarly, Walker believes his stance against unions in Wisconsin would be a signal of toughness to Islamic jihadists and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.” Those statements went largely unnoticed, however, as they were overshadowed by former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s remark that he doesn’t believe that President Barack Obama “loves America.”

In his own worldview, Walker likely does believe that protesters are analogous to ISIS. On a pragmatic, Machiavellian level, the union members who packed the state capitol demonstrating against his 2011 bill gutting their collective-bargaining rights were an enemy to be crushed by any means necessary that didn’t bring excessive bad publicity. That was imperative to ensure that more money would flow to his billionaire backers and to undermine the organized power of workers opposing that. On a moral level, Walker likely sees protesters as sociopaths. If the invisible hand of the market is the hand of God, ordaining a perfect economic order, then workers who demand a legitimate living instead of submitting to being choked by that invisible hand are the moral equivalent of terrorists. They have radically different values. They are godless heretics who reject the moral legitimacy of the established order, and thus are amoral beasts capable of any devilish deed. I suspect these are both fairly common attitudes among the powerful when it comes to protesters. It would explain the massive paramilitary presence at many large demonstrations over the last 15 years, as well as New York Police Commissioner William Bratton’s recent proposal to have protests policed by the same machine-gun-armed special squad that would respond to attacks by al-Qaeda or ISIS.