By George Will
I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up. No sir, Not I, Not me, So there!
– “Peter Pan” the musical, 1954
WAUWATOSA, Wis. — This state, the first to let government employees unionize, was an incubator of progressivism and gave birth (in 1932 in Madison, the precursor of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) to its emblematic institution, the government employees union — government organized as a special interest to lobby itself to expand itself. But Wisconsin progressivism is in a dark Peter Pan phase; it is childish without being winsome.
Wisconsin has produced populists of the left (Robert La Follette) and right (Joe McCarthy). On Tuesday, in this year’s second-most important election, voters will judge the attempt by a populism of the privileged — white-collar labor unions whose members live comfortably above the American median — to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
In this Milwaukee suburb, a pro-Walker phone bank is conducting mobilization, not persuasion. Is any voter undecided? For 16 months, Wisconsin, normally a paragon of Midwestern neighborliness, has been riven by furious attempts to punish Walker for keeping his campaign promise to change the state’s unsustainable fiscal trajectory driven by the perquisites of government employees. His progressive adversaries have, however, retreated from their original pretext for attempting to overturn the election Walker won handily just 19 months ago.
He defeated Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee. A recall is a gubernatorial election, and the Democrats’ May primary was won by … Barrett.
In 2010, government employees unions campaigned against Walker’s “5 and 12″ plan. It requires government employees to contribute 5.8 percent of their pay to their pension plans. (Most were paying less than 1 percent. Most private-sector workers have no pensions; those who do pay, on average, much more than 5.8 percent.) Walker’s reform requires government employees to pay 12.6 percent of their health care premiums (up from 6 percent but still less than the 21 percent private-sector average). Defeated in 2010, the unions now are demanding, as frustrated children do after losing a game, “Let’s start over!”