In political debates, emotion trumps intellect. If your side can offer evidence that evokes an immediate visceral response in the audience, you win. That’s why a “picture is worth a thousand words.”
The best arguments are emotionally powerful but also supported by logic and reason. A good example of this is the Civil Rights Movement. Strong arguments for freedom and equality were teamed with powerful images of lynchings and non-violent protesters being beaten.
Conversely, strong intellectual arguments can be easily undermined by images of something that resonates emotionally, like an antiwar protest featuring some yahoo burning an American flag. Ideally you don’t want the visuals to detract from or confuse the message. When that happens you have “bad optics.”
What’s going on in Wisconsin is filled with bad optics for the Democrats and the teachers unions.
First of all is the basic cause. The Cheesehead teachers are pissed about the deal the new Republican governor is trying to force down their throats. They would have to take a cut in pay, plus pay more for their retirement and health insurance. But the teachers have a PATCO problem:
Walker, you might have heard, wants some changes in how Wisconsin deals with unions. He wants state employees to pay 5.8% of their salaries toward their pensions (they pay almost nothing now) and he wants them to cover 12.6% of their health care premiums (their share would go up from $79 a month to about $200; the average private-sector sap pays about $330).
It’s really hard to get the proles to rally to your cause when the deal you are rejecting would leave you are better off than the proles. It is even harder when the proles pay your salary.
That brings us to the second problem. This is a government employees union. Not everyone sees them in quite the same light that they see a traditional union. Even FDR saw them differently:
“The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service,” Roosevelt wrote in 1937 to the National Federation of Federal Employees. Yes, public workers may demand fair treatment, wrote Roosevelt. But, he wrote, “I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place” in the public sector. “A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government.”
Wisconsin, like many states, prohibits government workers from striking. So the teachers have been calling in sick. But whether it’s a strike or a sick-out, how does that look to someone who wants their kids educated and who has to scramble to find day care because their kids’ school is closed?
How clueless are some people on our side? Check out Karoli at Crooks and Liars:
Fox News broke this bulletin about an hour ago. It stems from a video posted by the MacIver Institute Wisconsin alleging that a doctor is signing bogus excuses for teachers protesting in Madison. Because it is illegal for teachers to strike, they called in sick and have been told they will have to produce a valid doctors excuse in order to be excused for their absences.
So isn’t it interesting that a right-wing organization would produce a news report saying such excuses are fabricated? Usually, the way this works is that part of the final negotiation also forgives the days missed for protests, by the way, so this is ginned up nonsense from the start.
Shorter karoli: “Forget about the fact that there actually are some doctors handing out bogus excuses, the important thing is THE PEOPLE WHO ARE REPORTING IT ARE RIGHT-WINGERS!”
Then there is a basic structural problem. Right now the protesters are screaming about democracy and calling the governor a dictator, but the fact is that the Democratic legislators are on the lam, hiding out in Illinois to prevent a quorum. If they aren’t present there can’t be a vote.
So the minority is trying to prevent a vote so they won’t lose. That doesn’t seem very democratic, does it?
Don’t get me wrong – I’m sympathetic with the union. But I’m watching this and thinking “You guys are screwing this up.”