In evaluating the battle over public sector unions in Wisconsin, it's worth considering for a moment the state of American unionism. It's not a pretty picture, as far as unions are concerned.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the precentage of Americans belonging to unions fell to 11.9 percent from 12.3 percent a year earlier. And only one out of 10 non-union workers reports any desire to unionize.
And the percentage is much lower if you only look at the private sector -- just 7 percent of the private sector workforce is unionized. Last year, for the first time, the number of public sector union members outnumbered union workers in the private sector.
Depending on how you want to slice and dice the numbers, it's very possible that significantly more Americans are unemployed right now than are members of unions. And yet, the White House is deeply concerned that some Republicans may want public sector employees to -- quell the horror! -- actually contribute part of their paycheck towards their health insurance benefits like every other American.
GOP politicians across the country, such as Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, actually campaigned on issues such as reining in public sector unions, which have long impeded necessary government reforms. What's more, after campaigning on the need for public sector union reform -- and Walker was explicit about it -- the Republican Party had the biggest electoral landslide seen by either party in over 60 years.
The public is well aware that unions have leveraged those bargaining rights to generate outrageous benefits, salaries, privileges, and job security to the point where states are bankrupt. California owes more in unfunded public pension liabilities than the gross national product of Saudi Arabia.
So why does the Democratic Party think this issue is a winner for them? It's not about winning hearts and minds. It is about straight up payback. In case one needs reminding, the single largest supplier of campaign cash last year was the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. One union gave Democrats a whopping $87.5 million. AFSCME's head of political operations even told the Wall Street Journal, "We're the big dog ... But we don't like to brag."
So in other words, the biggest campaign donor in American politics is trying to influence politicians by essentially recycling tax dollars in the form of union dues taken from the salaries of goverment workers. The inherrent conflict of interest is so brazen that even FDR was opposed to public sector unionism on principle.
In total, unions spent in excess of $400 million electing Barack Obama in 2008. If the Obama campaign wants to raise $1 billion for the 2012 campaign, they're going to have to do everything they can to get unions on board.
So here's the Wisconsin public sector union showdown in a nutshell: A newly-elected GOP governor is trying to rein in a special interest by enacting reforms that he explicitly campaigned on.
And the Obama administration is siding with the special interest.