In a surprising move Sunday, the folks at ABC invited a Tea Partier to participate in its Roundtable segment on "This Week."
Rather than bringing on three liberals to battle lone conservative George Will while predictably presenting exclusively labor's side of the budget battle in Wisconsin, host Christiane Amanpour included freshman Congressman Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) to match wits with ABC's Jon Karl and Democrat strategist Donna Brazile (video follows with transcript and commentary):
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Some of what I've heard coming out of Wisconsin, where you're just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain generally, seems like more of an assault on unions. And I think it's very important for us to understand that public employees, they're our neighbors, they're our friends. They make a lot of sacrifices and make a big contribution. And I think it's important not to vilify them or to suggest that somehow all these budget problems are due to public employees.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, HOST: President Obama igniting a national conversation about which Americans should feel the pain of the budget axe. With pitched battles going on right now here in Washington and in statehouses from Florida to Wisconsin to California, with me now, our roundtable, George Will, Congressman Steve Southerland, a Republican freshman from Florida, he was elected to public office for the very first time last November and sent here to Washington on a mission to cut spending. Also with us, ABC senior political correspondent Jonathan Karl and political strategist Donna Brazile, who calls herself a labor Democrat.
Thank you all for being here. So, George, Wisconsin. Is this the sort of battle that we're going to see shaping up around the country? Is this really the sort of political and philosophical debate that's going on right now about what these cuts are going to mean?
Will was obviously ready for the question, and proceeded to smack the ball right out of the park:
GEORGE WILL, ABC: It would have been even if the president hadn't intervened. But in the span of three days, Christiane, he first submits a budget that would increase the federal deficit and, two days later, he mobilizes his party, his own political machine, and organized labor, which is an appendage to his party, to sabotage Wisconsin's attempt to do what he will not do, which is deal with the insolvency of their government. In doing so, he has set the stage for 2012 by saying the Democratic Party is the party of government, not just in having an exaggerated view of the scope and competence of government, but because its base is in public employees.
Indeed. In roughly 40 seconds, Will perfectly laid out the hypocrisy of today's Democrat Party and the media that support them.
Like the federal government, Wisconsin has a budget crisis. Unlike the federal government, Wisconsin's executive and legislative branches are legitimately trying to solve their deficit.
Rather than support this effort, the President, his Party, his operatives, and his media have attacked Wisconsin's governor and Congress for doing what the people of that state elected them to do.
Guess which side the Democrat strategist on the panel took:
AMANPOUR: So, Donna, mobilizing his troops, sabotaging the effort to cut the budget, he did use the word "assault," the president. Is that too much? I mean, what is going on here?
DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRAT STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, they're entering day seven of the protests. And my recollection is that President Obama commented on it in day four of the protest. So the fact is, is that this is a grassroots movement that had nothing to do with people or politicians in Washington, D.C. This has everything to do with the workers there in Wisconsin and all across the country who are feeling the effects of these draconian budget cuts.
Look, state and local workers have taken the brunt of a lot of these cuts. And they're willing to come to the table to talk to the governor to put forward more wage cuts, more pension -- pay up more money for their pension, more for their health care. Why won't the government sit down with them? That's all they want. They want the governor to sit down with them, to talk about these items, but they want their collective bargaining right, their voice at the table removed from the discussion.
AMANPOUR: Is this a defining moment for -- for the labor movement?
BRAZILE: Absolutely. Look, union membership is at an all-time low over the previous 20-year high. This is an assault on workers across the country. And people believe that they're using the pretense of a budget battle to destroy collective bargaining rights.
Brazile perfectly expressed the position of the Left and their media minions: "This is an assault on workers across the country. And people believe that they're using the pretense of a budget battle to destroy collective bargaining rights."
Indeed, that's what we've been hearing from the liberal media since the protests began. Fortunately, and quite surprisingly, an elected Tea Party official was in the studio to counter Brazile's nonsense:
AMANPOUR: So, Representative Southerland, a freshman to this process, is this about fiscal responsibility? Or what is happening? Because it's happening in your state, as well.
REP. STEVE SOUTHERLAND (R-FLORIDA): It is. And as you know, with nearly all of the states requiring a balanced budget amendment, they don't have any choice. The governors have to balance their budget. I know our own governor, Governor Scott, we see similar measures being taken in the state of Florida.
And I think you're seeing this in New Jersey, you're seeing this in Wisconsin, so I think that, because they're bound by that limit of a balanced budget -- which I am in favor of at the federal level -- I think that you're going to see this around the country.
You -- look, the American family is learning they have to do more with less. And the same expectation, I think, is fair of the governments, both state and federal.
Exactly. People across the fruited plain have been sacrificing to make ends meet since the financial collapse in 2008. To prevent added tax burden to be applied to such folks, governments must make cuts of their own:
AMANPOUR: And, Jon, is it just about the budget? Or is Madison, Wisconsin, have a bigger political implication?
KARL: Oh, it clearly has a bigger political implication. Look, the president was quicker and more forceful in his denouncement of Governor Scott Walker than he was of in denouncing Hosni Mubarak. I mean, this happened, it was more forceful, it was quicker.
Yes it was. This very fact should be offensive to media members rather than applauded. The idea that a president is attacking a governor trying to solve his state's problems should be railed against by the press.
But much as we saw with Arizona's anti-illegal immigration bill last year, so-called journalists will gleefully support a president injecting himself into state politics when it fits their agenda:
KARL: Madison, Wisconsin, the state of Wisconsin, this is arguably ground zero for the 2012 presidential campaign. Look, this is a state that if President Obama loses, he almost certainly is going to not win re-election. This is a state that's been solidly Democratic and (inaudible) more in the direction of Republicans, a bigger move than any other state in 2010.
I mean, look what happened. You saw the Republicans capture the governorship, capture the state legislature, two House seats, a Senate seat, and, you know, Democrats see the momentum and see real danger signs for next year.
Yes, and there was a reason why Republicans captured the governorship and the legislature in Wisconsin:
WILL: Governor Walker was elected promising to do what he's doing. He did the same thing as county executive in Milwaukee, where he was -- there were protests, union uprisings, and he was handily re- elected.
Exactly. And here was something else media members ignored all week:
WILL: Donna, as I'm sure you know, such heroes of the labor movement as Franklin Roosevelt and Fiorello La Guardia said there's no place in the public sector for unionization at all. As I'm sure you know, 24 states limit or deny entirely collective bargaining rights for public- sector unions. And all Mr. Scott is planning to do is limit collective bargaining to wages. What is draconian about that?
BRAZILE: Well, what these workers would like, George, since they've already given up furloughs, paid leave, unpaid leave, what they would like is -- is to have a voice at the table. They don't want their collective bargaining rights.
And, look, what we're talking about is that the governor has cherry-picked what public workers he will subject to this so-called removal of their collective bargaining rights. The firefighters, the policemen and others who supported him in his election bid, well, guess what? They don't have to worry about their collective bargaining rights.
Brazile, though not a media member per se, was surely acting like one by repeating a lie the press have been reporting since this budget battle began.
As NewsBusters noted Friday, CBS's Chris Wagge made this same accusation to Walker on that morning's "Early Show." Here was Walker's response:
GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER (R-WISCONSIN): Chris that actually is not true. There are 314 fire and police unions in the state. Four of them endorsed me. All the rest endorsed my opponent.
I guess Brazile missed that interview, but I digress:
BRAZILE: Christiane, over 400,000 state and local employees have lost their jobs over -- during the -- the duration of the recession. They are willing -- what we've seen across the country is, these workers are willing to come to the table to talk to these governors about reducing the -- the budget deficit, but not on the backs of working people.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, because you brought up, George, when the governor was the county executive in Milwaukee. And there's an interesting story today. It -- it boils down, perhaps, as some might say, to sort of shared sacrifice. Where is the sacrifice going to be borne the most? And is it equitable?
I just want to ask you, you know, the articles talks about the layoffs that the governor had announced back then, in 2003, quote, "decimated" the country's public parks, the staff, reduced the number of county social workers, correction officers, janitors. As a result, park bathrooms shuttered, pools closed, and trash piled up so high. I mean, does it get to a point where too much is too much or not?
WILL: And he's re-elected.
AMANPOUR: That was my next question.
WILL: The public liked what he did.
AMANPOUR: OK. All right, well, that's the answer.
BRAZILE: They liked what he did in one county. But what you see today is an organic movement. Just like the Tea Party went out there and grabbed the microphone, what you have is grassroots people out there saying, "No more," no more budget cuts on the back of working people. The governor has proposed tax giveaways to corporations. I know he campaigned on that...
Now watch Amanpour actually counter Brazile:
AMANPOUR: ... but people like Representative Southerland came here to -- to make those massive cuts.
Exactly. In January 2007 and again in January 2009, Americans were told that elections have consequences. Unfortunately, since January 2011, the Left and their media minions have changed their view on this.
But this segment wasn't over, for the Tea Partier was about to expose another inconvenient truth the press have been ignoring about Wisconsin:
SOUTHERLAND: And -- and let me say this about working people. You know, that's not just federal employees. I mean, I come from a small business, and 40 percent of the jobs lost in this recession came from small business, which makes up 85 percent of our economy.
So, you know, and I look at the retirement benefits and the benefit packages that most small businesses offer to their employees, and they pale in comparison to -- to many of the federal programs that federal employees have the benefit of. So, you know, I think many people that work in small businesses are depending upon their Social Security as their retirement.
Exactly. The press all last week made it seem that this is just about public employees. What they've missed is that these public employees are paid by the rest of the people in America.
They work for us, not the other way around.
And if the citizens of a state have concluded their taxes are high enough and they want their elected officials to trim the budget that is made up of taxes they pay, then that's what their elected officials should do without interference from the federal government or the media:
WILL: Donna, what you call the grassroots is a tiny minority of this tiny minority of Wisconsin people who work for the government. Three hundred thousand public employees in Wisconsin went to work -- while the teachers were clutching their little signs that say it's all about the kids, they're abandoning their classrooms, lying to their supervisors, saying they were sick, and going off to protest in defense of perquisites, which if the governor cuts them as much as he plans to do, would still leave them better off than their private sector...
Exactly. But Brazile predictably wasn't having any of it and instead toed labor's line completely:
BRAZILE: But why should workers bear the brunt of this recession? Why are we scapegoating just public-sector employees when, in fact, the -- the folks on Wall Street and others who caused this recession, George, they're enjoying huge bonuses. Bankers are not lending to small businesses, which is why we're not creating the kind of jobs that we need. But we're trying to balance the budgets on the backs of the poor and the middle class, and that's why workers are standing up for their rights.
Balancing the budget on the backs of the poor and the middle class? Wisconsin's MacIver Institute reported a year ago that the average Milwaukee public school teacher's total compensation when benefits are included is over $100,000.
And exactly what do Wall Street and banks have to do with a state trying to balance its budget?
AMANPOUR: And do you think, though, that as some have said this is just an opportunity for union-busting?
SOUTHERLAND: Well, you know, I'm not sure if -- if that is -- if that is the focus.
AMANPOUR: I mean, some are saying that. But do you think...
SOUTHERLAND: I want to say something about, you know, Donna's comments.
BRAZILE: Now, remember, you're a freshman.
SOUTHERLAND: I remember. I remember. But let me say this...
BRAZILE: And I'm your first woman on national TV, other than Christiane. Now, be careful.
So because he's a freshman member of Congress, and she's a woman, Southerland has to be careful with what he says? What kind of nonsense was that?
Fortunately, Southerland was not intimidated:
SOUTHERLAND: But I'm not a freshman at -- at -- at running our small business. And you talk about bankers lending. You know, community banks are being hammered, you know, because they're coming in, they're being taken over. They -- they can't -- they can't loan money, OK? You can't get appraisals. You look at the thrift and how they're coming in and capturing the small banks, and the small banks in our communities are -- are -- are critical to the flavor of our communities. We can't get capital. So I think -- and that's a regulation issue.
BRAZILE: ... Congress should address.
KARL: But, clearly -- clearly, what Walker is going...
SOUTHERLAND: I think we will.
KARL: I mean, Walker is going right at the public employee unions. And part of it's because of that experience he had in 2003. He has said that he wouldn't have had to make all those cuts if he could have gotten a better deal with concessions.
AMANPOUR: And it's not just Republican governors. It's -- it's some Democrats, as well. Mario Cuomo and others are having to...
KARL: But one of the things he's doing is he's saying...
BRAZILE: Andrew. Andrew.
KARL: Yeah, don't do that. One of the things that he's doing is saying that no longer will union dues be automatically taken out of public employee paychecks, so the unions would have to go out and collect those dues. This is something that's going right at the heart not necessarily of the union employees, but the union leadership.
BRAZILE: But the unions want to come to the table.
WILL: Because they know what happens.
BRAZILE: They want to come to the table, George. They've got 12 percent. They say, here, we want to contribute 12 percent. We want to give you $30 billion for this fiscal year, which ends on June 30th, and over the next two years, $300 million in concessions. Now, you don't walk away from the table or you don't come to the bargaining table when labor is ready to negotiate.
Yes, they're coming to the table now because they see the handwriting on the wall. The people of Wisconsin voted in November for exactly what Walker and the Republicans in the legislature are doing, and despite what the protesters are saying, union leaders realize it is they that are in a corner with few options at their disposal.
Not as important but of some consequence to this discussion, thanks to fabulous guest management by "This Week" producers, viewers on Sunday were treated to a tremendously fair and balanced debate about the issues facing Wisconsin.
I've said in the past that such panels should always be equally stocked with liberals and conservatives, and this program was a perfect example.