The head of one of the nation's most powerful labor unions did not condemn the violent rhetoric in placards and signs held by union supporters demonstrating in Wisconsin despite two direct attempts Sunday to get him on the record declaring them inappropriate.
On several occasions over the past two weeks of demonstrations in the Wisconsin capital of Madison news media have zeroed in on signs that liken Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and recently ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Appearing Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka was twice asked whether he found the tone at the nearly two-week long demonstrations "wrong" or "inappropriate."
Trumka did not answer, instead saying, "We should be sitting down trying to create jobs. ... In Wisconsin, a vast majority of the people think this governor has overreached. His popularity has gone down. They're saying to him, sit down and negotiate; don't do what you've been doing. So he's losing."
Turning to Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a staunch Walker defender and potential Republican presidential candidate in 2012, Trumka added, "If that's the argument you're going to do this year and next year, it's a loser."
Barbour, who was then challenged by another panelist on the show as fearing democracy, responded that the 2010 election showed that Wisconsin voters wanted a Republican legislature and executive branch that pledged to get the budget in check. He then described a similar effort in Indiana.
"In Indiana, this was done six years ago by the governor. It has been very popular. Nobody put (Gov.) Mitch Daniels' picture with a crosshair over his face like they're doing in Wisconsin. You know, if Sarah Palin did that, it would be the world coming to an end," Barbour said, referring to the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate who has become a lightning rod for Democratic criticism.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., who also appeared on the show, said he rejected the allusions to Hitler and violence as inappropriate.
"Absolutely. It's inappropriate. It should be condemned, not only by people close to the governor but by those of us who are observers. I think that's something that we've got to squash in this country. We've come to a point in this government discussion where, you know, one side says anything goes to get my point across. And I think it would be certainly something that I would condemn," Cleaver said.
But immediately following those remarks, Cleaver,, who is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Walker's position that Democrats come home from Illinois in order to cast a losing vote is not acceptable and suggested the Wisconsin governor was leading more like Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi than an elected official.
"When the lion and the lamb lie down, if you look closely, when the lion gets up, the lamb is missing. ... The governor was just elected. He'll still be governor in a year. And, you know, the agreements that we have were not made by Qaddafi. They were made by people who sat down in a room and worked out an agreement.
"And I think labor unions are saying, and public-sector employees are saying, 'OK, you know, maybe things have gotten out of balance; we'll -- we'll reduce some things.' The governor is saying, 'I don't care -- you know, I want to crush the union.'"