What happened in Wisconsin Tuesday night was not about an election or a politician. It wasn’t about collective bargaining or budget deficits. It was about something far more important and far more intangible. It was about who and what we are as Americans.
The people of Wisconsin had a choice. Would they, and in turn the rest of America, whose eyes were riveted on this small northern state, be a people with their hand constantly extended to the public trough shouting “give me, give me, give me”? Or, as the Tea Party has tried to exemplify, would we become the people pushing the plough, demanding, “give me liberty,” whatever the cost. It was about Barack Obama’s view of America versus the Tea Party’s. And once again, the Tea Party emerged victorious.
Those of us that came into Wisconsin over these past days and weeks joined with other activists in the state to deliver that view of America.
In the last five days, we reached over 125,000 people through door belling and phone banking efforts.
We talked not about elections, but about facts. We remained loyal to principles and not parties or politicians. It's why when we pointed out that the budget measures were not as great a cost as the anti-reform union bosses would have liked America to believe, people listen.
People, of all political persuasions, saw this to be true especially in light of a world view that includes a decimated Greece and collapsing global economy. And, far from being draconian changes, people in Wisconsin understood that state workers were asked to pay just under six percent of their salaries towards benefits, a little over twelve percent to their premiums. They saw those same employees could still collectively bargain for their wages but not for pensions and benefits, which had nearly bankrupted the state.
The reforms transformed Wisconsin’s $3.6 billion dollar deficit into a $154 million surplus. Nowhere was that felt more powerfully than in Wisconsin’s schools. The Kaukauna School District, near Appleton, Wisconsin, had a $400,000 deficit for the upcoming school year and was going to be forced to lay off teachers. By instituting the changes to pension and health care payments, Kaukauna swung to a $1.5 million surplus allowing class sizes to fall and was able to institute over $300,000 in merit pay for teachers.
Tying this type of fiscal reforms to the cause of liberty is never an easy sell, even for the Tea Party, but it’s a connection that must be made and permanently cemented if we are to continue down a path to prosperity.
Without exception, economic freedom is the basis of all political freedom. One’s freedom is directly tied to how indebted and beholden one is to the government. Throw off the yoke of bureaucratic bondage, and freedom and prosperity flourish. Wisconsin proved this. The unemployment rate is down well below the national average to 6.2%, the lowest it’s been since 2008.
It’s interesting then, to return to the Tea Party’s less than illustrious beginnings in light of the Wisconsin success. When the movement began in 2009, many people wrote it off as a bunch of tri-cornered hat nut jobs with some quaint version of a government beholden to its people and the Constitution. Arnold Schwarzenegger (a 2003 California recall interloper) once said the Tea Party was going nowhere. Former House Speaker, California Democrat Rep. Nancy Pelosi famously told America the Tea Party wasn’t really grassroots, but “more of an astroturf movement”.
But the left’s unanswered prayers of the Tea Party’s demise were very evident in Wisconsin. President Clinton and Rev. Jessie Jackson came to Wisconsin on separate days and couldn’t muster 2,000 people combined at their events. Meanwhile, the little Racine Tea Party, in Racine County, whose biggest names were Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Rep. Paul Ryan, turned out a 4,000 plus crowd on the Saturday morning before the recall.
Together, perhaps what went down in Wisconsin on Tuesday took the left by surprise, but it shouldn’t have. Astroturf and the Tea Party share the same characteristic; they both last. And so it seems, does liberty.
Jennifer Stefano is a wife, mother and Tea Party Activist. She is the Pennsylvania state director for Americans for Prosperity and has been in Wisconsin from June 1 through June 6 talking about fiscal reforms. Follow her on Twitter @stefanospeaks.