On Tuesday, Gov. Scott Walker announced he would give a fireside chat to address the pandemonium surrounding his controversial budget repair bill: the teacher walkouts, the mass protests at the Capitol, the across-the-border flight of Democratic senators who want to preserve collective bargaining rights for Wisconsin's public employees. Walker's use of President Franklin Roosevelt's phrase suggested that, like FDR, he would try bring an anxious citizenry together.
But, with civil war erupting around him, the governor declined to play the role of peacemaker. Walker made a feint toward magnanimity at the beginning of his speech: He proclaimed his "great respect for those who've chosen a career in government" and claimed to have made changes to his budget bill in response to their concerns. But he quickly signaled that he had no intention of addressing their real concern, the preservation of collective bargaining rights.
Walker quoted a message he'd received from a Wausau parent who's in favor of "everyone paying for their benefits, the way I have to." He also referred to a laid-off Janesville factory worker who wonders why "everyone else has to sacrifice except those in government."
Walker made no mention of the concessions public employees have made during the recession. He also failed to acknowledge that the unions have agreed to his proposed increases in their benefit payments.
The barbs continued as Walker referred to the Democratic senators "hiding out in another state." As for the protesters, he denied their legitimacy by painting them as, increasingly, outsiders "from Nevada, Chicago and elsewhere." "This is a decision that Wisconsin will make," he said.
Walker didn't smile during his fireside chat, and given his reluctance to be conciliatory, I don't foresee many smiles from Wisconsin Democrats over the next four years.