Running away from work to do your job

Even from far away across the great undefended frontier in Canada, I have for the past month been following the events in Wisconsin with more interest than I typically grant political matters. Partly this is curiosity, partly personal interest (my mother-in-law is a public school teacher in the state), and partly this story is more gripping — and more appalling — than anything I have seen in the public arena in a long while.

I will not attempt to engage this debate in any comprehensive and substantive fashion here — I think we all know by now that is not my bailiwick — but there is one aspect of the ongoing impasse that has been much decried in the blogosphere that I would like to comment briefly upon: the self-imposed exile of the Democratic minority from the state senate.

I am sincerely curious: if the situation were reversed — if a Democrat-controlled bicameral state legislature, with the avid support of a Democrat govenor, high off the euphoria of a sweeping electoral change of power, rapidly introduced legislation mandating, say, tax-payer-funded abortion clinics in high schools — and the only means remaining for the Republican minority in one of the legislative bodies was to remove themselves physically from the state to deny a quorum and keep the legislation from proceeding: how many conservative Catholic bloggers out there would be deploring their lack of responsibility? How many would be railing that they need to stop behaving like children or drama-queens and get back to work? Would the Catholic commentariat prefer that, in such a situation, they stand by and let the legislation pass, despite their absolute conviction of its wrongness, and hope for the best down the road?

I didn’t think so. And I want to make absolutely clear right now that I am in no way implying a moral equivalence to the questions of abortion and labor rights; I am merely trying to demonstrate that the judgments of dereliction of duty that are being leveled against the state senators from Wisconsin are undeniably partisan. These persons are not running away from their jobs: their job is to represent the interests of their constituents, and they are doing so in about the only manner available to them under these circumstances. Procedural rules exist for good reason, and minority segments in a representative body should not be vilified for making use of every nuance of them to stand in the way of what they see as aggressive, partisan action by the majority. Such options should not be abused, certainly, but I think the situation is the Badger State is clearly a case of last resort, not of grandstanding.

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