CBS Declares Wisconsin Union Protests 'Tea Party Movement for the Left'

Discussing the union protests in Wisconsin with political analyst John Dickerson on Monday's CBS Early Show, co-host Chris Wragge noted: "You talk about this being a potential Tea Party movement for the Left." In response, Dickerson proclaimed: "...this is the energizing moment on the Left, progressives and unions have always been together....It's about the threat to their benefits."

It's interesting that Dickerson made a positive comparison to the Tea Party, given that last year he appeared on the Early Show and described how Democrats hoped the conservative movement would "overreach" and become "a stain on the Republican Party." On Monday, he further explained to Wragge how liberals "were a little dispirited, Barack Obama didn't turn out to be the president they had hoped. Well now they're quite energized and it's not about President Obama anymore."

Wragge followed up by transitioning to the federal budget debate and predicting trouble for Republicans: "The GOP-controlled House over the weekend passed a budget calling for $60 billion in cutting from federal programs right there. Do the Republicans run a risk at all of – a real political risk – with such cuts that are going to affect so many millions of people?" While Dickerson acknowledged the importance of the GOP following through on spending cuts, he warned: "...they do run up against the problem if people start to feel the squeeze and the pain the way union workers are feeling it in Wisconsin, that gets them energized and they'll be energized to not like Republicans."

In addition to cheering the supposedly "energized" Left, Dickerson made apocalyptic predictions that the budget-cutting proposal in Wisconsin was the beginning of the end of unions in America: "There are other parts of the Governor's plan there that make it difficult for unions to continue and survive." Wragge added: "You think this could be maybe the first state to fall." Dickerson argued: "...this isn't just about shrinking benefits. It's about whether unions can survive to organize and raise money....what this shows is just how bad it can get when the squeeze comes on. So if in your state it doesn't hit the unions, it's going to hit somebody."

Earlier on the morning show program, correspondent Cynthia Bowers made similar dire warnings about the future of unions: "Pro-union demonstrators worry if Wisconsin cuts public union power, other states will follow suit....And for people outside Wisconsin, who are not familiar with why this battle is so big, unions – private and public – have been a way of life here for generations and many say they can't even begin to imagine life without them."

Neither Dickerson nor Bowers explained that the Wisconsin proposal does not call for the abolishment of any unions.

Here is a full transcript of Dickerson's February 21 exchange with Wragge:

7:12AM ET

CHRIS WRAGGE: Wisconsin may be getting the most attention, but it's not the only state where governors are going head-to-head with unions. Nine other Republican governors, from Nevada to New Jersey, are also trying to get some major concessions from the unions. Additionally, 45 states and the District of Columbia are facing budget shortfalls next year, totaling $125 billion. CBS News political analyst John Dickerson joins us from Washington to talk more about the national implications of the Wisconsin protests. John, good morning to you.

JOHN DICKERSON: Good morning, Chris.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: The Wisconsin Effect; Union Protests Could Spread Nationwide]

WRAGGE: Let me ask you first about the state of Wisconsin. We see that Governor Scott Walker is digging in. We see the Democratic state senators have no intentions of coming back any time soon. How do you see this playing out?

DICKERSON: Well, someone's got to give. The unions have said they'll give a little on these benefits. And – but there is one thing – and it's not just collective bargaining – they worry about their ability to organize and survive. There are other parts of the Governor's plan there that make it difficult for unions to continue and survive. So, somebody's got to give and that might start with Democrats, those Democratic senators actually getting back into the state. But for right now it looks like they're at this impasse.

WRAGGE: Some people may be sitting at home saying, 'Well, it's an interesting story, but it's Wisconsin, if I don't live in the state of Wisconsin, it really doesn't effect me.' But you think this could be maybe the first state to fall and this could affect a number of different people in a number of different states around the nation.

DICKERSON: Well, if you're in a union it matters, because this isn't just about shrinking benefits. It's about whether unions can survive to organize and raise money. If you're not in a union what Wisconsin means is that, as you mention, there are 45 other states with budget deficits. And what this shows is just how bad it can get when the squeeze comes on. So if in your state it doesn't hit the unions, it's going to hit somebody.

WRAGGE: You talk about this being a potential Tea Party movement for the Left. What did you exactly mean by that?

DICKERSON: Well, the Tea Party always existed within the Republican Party. But they had an energizing moment. And this is the energizing moment on the Left, progressives and unions have always been together. They were very energized in 2006, and in 2008. In 2010 they were a little dispirited, Barack Obama didn't turn out to be the president they had hoped. Well now they're quite energized and it's not about President Obama anymore. It's about the threat to their benefits.

WRAGGE: Let me talk about the GOP for a second. The GOP-controlled House over the weekend passed a budget calling for $60 billion in cutting from federal programs right there. Do the Republicans run a risk at all of – a real political risk – with such cuts that are going to affect so many millions of people?

DICKERSON: Well, their first risk would be if they didn't pass such cuts because the Tea Party backers who sent them to Washington want to see them deliver. And so they've been able to do that. But in the long-term, yes, they do run up against the problem if people start to feel the squeeze and the pain the way union workers are feeling it in Wisconsin, that gets them energized and they'll be energized to not like Republicans. But those big cuts are not likely to pass, of course, because the Democrats control the Senate, and the President wouldn't sign such cuts into law.

WRAGGE: Let me talk about the President for one quick second. He got himself involved in this situation on Friday by calling this 'an assault on the unions,' what's going on in Wisconsin right now. Was it a smart move for the President to get involved?

DICKERSON: Well, he's trying to walk a fine line here and White House officials say this is the only thing the President said and they say, 'We don't expect him to say more here.' He's trying to say, 'Everybody should sacrifice, but this is extra a little, they're asking union workers to do a little bit more.' But the President, no, doesn't want to get involved in this. He doesn't want to become the national union boss. So he probably won't say much more about this.

WRAGGE: Alright. John Dickerson in Washington for us this morning. John, thank you very much.

DICKERSON: Thanks, Chris.

— Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC