The Wisconsin budget crunch was once an issue worth debating—but Scott Walker has made it about much more than money, writes Gail Collins in a New York Times conversation with David Brooks. Now, “it’s about crushing enemies. Unions. Government programs. Abortion.” Brooks is more sympathetic to the governor but finds some fault: "He’s right about the budget issues and the need to restrain pensions, but he’s done it in such a way as to force everybody into polarized camps. ... See how quickly budget issues turn into culture wars?” Trouble is, “that’s the road to gridlock.”
“We have to keep in mind that these issues are ultimately about money,” Brooks notes, because “things will turn rotten as we start to see this as a holy war.” Collins feels that’s already happened: this looks like an “effort by the Republican right—notably the Koch brothers—to destroy the political clout of organized labor,” the last bastion against corporations run amok. (Brooks doesn't agree that public-sector unions are all that innocent.) So what can we do? Stay sane by engaging “with sane people” on the other side, advises Brooks. Because ”if you engage with barbarians,” you’ll become one too.