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Linguist George Lakoff has a terrific essay up at The Berkeley Blog on the Wisconsin standoff, in which he dissects the underlying issues involved in Gov. Walker's attempt to eviscerate public sector unions and highlights a bit of history I was unaware of.

When Abraham Lincoln was an Illinois state senator, the future president and his then-Whig colleagues found themselves in a situation similar to today's Wisconsin Democratic senators --

On December 5, 1840, Democrats “proposed an early adjournment, knowing this would bring a speedy end to the State Bank. The Whigs tried to counter by leaving the capitol building before the vote, but the doors were locked. That’s when Lincoln made his move. He headed for the second story, opened a window and jumped to the ground!

Lincoln would be, and we all should be, proud that the Wisconsin state senators have courageously crossed the state line to Illinois to avoid a quorum in Wisconsin that would have a disastrous effect, not only on Wisconsin, but on America for the indefinite future.


Lakoff uses the story to underscore the importance of quorum calls to legislative democracy.

Quorum rules are an inherent part of democracy. They are in the Wisconsin Constitution for a reason. When an extreme move by a legislative majority would be a disaster, patriotic legislators can, like Lincoln, refuse to allow the disaster.... That is their democratic duty, not only to their constituents, but to the nation.

That is why I think these legislators should be called the “Lincoln Legislators” as a term of honor. They understand that their courage is being called upon, not just in the name of collective bargaining rights, but in the name of protecting democracy from a total conservative takeover. The Lincoln story, and the greater good story, should be in the media every day. And Democrats nationwide should be hailing the courage, and vital importance, of those legislators.

Yet the media keeps reporting on them as “fleeing” and refusing to do their jobs....

I think it is perfectly appropriate to dub the Wisconsin Democratic state senators as "Lincoln Legislators."  Lincoln identified his responsibility to block a Jacksonian quorum as a principled action, not an abdication of responsibility.  Modern Republicans necessarily must face the proposition that the first president of their party did exactly what Wisconsin's senators are doing today to prevent the enactment of rash public policy.

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