Better off how? If Wisconsin's Democratic legislators had sat still and let the bill pass, the majority of public employees in Wisconsin would have lost their collective bargaining rights without a fight.
Public sector unions are key Democratic allies and Walker's bill contains the seeds of their destruction. Not only would the unions lose the right to bargain over anything but salary, they would also face re-certification votes. We can only assume that members will be less enthusiastic about paying dues to a union that has lost most of its negotiating power.
The Democratic legislators and organized labor realized the obvious. When would you rather fight a union-gutting bill? Before it passes, or after the unions, your key allies, have already been gutted?
Politico quoted a "top labor official" worrying that if the protests fail to produce results this time, "it opens [the gates] in every state." [HuffPo]
Conceding without a fight opens up the gates in every state, too. In fact, preemptive surrender makes union-busting painless. There are plenty of union-hating governors out there. But how many union-hating governors would be prepared to see their state capitols overrun by tens of thousands of protesters for over a week, and their entire legislative agenda stalled indefinitely?
In an interview with The Huffington Post, David "Mudcat" Saunders, a longtime Democratic political strategist known for his work with blue-collar voters, had a different take. Rather than worrying about floodgates bursting open, he argued that the best public relations move for the Democrats would have been to simply let Walker's bill pass and then demonize it.
"Sometimes the best punch you can throw is to let somebody throw theirs first," Saunders said. "I would have debated it forever, as long as I could have kept it going, and I would have voted against it. Let the Republicans have their way and then work on getting the state house back and the governor's mansion. But a protest, that can only work so long." [HuffPo, emphasis added.]
If I may summarize:
Step 1. Let someone hit you in the face. Sustain massive craniofacial injuries.
Step 2. ???
Step 3. Profit.
[Photo credit: Derek Blackadder.]