School shutdowns, thousands of public workers packed shoulder to shoulder at the Capitol, legislators on the lam - this should give Wisconsin pause. This should force us to reassess where we are as a state and where we want to go.
The chaos we're experiencing in Wisconsin is simply the extreme manifestation of politics as usual.
It's like a well-rehearsed play: All the actors know their lines by heart. There are universal class and culture conflicts. Heck, there's even a villain for the throngs of angry, pro-union demonstrators to vilify.
But what will the big finish be?
More chaos and illegal strikes? Children out of school for even longer? The National Guard securing our prisons because correction officers bolt?
We propose a reasonable compromise instead - a happy ending, if you will - that gives Walker most everything he wants and needs, but not forever.
Walker and the GOP-controlled Legislature should sunset their big changes to collective bargaining rights for public sector unions in July 2013, which is when the next state budget ends.
That way, Walker and local government leaders across Wisconsin can require public employees to pay 5.8 percent of their salaries toward pensions and 12.6 percent of their health care premiums.
Those are reasonable steps to help Walker and Co. fix the state's chronic budget mess that the Democrats, when they were in charge, allowed to fester for far too long.
This isn't a new idea. Republican Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, told the State Journal last week he was working on this alternative. He would still stop public employees from collectively bargaining on pensions and health care costs, but only until mid-2013.
Those rights would then be restored, with higher employee contributions for pensions and health insurance as the new base, or starting point, for future union contract negotiations.
It took guts for Schultz to step forward with his idea. And it will take courage for Walker and union leaders to agree.
But leadership isn't easy, and it comes with risk. That's especially true when the partisan peanut gallery in Washington, on talk radio and across the Internet is demanding a duel to the political death.
Walker, his fellow Wisconsin GOP leaders, the Democrats hiding out in Illinois and the union leaders orchestrating protests in Madison need to rise above the soap opera drama. They are responsible for the Wisconsin that we all will live in long after the national TV satellite trucks and helicopters circling the state Capitol go home.
Schultz, whom we've long admired for his civility and common sense, has shown Wisconsin a way out of this bad movie. It's time to suspend politics as usual and insert a 2013 sunset clause into Walker's bold and controversial bill.