The end nears for a 50-year mistake
by Jeff Jacoby
IN RETROSPECT, there were two conspicuous giveaways that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was headed for victory in last week's recall election.
One was that the Democrats' campaign against him wound up focusing on just about everything but Walker's law limiting collective bargaining rights for government workers. Sixteen months ago, the Capitol building in Madison was besieged by rioting protesters hell-bent on blocking the changes by any means necessary. Union members and their supporters, incandescent with rage, likened Walker to Adolf Hitler and cheered as Democratic lawmakers fled the state in a bid to force the legislature to a standstill. Once the bill passed, unions and Democrats vowed revenge, and amassed a million signatures on recall petitions.
But the more voters saw of the law's effects, the more they liked it. Dozens of school districts reported millions in savings, most without resorting to layoffs. Property taxes fell. A $3.6 billion state budget deficit turned into a $154 million projected surplus. Walker's measures proved a tonic for the economy, and support for restoring the status quo ante faded -- even among Wisconsin Democrats. Long before Election Day, Democratic challenger Tom Barrett had all but dropped the issue of public-sector collective bargaining from his campaign to replace Walker.
The second harbinger was the plunge in public-employee union membership. The most important of Walker's reforms, the change Big Labor had fought most bitterly, was ending the automatic withholding of union dues. That made union membership a matter of choice, not compulsion -- and tens of thousands of government workers chose to toss their union cards. More than one-third of the American Federation of Teachers Wisconsin membership quit, reported The Wall Street Journal. At the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, one of the state's largest unions, the hemorrhaging was worse: AFSCME's Wisconsin rolls shrank by more than 34,000 over the past year, a 55 percent nose-dive.
Did government workers tear up their union cards solely because the union had lost its right to bargain collectively on their behalf? That's doubtful: Even under the new law, unions still negotiate over salaries. More likely, public-sector employees ditched their unions for the same reasons so many employees in the private sector -- which is now less than 7 percent unionized -- have done so. Many never wanted to join a union in the first place. Others were repelled by the authoritarian, belligerent, and left-wing political culture that entrenched unionism so often embodies.
Even before the votes in Wisconsin were cast, observed Michael Barone last week, Democrats and public-employee unions "had already lost the battle of ideas over the issue that sparked the recall." Their tantrums and slanders didn't just fail to intimidate Walker and Wisconsin lawmakers from reining in public-sector collective bargaining. They also gave the public a good hard look at what government unionism is apt to descend to. The past 16 months amounted to an extended seminar on the danger of combining collective bargaining with government jobs. Voters watched -- and learned.
There was a time when pro-labor political leaders like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Fiorello LaGuardia regarded it as obvious that collective bargaining was incompatible with public employment. Even the legendary AFL-CIO leader George Meany once took it for granted that there could be no "right" to bargain collectively with the government.
When unions bargain with management in the private sector, both sides are contending for a share of the private profits that labor helps produce -- and both sides are constrained by the pressures of market discipline. Managers can't ignore the company's bottom line. Unions know that if they demand too much they may cost the company its competitive edge.
But when labor and management bargain in the public sector, they are divvying up public funds, not private profits. Government bureaucrats don't have to worry about losing business to their competitors; state agencies can't relocate to another part of the country. There is little incentive to hold down wages and benefits, since the taxpayers who will be picking up the tab have no seat at the table. On the other hand, government managers have a powerful motivation to yield to government unions: Union members vote, and their votes can be deployed to reward politicians who give them what they want -- or punish those who don't.
In 1959, when Wisconsin became the first state to enact a public-sector collective-bargaining law, it wasn't widely understood what the distorted incentives of government unionism would lead to. Five decades later, the wreckage is all around us. The privileges that come with government work -- hefty automatic pay raises, Cadillac pension plans, iron-clad job security, ultra-deluxe health insurance -- have in many cases grown outlandish and staggeringly unaffordable. What Keith Geiger, the former head of the National Education Association, once referred to as "our sledgehammer, the collective bargaining process," has wreaked havoc on state and municipal budgets nationwide.
Now, at long last, the pendulum has reversed. The 50-year mistake of public-sector unions is being corrected. Walker's victory is a heartening reminder that in a democracy, even the most entrenched bad ideas can sometimes be unentrenched. On, Wisconsin!
Jackie Gingrich Cushman
Words have power; they create images and possibilities, and provide a window into the future of what could be. The best leaders use positive words to communicate a potential future for a country that is possible if actions are taken. They inspire action, progress and positive results. For words to matter, there must be a solid foundation underlying them. They cannot be all fluff and flutter.
President Ronald Reagan clearly communicated when he spoke 25 years ago this coming week in Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate. "General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization," Reagan challenged, "come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
This same speech noted that there was "one great and inescapable conclusion: Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds. ... Freedom is the victor."
Slightly more than two years later, the wall was torn down. Words made it seem possible; words had fostered ideas, led to action and caused the wall to tumble down.
His challenge to tear down the wall was built on the foundational understanding that freedom and liberty lead to prosperity. That government could not produce the output of freedom.
Words without a solid foundation are simply a veneer.
President Barack Obama used the tagline "Hope and Change" during the 2008 election. The campaign's promise of a better future led many Americans to vote for him without understanding how the slogan would lead to action and what the outcome might be.
Now that we are living in the future intended by Obama to have been shaped by his message of "Hope and Change," we can see what it has accomplished: Obama has a tough record to defend. Federal government debt has increased under his watch from $10.6 trillion at the time of his inauguration to $15.7 trillion today.
Unemployment remains high. Some 14.7 percent of those Americans who would like to work are either unemployed or underemployed, based on June 1, Bureau of Labor Statistics data. These economic indicators do not provide a solid foundation for a conventional incumbent campaign, which would promote the president's record and accomplishments.
In May, the Obama campaign rolled out a 7-minute video with the theme "Forward."
Given Obama's record as president, it is easy to figure out why his campaign would like to focus on the future. His record is hard for anyone to defend.
When Reagan ran as an incumbent, his campaign ran a commercial titled "Morning in America." It highlighted that after three years of Reagan's leadership, our country was "prouder and stronger and better."
It worked because the voters knew that it was true in their own lives. Their lives were stronger and better.
While Obama runs on a "Forward" campaign, American voters are going to be asking questions: Am I better off than I was three years ago? Do I have confidence in this president? If he is re-elected, do I believe that in four years I will be better off?
This year's Republican presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney is running with the current tagline "Restore American's Greatness." While looking backward to a great past might provide a rallying point for core conservatives, the focus on the past rather than looking forward to a brighter future might leave many in the political middle uninspired.
Romney's campaign might want to refocus the campaign on two fronts. The first, on a clear and repetitive description of the Obama administration record (to be done by everyone but Romney); the second, on a clear vision of a positive future that will inspire people to not only vote, but to work for the Romney campaign.
The clearer, more simple and more direct the vision, the faster people will connect and embrace it.
Reagan was effective because his words reflected who he was. His foundation had been formed over a long period of time, and he focused not on changing his core belief system, but on communicating his vision for a brighter future to those around him.
Comfortable in his own skin, he provided the calm reassurance that America is great, that the people are resilient and that we simply had to have as much faith in ourselves as he did.
Like Reagan, we must have the courage to speak out against evil, and use our words to support and encourage freedom and liberty.
Compromise' Is Not a Dirty Word; Democrats just need to practice it
Compromise has always been a holy word for the Washington establishment. But against the backdrop of ever-increasing anxiety over our fiscal dysfunction, most particularly the next budget showdown, the word has taken on a tone of anger, desperation and even panic.
But in all its usages these days, "compromise" remains a word for bludgeoning Republicans. "Congress isn't just stalemated, it's broken, experts say," proclaims the typical headline, this one in The Miami Herald. And the experts say it's all the Republicans' fault.
"The challenge we have right now is that we have on one side, a party that will brook no compromise," President Obama explained at the Associated Press Luncheon in April. The Republicans' "radical vision," Obama insisted, "is antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity."
The speech was hailed as a "thunderclap" by the editors of The New York Times because Obama signaled he was done asking Republicans to put their "destructive agenda" aside. "In this speech, he finally conceded that the (Republican Party) has demonstrated no interest in the values of compromise and realism."
Now the standard Tea Party-Republican-conservative response is to note that Democrats didn't care much for compromise when they ran Washington for Obama's first two years in office. Moreover, what Democrats now mean by compromise is capitulation. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., summarized the attitude well during last year's budget negotiations: "We're recognizing that the only compromise that there is, is mine."
Accept 'half a loaf'
While I largely concur with that standard retort, it's worth at least saying something nice about compromise. Conservatism, rightly understood, does not consider compromise a dirty word. "All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter," observed Edmund Burke, the founder of modern conservatism. A willingness to accept half a loaf when half is the best you can possibly get is the essence of wisdom.
Indeed, Obama is right when he says, "America, after all, has always been a grand experiment in compromise." The Founders placed compromise at the heart of the Constitution -- compromise between the state and the federal governments, between the different branches of government, even between the two houses of Congress. That is all well and good.
But let's not go crazy here. The Founders didn't fetishize compromise, either. When Patrick Henry proclaimed at the Virginia Convention in 1775, "Give me liberty or give me death," even George Washington and Thomas Jefferson allegedly leapt to their feet to roar approval. Suffice it to say, the spirit of compromise didn't fill the air.
And that's a point worth keeping in mind. The merits of compromise depend mightily on direction. If my wife and I agree on moving to Chicago, then the opportunities for compromise are limitless. When we move, where we live when we get there, even how we get there: these are all reasonable subjects for negotiation. But if I want to move to Chicago and she wants to stay in Washington, D.C., then splitting the difference and moving to Cleveland would be absurd. But it would be compromise.
Right now, the two parties are split fundamentally on the issue of direction. The Democrats -- not to mention the "experts" and so much of the political press -- would have you believe it is a choice between forward and backward. Hence, Obama's perfectly hackneyed slogan "Forward!" According to this formulation, reasonable compromise amounts to acquiescing to the direction Obama and the Democrats want to go, but demanding concessions on how fast we get there and by what means.
Forward vs. backward
From the conservative perspective, this is madness. It is like saying Republicans must agree to let Obama drive the country off a cliff, but Democrats must be willing to negotiate how fast the car goes. And if a Republican counsels hitting the brakes or pulling a U-turn, he is dubbed "extreme" by the establishment cognoscenti.
Conservatives see it differently. Washington is aflame in debt; the national debt clock reads like a thermostat in an inferno. The annual budget deficit is approaching 10 percent of GDP. Meanwhile, the actual deficit is larger than our entire GDP. Under Obama, the deficit has grown by $5 trillion to more than $15 trillion (and as a headline in USA Today recently reported, "Real federal deficit dwarfs official tally").
Hence, the Democratic insistence that Republicans enter negotiations about how much more gasoline we should throw on the fire is a non-starter, at least for conservative Republicans. As Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., likes to say, "Republicans and Democrats must start compromising over how much we have to cut, not how much we want to spend."
None of this has a chance of being settled before the election in November, and even then odds are we'll be having this argument for years to come.
But you can be sure of one thing. If Republicans take over the White House and the Congress and start cutting, the same voices now championing compromise as a virtue in itself will be applauding the principled idealism of Democrats who refuse to compromise.
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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)