Guest editorial . . . You can find Rick’s blog here.
Why Scott Walker should be recalled
Posted on May 28, 2012 by Rick
First, please remove your political filters, if that is at all possible. I don’t care about Republicans and Democrats. I think that the two-party system, with its zero-sum games and its tribalism, is a wasteful, destructive, counter-productive force in our society. I have little respect for people who blindly and emotionally align themselves with a political party and who abdicate responsibility for thinking deeply and independently about specific issues.
Now, I have three reasons why Scott Walker should be recalled.
1. The manner in which Scott Walker and the Republicans in the state legislature limited the rights of public workers to bargain collectively was undemocratic.
The right to organize in order to pursue a group’s interests seems fundamental to me. Corporations organize. Political parties organize. Special interest groups organize. Stamp collectors and bird-watchers organize. Organizing seems like an easy extension of the first amendment’s “right of the people peaceably to assemble”.
A law that takes away some people’s fundamental rights must be carefully considered, explained, discussed in the forum of ideas, debated, challenged. That’s the democratic way.
But Scott Walker and the Republicans in the legislature allowed none of those things to occur. Walker did not encourage any public discussion about whether or not public workers should have collective bargaining rights or which rights they should have. And he did not explain why public workers should not have full collective bargaining rights (which is different from stating perceived benefits of removing those rights).
Instead, Walker deceived us by concealing his plan during the campaign, then surprised us with what he called “the bomb” soon after he was elected. His deception undermined the democratic process by keeping voters uninformed about what they were voting for.
For his deceit, Walker should not be rewarded with the highest political office in the state. Recalling him might, one can hope, remind future gubernatorial candidates that we voters prefer honesty to deception.
2. The ends do not justify the means, and such an argument is unethical anyway.
The main argument for restricting the rights of public workers to bargain collectively takes the form of “the ends justify the means”: “Public-sector unions became too powerful. They had to be weakened so that the state budget could be balanced.”
Many people would say that the NRA, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the AARP, large corporations, the Republican party, the Democratic party, the Koch brothers, George Soros, Grover Norquist, PACs, super PACs, the defense industry, state universities, and a zillion other groups and individuals have become too powerful. But no one is arguing that they don’t have the right to organize themselves in pursuit of their interests. (We do argue about treating organizations like individuals in our legal system and about how much money organizations and individuals should be able to spend on political campaigns, but there doesn’t seem to be any debate about the fundamental right to organize.)
The granting of certain rights does not depend on someone’s subjective evaluation of the consequences of exercising those rights. I don’t like the way people use their rights to have ten or twelve children who consume and pollute. I don’t like the way people use their right to vote without being educated and informed (or even intelligent). They keep electing bad representatives who do bad things. I don’t like what the NRA does with its rights. Freely available guns kill people every day. I don’t like how large corporations, the oil industry, and the agriculture industry lobby Congress and get huge subsidies. Although I know less about the AARP, I doubt that I would like how it uses its power and influence either. At one time, less so today, we hope, chauvinists and bigots did not like how women and blacks used or might have used their right to vote.
But few people argue that people should not have the right to decide for themselves how many children to have, or the right to vote, or the right to talk to members of Congress about their interests.
One may not like how the unions have benefitted from their rights, but that evaluation does not mean that unions should not have those rights any more than my evaluation of uninformed voters means that those voters should not have the right to vote.
I do not know much about unions. I have never belonged to a union. But I have an MBA, I teach college business courses, and I follow the business news. I am not a fan of unions at this stage of economic and legal development in this country. They are not needed to the degree that they were needed one hundred years ago. And they can be obstacles to the success of organizations. See the airline industry and the automobile industry. So I believe that the right to bargain collectively produces some bad consequences.
But those consequences and my subjective evaluation of them are irrelevant. Many actions produce bad consequences in the view of people outside a given group. I see many bad consequences from parents, the oil industry, farmers, the NRA, unthinking voters, and probably the AARP. But those people and organizations see good consequences for themselves. They have — and should have — the right to pursue their own interests.
Remember that this country was founded on the idea that the pursuit of happiness is an unalienable right.
There may be good reasons why public-sector workers should not have full collective bargaining rights, but I have not heard one. I would love to hear a well-reasoned debate between the two sides on that issue. It is unfortunate that we do not get that kind of discussion in our political climate or in our news outlets.
If the ends justified the means, then we could easily justify all kinds of bad behavior, such as appropriating all the money of wealthy people to balance the state’s budget. Why should rich people have the right to private property when their money could balance the state’s budget?
We need to be careful about ends-and-means arguments. They are usually used to rationalize unethical behavior that will benefit some people and harm others.
3. Turning public workers into scape-goats was unfair, mean, cynical, political, and disrespectful.
Some people believe that public-sector employees are taking from taxpayers unfairly, that they earn more in salary and benefits than private-sector workers do. The only relevant data that I have seen, published last year in the Wisconsin State Journal, does not support that opinion. Public-sector workers seem to have enjoyed better benefits in exchange for lower pay. Their overall compensation is lower than that of private-sector workers. So the conclusions that public-sector workers benefit unfairly from taxpayers’ money, that their overall compensation must be reduced, and that the only or best way to do reduce their overall compensation is to severely limit their collective bargaining rights are all wrong.
Even if public workers had been receiving unfairly high salaries and/or benefits, collective bargaining rights did not have to be limited to change that situation. The unions accepted the financial terms that the Republicans wanted. The Republicans still insisted on severely limiting workers’ rights. Although we should be careful when attributing intentions to others because we are often wrong, one almost has to conclude that the motivation of Walker and the Republicans was mostly political. They wanted to weaken the Democratic party by weakening its supporters.
To accomplish their goal, they cast unionized workers, who tend to support the Democratic party, as evil and they tapped into a feeling of unfairness in certain segments of the population. The number of people who seethe with unjustified hatred of public-sector workers is deeply disturbing. Where did all this hatred come from? Why do people need scape-goats? We seem to be in that Twilight Zone episode where everyone is paranoid about an alien invasion and about to execute vigilante justice on the guy who runs a ham radio in his basement because he must be the evil one who is facilitating the invasion. But, of course, the explanation for odd events in the town is actually quite prosaic and has nothing to do with invading aliens.
Public unions did not cause the housing bubble, the financial crisis, the recession, and the state’s budget problems. Blaming them, scape-goating them, punishing them, and hating them are wrong. And cultivating hatred among others, which Walker and the Replublicans did, was unconscionable and inexcusable.
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