Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I can't decide if it would be more accurate to say I was shocked or merely disappointed again in our government.

So various Republicans at the state level have been working to restrict the rights or privileges of government employees to participate in collective bargaining units.  In response, various Democrats at the state level went on strike in sympathy for their union labor constituents.

That's right.  They walked out on their lawmaking jobs when the votes on labor bills didn't go their way.  I understand many of them are on their way back now, but apparently it seemed like a good idea at the time.

I'm actually not unsympathetic.  True, during my time in Detroit I saw more abuse and negligence caused and enabled by Big Labor than I saw committed against the working man by the Big Three.  But in my current (and God willing, soon to be former) place of employment, a midsized company with no organized labor, we have a middle manager who has fired people who disagree with her for voicing perspectives that contradict the stories she passes on to her superiors, has fired award winning employees for refusing to compromise their integrity for the sake of expediency.   Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say they were fired as a display of power, to the dismissed employees as well as to those of us remaining.

This is not how you treat adults who act their age.

It might be summed up best by saying that the companies that have unions are the ones that deserve them.

Anyway, it struck me as odd that state legislators would walk out on the one thing they could do to rectify the situation.  Striking I get, sympathetic striking I get, boycotting I get, but this smelled to me more like the naively idealistic move of high school students walking out of class to protest a war.  That's how things were done during Vietnam, and look how well that turned out, so that's just how you do things now when you have no recourse.

Maybe that's part of what motivated them, and God bless every politician who hews to a noble ideal at all, but what really soured it for me was that these were legislators acting like they had no other recourse in the face of legislation they disapproved of, and in some of the cases, the distasteful legislation had already passed into law.  But they're the legislators.  They're the ones whose job it is to make sure the good laws get passed and the bad ones don't.  They're the ones, by and large, that protestors try to appeal to.  What's that say about their intentions and their opinion about the rule of law if they weren't elected in large enough numbers to stop these bills from becoming law or they compromised away enough political traction to be unable to stop the laws, and are now withdrawing their opposition to anything further the Republicans might attempt in their absence?

They didn't get what they want, so they're taking their ball and going home, crying loudly that the other mean kids wouldn't let them be pitcher for both teams.  Since they couldn't get votes to go their way, they tried to change the game.  Having protests to gain and demonstrate support for a cause is fine, but it's the legislators people need to impress, or fellow citizens if it's something a petition or public vote could effect.  These Democrats on strike aren't even out campaigning the cause; they've been hiding out in neighboring states where they're merely out of reach of their employers, never mind their constituents.

Maybe they feel like they're doing some self-imposed exile thing, since the Dalai Lama accomplished so much as the exiled ruler of Tibet.  Well, he impressed everyone outside of Tibet, anyway; the country's still more or less under Chinese control.

What kind of country would this be if every time we didn't get the law we wanted, we cried and stamped our feet and argued that this time we should make an exception to the rule of law and make and exception to fair and impartial legal practices?  What would become of our society if we could effectively argue "Maybe that's wrong but in this case it's okay to do wrong" and "the legal system failed this time, by which I mean I didn't get the outcome I wanted, but we can all pretend it doesn't matter and go ahead with what I want despite majority of citizens or senators who voted against what I wanted?"  It's bad enough when activists try to establish legal precedents in the courtroom that change the legal landscape and we end up with positive legislation from the bench; are we here supposed to suspend not just due process but even the pretense of operating within the law in any sense.  Do I have to elaborate on where that could lead us?

I was cynically amused to hear on the radio halfway through this debacle that the Republicans had "found a loophole" that allowed them to continue working when the absence of so many Democrats made achieving the supermajorities needed to pass certain laws numerically impossible.   What they did was pass laws that didn't require supermajorities, or possibly (there wasn't much followup on the report I heard) build some porky line items into other bills.  In other words, they did their jobs normally.  If it was the Democrats' intent to take hobble the state congress by not showing up and the Republicans outsmarted them by finding a way around needing full attendance through the normal performance of their jobs as legislators, it's kind of like saying Jimmie Johnson beat Jeff Gordon at the Ford 400 because he figured out how to shift into his car's top gear.

I certainly don't mean to cast Democrats alone as unethical and Republicans alone as righteous.  I just happened to notice some better examples recently on the left side than on the right.  Liberal state congressmen boycott their own jobs when things don't turn out the way they want; Obama gets elected president and people suggest Bush step down early so Barack can get a head start on healing the country, and then gets criticized for not having accomplished more as president-elect by the time he was inaugurated (never mind that he still had a job as a US Senator); Gore wins the popular vote while Bush wins the electoral college and Democrats are not only shocked that such a thing was possible (not that ignorance of the process was confined to the left but the people at that level should have remembered their grade school civics lessons) but in between recounts in a handful of Florida districts call for presidential elections to be made only by popular vote.

And just for the record, before you click Reply or Trackback, please note that I haven't commented on whether the union-restricting legislation is just or not.  That is deliberate, and it's a matter for another time.

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