Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Union-Busting as Health Care Reform

As Steve Benen reports, what once looked like a wave of Republican union-busting legislation has been more or less arrested at Wisconsin, with a parallel bill in Indiana being withdrawn and GOP Iowa Governor Terry Branstad declaring he isn't interested in similar legislation in his state.

If you had asked me in advance what issue would arouse the soporific left from its torpor, I wouldn't have guessed that collective bargaining legislation would be it. After all, the Democratic salvo in this controversy -- the card-check bill -- died with little more than a whimper last Congress. But hey, catch what can.

It seems to me that this controversy is beginning to trace the trajectory of the debate over PPACA. There, like here, the governing party thought it had the mandate to make a sweeping change. There, like here, opponents were convinced that the other party had overreached, and were able to muster massive and highly publicized protests that fired up their base and re-energized their flagging electoral prospects.

The question is -- what happens next? In the health care debate, Republicans rapidly decided that a mutually-amenable compromise was their enemy. The important thing was prolonging the debate for as long as possible, keeping it in the news as an example of a radical administration that must be stopped. So while there was a lot of talk about "slowing down" and not "ramming the bill" through, the GOP was very careful to not actually make any substantive concessions or proposals of its own.

And Democrats played along, trying, futilely, to garner GOP approval; searching for an elusive bipartisanship that, by design, was never to be. And in their failure, the GOP won the media narrative -- PPACA couldn't be a sensible, practical approach to a serious national problem. Since only Democrats supported it, and we all know that any legislation worth supporting is bipartisan, it must be a partisan hatchet-job, Democratic maximalism promulgated by overconfident, out of touch party leaders. And so it was that a health care reform bill whose primary components were originally Republican ideas became the greatest instrument of socialism since the Cold War.

I'd be interested to see if Democrats play the same game. If you have momentum, don't let the GOP off the hook. Characterize everything as renewed union-busting, the kissing cousin of the radical Scott Walker proposals (how do we know they're extreme? Because real, heartland Americans are protesting them!). No compromises, no mercy -- just hammer it home, day after day: Republicans want to hurt teachers, police officers, and firemen. They want only the middle class to sacrifice while the fatcats get tax breaks. On and on -- a drum beat of progressive fury that does to the GOP what the Tea Party did to us.

Of course, there were many voices within the Democratic Party during the health care debate that understood precisely what was happening, and urged Democrats to actually take a maximalist position. After all, if you're going to get blamed for it anyway, you might as well get some of the sweet with the bitter -- a genuinely ambitious, single-payer health care system. And one wonders if Republicans are keen enough to adopt this strategy -- if they're going to get raked over the coals regardless, they might as well please their corporate clients and blow up the unions.

Anyway, I'm not saying that's how it's going to play out. But I do find it interesting the way that this issue seems to be developing into a genuine Democratic parallel to the Tea Party during PPACA.


Superdestroyer said...

Health care reform in the form of single payer or some version of it will lead to most health insurance workers to lose their jobs and lead to lower pay and higher unemployment for health care workers.

The unions are the real fat cats who are quite happy to lower the pay of the private sector worker to keep the union's gold plated, unsustainable benefits.

Wisconsin Democrats and progressives are sending a very clear message to the private sector employers and that message is to leave now.

N. Friedman said...


You may be right that Wisconsin is galvanizing Democrats. However, since the issue has not really taken on a national politics aspect - i.e., it is so far something limited to state law and is not being pushed in other states -, it is likely not enough to alter the fate of the Democrats. It may, however, help a bit.

What you miss in your comment is that Democrats not only pushed an unpopular bill into law but did so while ignoring the more or less 10% unemployed. Or, in short, the Democrats said "Drop Dead" to their own voters, putting health care reform before business number one, two and three, "the economy, stupid."

priscianus jr said...

This (or similar, anyway) IS being pushed in a number of state legislatures. True, it is not being pushed by other right-wing governors, and that is because they realized very quickly from the reaction to Wisconsin that it IS a national issue with huge potential to damage the whole GOP. The Tea Party legislators are fanatics, they don't care.