Political Animal


December 12, 2012 9:20 AM The Political Advantages of Not Caring

By Ed Kilgore

Near the end of a column on the Michigan “right-to-work” coup, Jonathan Chait offers an important insight on why Republicans are willing and able to pull these sort of stunts:

Last year, the Michigan director of Americans for Prosperity, the right-wing activist group, explained, “We fight these battles on taxes and regulation but really what we would like to see is to take the unions out at the knees so they don’t have the resources to fight these battles.” Republicans understand full well that Michigan leans Democratic, and the GOP has total power at the moment, so its best use of that power is to crush one of the largest bastions of support for the opposing party.
Obviously, one should always be suspicious of theories that attribute malicious will to power to the other side while absolving one’s own allies of the same. I don’t think Democrats abstain from this behavior (to anything like the degree the GOP employs it) because it’s made of angels. Rather, the Democratic party comprises an economically diverse coalition, including not just labor but business as well. Even if Democrats could come up with a plan to crush the political power of business — which is hard because business is way larger and stronger than labor, even in Michigan — huge chunks of the party would object. Whereas nobody in the GOP cares about labor at all, so it’s easier to unify them behind the kind of political/class war strategy we’re seeing here.

It’s kind of important to understand that this total hostility to the labor movement—the kind of thing that makes it unremarkable when a Nikki Haley flatly tells unions (who are still, so far as I know, legal everywhere) to stay out of her state as though they were crime rings—is relatively new, and very new outside the Deep South. No, Republicans as a whole were never big fans of labor, but you didn’t have to be a union-hater to call yourself a Republican, and a self-proclaimed “moderate” like Rick Snyder would have regarded the fanatics of Americans for Prosperity as troglodytes and political poison. Lest we forget, in 1976, The Sainted One Himself, Ronald Reagan, chose a man (Sen. Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania) with a 91% voting rating from the AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education to be his pre-convention running-mate. Yes, this was an audacious move designed to create a mind-bending ideological coalition ticket between opposite wings of the GOP, but the point is there was a pro-labor wing of the GOP that people like Reagan not only had to respect but actually wanted to pull into their tent. All that is way gone, and Chait’s right, it’s why Republicans feel no compunction about picking up the nearest weapon and going for the kill.

Most Democrats do not want their own party to become so hammer-headed, and it’s diverse enough that this is hardly an option anyway. But being the party of people who all pretty much look alike, sound alike, think alike, and bend the knee before the same gods secular and religious, has its tactical advantages when it comes to how to approach outsiders, for whom they need not care at all.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Josef K on December 12, 2012 9:41 AM:

    Aren't these the same voice that have been crying out against "socialism" and "collectivism" for the longest?

    Irony really is dead.

    The few upswings I can see here are (a) tactical advantages are helpful, but unless married to strategic goals and logistical capacity, mean nothing. And (b) limiting one's gene pool - ideological as well as genetic - is never a good idea.

    The Michigan Republicans are sowing themselves what looks to be a very bitter harvest, especially if it can be spun as a national move on the party's part. I suspect we can expect all sorts of ugliness in the near future.

  • T2 on December 12, 2012 9:48 AM:

    @ Josef K "Aren't these the same voice that have been crying out against "socialism"

    yes, it really is ironic that a party, Republican, that spends so much time in power carefully redistricting so as to prevent it from ever being voted out of power should be so so anti-socialist. If they are in charge, its "democracy", if they are a minority it is then "socialism".

  • BillFromPA on December 12, 2012 9:51 AM:

    We're going to have some painful times as this rock-solid mass of obstruction passes through the body politic of America, but we will be free of this waste at some point, after which we'll wipe the remains of the GOP from our memories.

  • scott_m on December 12, 2012 9:57 AM:

    It's one of those basic differences between Democrats and Republicans: when Democrats get power, they want to affect policy; when Republicans get power, they want to consolidate their power (union busting, tort reform, fiddling with election law ...)

    You remember when right wingers were screaming that the Dems were going to reinstate the equal time rule and thus cripple right wing talk radio? Doing that never occurred to any Democrat, but it occurred to Republicans because that's what they would do if they were Democrats with power.

  • Bloix on December 12, 2012 9:58 AM:

    There are plenty of Dems or Dem contributors who hate unions. The movement to destroy public schools is in large part a movement to kill public sector unions, and it's supported by many Democrats. Did you see any national Democratic support for the Wisconsin public sector unions last winter? None from the White House, that's for sure. There seems to be a strain of thought in the Democratic Party that the unions are on their way out and the sooner they're gone the better. Then the Dems can finally make themselves over as a centrist party of rich people with moderate to progressive social views - Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Wall Street - and the left will have nowhere else to go.

  • Gandalf on December 12, 2012 10:03 AM:

    Bloix I'm sorry but that's just unrepentant bull shit that's not supported by any evidence.

  • c u n d gulag on December 12, 2012 10:11 AM:

    My $0.99's worth of psychology:
    When Liberals get a toy, they don't mind sharing it with others.

    When Conservatives get a toy, and someone else even touches it, let alone plays with it, they'll destroy that toy because it's now 'unclean.'

    And then, they'll demand another, better toy, then a bigger room for the toys, a bigger house for the toys, the block, the district, the state, the country, ZE VORLD!!!

    GIVE ME MINE!!!!!

    They don't much care what they've got, as long as others don't have it, and don't touch what they've got.

    And their joy in life, is to keep others from having any.

    Ok, so maybe I overpriced my psychological take.

  • rea on December 12, 2012 10:23 AM:

    Bloix, I reember you saying that at the time--it wa not true then, and it is not true now.


  • Celui on December 12, 2012 10:41 AM:

    What's a union for? Is it solely an economic bargaining entity, is it a means to effect political change by supporting candidates, is it a means to safeguard the equalities of a workplace, is it a way to manage key elements of the workforce so that safety, fairness, and respect are parts of the environment? I submit that these are the rock-solid bases of a good union and a prosperous economy, and that to refuse to engage the needs of a workforce in meaningful discussion is tantamount to a return to the days of servitude and economic slavery. "Right to work" is laughable; that is, no rights, no respect, no voice in one's economic livelihood. No wonder the almighty 'Job Creators' are so virulently anti-union. They want the right to name working conditions as they want, to offer pay at whatever 'best cost' limitations they desire, and to obfuscate fairness in the workplace, be it questions of hours, pay, working conditions, gender equality, or such. Personal experience in (of all places, a teacher's union!!) has demonstrated time and again the values of in-place agreements for policy, procedures and for bargaining. The rights of all are safe when the rights of one are respected.

  • Mimikatz on December 12, 2012 11:00 AM:

    The people who are hurt most by anti-union measures are working men, a rapidly dwindling group as jobs shift to low-wage countries. These are also the people with the lowest voting percentage, at least white working men. How they can vote GOP is beyond me. Those who do seem to have traded in work for tribal resentment as their identity. This is a really socially unhealthy situation. There really needs to be serious push back on this.

    And on teachers' unions, I disagree with Bloix, but I have noticed that as consumer finance and consumer goods have become unsustainable business models, a huge number of "entrepreneurs" have turned to education as the last big honeypot of money available. This is a lot of the motivation behind getting rid of teachers' unions as they can blo the whistle on bad materials.

  • ROBERT97 on December 12, 2012 3:24 PM:

    I am a member of the NJ Americans for Prosperity, and I disavow the comments attributed to the Michigan director. He does not speak for me, or for the AFP people I know here.

    On the other hand, "nobody in the GOP cares about labor at all" is also wrong. I was in IBEW, the AAUP, and the AFT at various points. Some of us conservative, GOP, AFP members do care about workers getting a decent job.

    By the way, it was not our side who were beating up people in Michigan yesterday.