Why are Democrats ready to give everything in a last stand for public employees' unions? Because government employment is the socialist ideal in miniature.Robert Tracinski provides answers to the question, What does the Democratic Party stand for?
What does the Democratic Party stand for? You can find out by asking what they will take a stand for. In the recent protests against limitations on the power of government employees' unions, the Democrats have taken the strongest stand possible, short of outright insurrection. In Wisconsin, in Indiana, and potentially in Ohio, Democratic legislators have actually fled the state in order to deprive their state legislatures of the quorum necessary to vote.
This has led some commentators to describe this as a conflict between the Tea Party and the "Flee Party," but the issue is a little more serious than that. What the Democrats are telling us is that they would rather have no legislature than allow legislation that breaks the power of the unions.
Jack Wakeland has described the current attitude of the left as the rage of the liberal plantation owners, comparing it to the closed-minded irrationality of Southern politicians in the years leading up to the Civil War. Jim Geraghty captures something of the same idea when he describes these legislative walk-outs as "small-scale, temporary secessions."
They are not likely to win. Democratic legislators in Texas fled the state a few years back to prevent an unfavorable congressional redistricting—but they eventually returned and the legislation passed a few months later. Some have also pointed out that the Wisconsin Senate requires a smaller quorum for non-spending measures, so they could still pass the core of their union-busting legislation in the Democrats' absence.
That implies that this is not so much a rational calculation of political advantage on the part of the Democrats as it is an outpouring if existential rage. Curtailing the power of government employees' unions strikes to the very core of their existence, prompting them to give everything in a last stand. Why?
The threat to the Democratic Party is partly practical and partly ideological.
On the practical level, as Michael Barone explains below, the government employees' unions are a mechanism for siphoning taxpayer dollars into the campaigns of Democratic politicians. That's why Democratic legislators are going to bat for the unions. They are protecting their biggest campaign contributors. But that corrupt motive is not the only thing driving them.
On an ideological level, public sector employment represents the left's ideal: public employment is not oriented toward making a profit, there is no competition, generous health-care and retirement benefits are provided by the government, comfortable pay is mandated by legislative fiat, and the work rules are militantly egalitarian: pay, promotion, and job security are almost totally independent of actual job performance.
This is, of course, how the left thinks everyone should live and work. It is a socialist economy in miniature.
But of course, this prosperous set-up is possible only because the majority does not work like this. It survives only on the tax money looted from a much larger, productive private economy. Even then, the money is starting to run out. The socialist utopia of public employment is crossing the Thatcher Line—the point at which, as the Iron Lady used to say, you run out of other people's money.
This is why the left is pouring into the streets and temporarily seceding from state legislatures. For them, this is like a second fall of the Berlin Wall: the very viability of their ideal society is being threatened."Public Unions Force Taxpayers to Fund Democrats," Michael Barone, Washington Examiner, February 22
Everyone has priorities. During the past week Barack Obama has found no time to condemn the attacks that Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi has launched on the Libyan people.
But he did find time to be interviewed by a Wisconsin television station and weigh in on the dispute between Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the state's public employee unions. Walker was staging "an assault on unions," he said, and added that "public employee unions make enormous contributions to our states and our citizens."
Enormous contributions, yes—to the Democratic Party and the Obama campaign. Unions, most of whose members are public employees, gave Democrats some $400 million in the 2008 election cycle. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the biggest public employee union, gave Democrats $90 million in the 2010 cycle.
Follow the money, Washington reporters like to say. The money in this case comes from taxpayers, present and future, who are the source of every penny of dues paid to public employee unions, who in turn spend much of that money on politics, almost all of it for Democrats. In effect, public employee unions are a mechanism by which every taxpayer is forced to fund the Democratic Party.