The Fortnight in Politics: Right to Work, Fiscal Cliff, Sandy Hook, Susan Rice Withdraws, Amash Gets Spanked

It’s been a month, hasn’t it? The astonishingly mild 60-degree winter in West Michigan serves as a counterpoint to the depressingly extreme politics beyond the Grand Rapids area. Several news ledes warrant a quick review.

Right-to-Work in Michigan

Big Labor picked a fight of their own choosing. Michigan’s One Tough Nerd, Gov. Rick Snyder, decided to fight back, after trying for most of his term to keep labor issues off the table entirely.

Michigan, as a labor-heavy state and birthplace of industrial unionization in the U.S., has long enjoyed a peaceful if uneasy truce in state politics over labor issues. Mutually Assured Destruction, of a sorts. This truce was broken last year, when Bob King — elected in mid-2010 as president of the United Auto Workers — saw the “tea” leaves in Wisconsin and tried to prevent a similar showdown in the Wolverine State.

Backed primarily by the UAW, Michigan unions pushed hard for Proposal 2, a 2012 ballot initiative that would have enshrined a full-throated right to collective bargaining within the state constitution. The proposal failed, equally hard; it went down 57/42 in a state that gave Barack Obama and Debbie Stabenow healthy re-elect margins. King recently suggested that he felt the fight was necessary to protect organized labor. Fair or foul, King knew that if he proceeded with Prop 2, that the Legislature would follow with an RTW initiative. Thus, Prop 2 having been resoundingly defeated, the Legislature acted, and Snyder signed the bills. Despite the drama of union thugs raining down upon the Capital, the entire ordeal unfolded quickly and without too much messiness. And to think — RTW could have been avoided had the UAW kept its powder dry. That’s gotta sting.

The Big Labor argument boils down to this: Since everyone who works in a given union shop enjoys the benefits that accrue to the collective bargaining agreement, allowing non-dues-paying employees to enjoy those benefits amounts to unfair free-riding. (The nature of the free-riding mechanism is always merely asserted, never explained.)  The counter-argument is equally simple: Employees should not be forced to pay to join an organization that doesn’t reflect their values. The whole RTW issue would play out differently politically if the unions weren’t basically the chief fundraiser for the Democratic Party.

The irony of it all is that when it comes to abortion — when a human life is at stake — Dems plead for “choice” but when it comes to working conditions, they suggest that “choice” is an evil. Funny, isn’t it? And by funny I mean idiotic.

The Fiscal Cliff

As of this writing, semi-secret discussions between President Obama and Speaker Boehner continue. There are some indications that the GOP would be willing to accept higher rates on millionaires in return for significant spending concessions and meaningful entitlement reform. The White House doesn’t seem all that eager for a deal, on the assumption that if it waits long enough, Republicans will eventually cave.

I have no clue how this will end up. I do know that irrespective of any specific policy or spending proposal currently on the table, the United States remains on a fiscal trajectory that, in the long run, will prove ruinous. We simply cannot continue to spend like drunken sailors — the IOUs will one day come due, and when that happens, the adjustment pain will increase for every fiscal year we delay serious action.

Obama’s single-minded insistence on higher taxes for the “wealthy” is somewhat difficult to fathom. Surely POTUS is aware that even at 100 percent tax rates on all incomes above $1 million, the Treasury would only net about $616 billion — which, according to John Stossel writing in Forbes, amounts to a paltry one-third of the deficit. And that assumes that the wealthy wouldn’t change their behavior to mitigate their tax liability or change their behavior to reduce their financial risk, and that the lock-up of that money wouldn’t engender a significant economic contraction that lessens the size of the tax base.

The real problem is spending. As I’ve said before, when your entire political-economic platform consists of playing Santa Claus to the nation, it’s hard to accept when the bill comes due that your magic credit card has been maxed out. The Dems genuinely have no alternative strategy for addressing high spending and over-generous entitlement programs. Until they do, the plan of “tax the rich” and “leave Medicare alone” will do little but increase the price future generations will have to pay.

I hope the House GOP caucus sticks together and demands substantial structural reform. I’ll forgive tax hikes if it means we can finally get the spending beast under control with real — not paper, not baseline — reductions in discretionary and entitlement spending.

Sandy Hook Shooting

Last week’s shooting is a tragedy of the first rank. As of this writing, it seems that a young man with a history of mental illness stole some guns from his mother, killed her, forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary and started firing. Dozens died.

The media’s instinct is to “not politicize” the tragedy, which is code for tut-tutting anyone who dares suggest that gun control ought not be on the agenda.

Time and again, we see mass shootings and then in the aftermath, it becomes clear that various taxpayer-funded social-services entities adjudged the danger but failed to act. Instead of directing one’s ire toward gun owners, perhaps we should start to hold the various psychologists and social workers to account, whose negligence allowed a dangerous mentally-ill person to roam free. I’m not entirely serious about this, but it does seem odd that we’re quicker to blame an inanimate object than the specific counselors and therapists who fell down on the job.

The gun-control argument is interesting, in one sense. Proponents suggest that there were no guns, then even a perpetrator suffering from mental illness would end up wrecking less carnage. Perhaps that’s true, but I’m skeptical. First, there are just too many guns in the U.S.; you couldn’t confiscate them all, even if such were permitted by the courts and Congress. Second, a person bent on committing violent crimes might use a gun if he can find one, but if he can’t, he might resort to something else. There’s a reason why bombings are popular in countries with tough gun laws — just ask the Irish. Bad people will find a way to do bad things. Instead of trying to whack at the hydra’s head of weapons choices, perhaps we should re-think our approach to treating mental illness. Particularly when the patient’s suicidal or homicidal ideations are obvious.

Susan Rice Withdraws

Sparing her boss the drama of a confirmation fight, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice has asked that her name be withdrawn from consideration to serve as America’s next Secretary of State. Press reports suggest that Sen. John Kerry may well end up being the nominee.

Rice angered Republicans when she went on a whirlwind Sunday-TV interview circuit, weeks before the election, and repeated blatantly false talking points about the attack at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya — an act of premeditated terrorism that left Ambassador Stevens and several other Americans dead. The White House still hasn’t gotten its story straight about what it knew and when it knew it, regarding the attacks in Benghazi and Cairo.

Rice disqualified herself through her intransigence about those interviews. Her withdrawal marks the first good sense she’s demonstrated in this debacle. 

Justin Amash Learns the Price of Radical Individualism

The Second Coming of Ron Paul has been on a roll. After spending a first term in Congress as the black sheep of the Republican Caucus —

(The Weekly Standard) When I asked fellow freshman Republican Renee Ellmers of North Carolina about Amash, she laughed nervously. “He doesn’t play nice with others,” said Ellmers, a Tea Party conservative popular with the House leadership. … For the Republican establishment, Amash may be more an amusing spectacle than a serious threat. After the first ask, the GOP leadership doesn’t bother whipping Amash on votes. Committee chairs have learned he’s not likely to budge and usually don’t try to negotiate with him. No congressman is an island, but Amash comes close.

Michael Warren’s story in The Weekly Standard is worth reading in full. It tells the tale of a first-term Congressman who’s drinking up the hard-core Libertarian limelight and casting ideologically pure votes in that vein with no regard for party discipline or constituent instruction. And then he has the balls to say he was purged because he was too conservative? I throw the B.S. card on that one.

Amash won because in 2010, the grown-up vote split between two experienced, seasoned primary candidates. Amash got the Paulite wing, and the youth vote.

After 2010, the redistricting changed the district to include a much deeper swath to the south. If the Democrats get their act together, a seat that’s been a mainstay of men like Gerald Ford, Paul Henry and Vern Ehlers could very well flip blue.