In Praise Of Incrementalism

Man, what a hangover. Czar and ‘Puter were up for two days straight, celebrating Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s historic beat-down of labor unions with the fine serving wenches at the Leaping Peacock.  Before you get all “‘Puter’s a sexist pig,” you should know that’s what Fifi and Belinda call themselves. And they sure can fill out a dirndl.  

Czar and ‘Puter invited Dr. J, but
he tapped out in hour 23.

Gov. Walker’s performance was so good ‘Puter just heard AB InBev made the governor a multi-million dollar offer to be the spokesmodel for its new product “WhupAss,” a concoction of bath salts, vodka and Red Bull, set for a Fall roll out at Arizona State (motto: “Where Dumb, Slutty Girls Go To Party For Seven Years”.  It sounds less misogynistic in the original Klingon).

So, as ‘Puter sits here nursing his hangover, sipping Clamato and raw egg smoothies to restore his electrolyte balance, his thoughts invariably turned to incrementalism.

You see, ‘Puter’s thinking that conservatives will misread Gov. Walker’s win for the ages in Wisconsin. ‘Puter sees conservatives seeking to exploit their hard-won advantage to a fault.  When one is successful, the tendency is to think that additional gains are surely achievable, and with little additional cost or effort.  Oftentimes, though, success — particularly a long running string of successes — makes for a skewed perspective.  Just ask the Wisconsin unions.

‘Puter’s heard conservative firebrands calling for Republicans to crush the unions.  After all, Wisconsin voters, not exactly America’s most conservative electorate, supported destroying public sector unions, so why not the rest of America? ‘Puter thinks these folks misread the Wisconsin vote’s tea leaves. ‘Puter’s betting that America’s electorate is less like him and more like Mrs. ‘Puter, a registered Democrat in the Kennedy Democrat mold (i.e., center-right, pro-national defense, fiscally conservative). ‘Puter thinks Mrs. ‘Puter would have voted to retain Gov. Walker, despite the fact that she is a card-carrying member of NYSUT, because she thinks unions have overreached.

‘Puter believes a supermajority of the American electorate, like Mrs. ‘Puter, is pro-union in theory.  But a significant percentage of those same pro-union Americans, again with the Mrs. ‘Puter, look at what’s become of their school district/town/county/state/country and think that the unions have overreached, lining their own pockets rather than investing in “the children.”  Voters, including a majority of Wisconsinites and Mrs. ‘Puter, did not and will not vote to get rid of unions, but they did and will vote to curtail plain union abuses, especially when their kids are the ones paying for union greed.

And that’s where incrementalism comes in.  Gov. Walker didn’t ban unions.  He didn’t prevent all collective bargaining.  He simply reformed the process, requiring union members to contribute more toward their pensions and health care, limiting collective bargaining on wages to the consumer price index and prohibiting payroll deduction of union dues. Even with these limited, common sense changes, unions succeeded in gathering nearly one million signatures to require a recall election.

‘Puter thinks conservatives, and specifically Republicans running for election this November, would do well to think incrementally.  Rather than railing against public sector unions, no matter how schadenfreude-licious it would be.  Republican candidates should give a version of the following speech whenever asked for their stance on unions and collective bargaining rights:

Labor unions have had and will have a place in America, and if elected, I pledge to support unions’ fundamental and vital mission. Unions support our working men and women, fighting to ensure our workers get a fair deal. 

Our American labor unions are rightly proud of their historical role in increasing workers’ wages and mandating common sense workplace safety regulations. Every American from the boiler room to the board room owes unions a debt of gratitude. I owe the union a debt of gratitude.

But, despite America’s respect for unions, all of us must acknowledge reality.  The laws and regulations governing unions were created in the 1930s for private sector unions.  No one ever intended for the public sector to be unionized.  Heck, even FDR, the father of the New Deal, didn’t think public workers should be permitted to unionize.  

Whatever one thinks of the statutes and regulations governing our unions, they are rational as applied to the private sector.  The private sector is governed by shareholders and driven by the profit motive.  If unions demand too much from their employers, the company fails.  The private sector union dynamic is self-regulating. Bad unions drive employers out of business.  Good unions work with employers to the mutual benefit of all.  Unions that assist management in creating a bigger pot of money rightly ask for and usually receive more of it.  Where private labor and management function as partners, everyone benefits. 

In the public sector, however, there is no such check on unions.  Employers never fail.  After all, government employers have an endless supply of money: your wallet.  Union contracts bankrupting your jurisdiction? No worries.  There’s always more revenue.  We’ll just raise the tax rate again and say it’s for the children. 

Worse, public sector unions can and do use taxpayer money (stolen out of your pocket and laundered through payroll-deducted union dues) to elect employers who in return give union members raises, regardless of impact on the public.  How would you like to have that power over your boss, the power to hire or fire him?  I sure would.  It would make negotiating my next raise that much easier, wouldn’t it? 

We all know it’s not realistic to give workers the unfettered right to write their own ticket.  Human nature is to grab all you can for yourself, others be damned.  We can deny it all we want, but it’s there.  I’m sure no one listening to me would take advantage of such power, but we each know someone who would.  And all it takes is one person to get greedy, then the rest of us have to do so as well to make sure there’s something — anything — left for us.  This is why communism and socialism are failed ideologies, and why Washington no longer works: each failed to acknowledge it’s human nature to take advantage when we can. 

And that’s why I’m here.  I’m here to hold unions to their core mission: ensuring a fair deal for all, not just a fortunate few.  I’m here to stand up for those the public sector unions have ignored for too long: the taxpayers.  To the taxpayers, I promise to restore fiscal sanity to collective bargaining.  To the public sector unions, I promise to work with you where I can to preserve your core mission: protecting workers.  But I will not allow unnecessarily high labor costs to bankrupt my jurisdiction, not when there are literally millions of workers standing by who stand ready, willing and able to do the same job as the public sector’s unionized workers, in the same clean and safe environment, for fair but reduced wages and benefits.

We must protect our public workers from political fads and personal vendettas.  We must guarantee our public workers fair wages, decent benefits and safe work conditions.  But we do not owe our public workers a better deal than the taxpayers who pays their wages. Most taxpayers have no guaranteed pension, provided at little or no cost to them. Most taxpayers don’t have no lifetime tenure.  Most taxpayers don’t get guaranteed longevity based pay increases regardless of performance. But these same taxpayers are taxed to pay for these non-market benefits for others.  Is this what my opponent means by “paying your fair share?”  If it is, I’d certainly like to hear him defend his position. 

Unions will exist as long as I am in office.  I pledge tonight not to support legislation to abolish unions.   I also pledge tonight that I will struggle mightily to make the public sector unions honor their history, ensure public workers receive a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work. But I will not stand idly by as unions use unfair advantage, codified into a law never meant to apply to public workers, to bankrupt our great nation. 

All of us workers — unionized or not — can work together to ensure a fairer, more just government. One that rewards merit and discourages sloth. One that protects its workers and its taxpayers alike.  One that we can all be rightly proud of.
We can do it. I know we can.  But we must work together.  I ask each of you to pledge to work with me to ensure each of us gets a fair deal from our government.

And that, boys and girls, is incrementalism.  Change what you can, when you can.  Be realistic about your circumstances.  Recognize your limits.  If we insist on our way or the highway, we end up with the highway.  If we can agree to go so far down the highway with each other, then we’re at least that much closer to our goals.

Compromise and realism in order to advance one’s goals is not the province of wusses but rather of the wise man.  Fools confuse principled compromise with “caving in to the other side.”  It’s the loud-mouthed fools who have prevented even the best politicians, the ones we can count on, from even exploring compromise, lest they be savaged by their own.  As a result, we’ve arrived at a point where nothing gets done, not ever, because to do so requires compromise.

The candidate that gives ‘Puter’s speech or a near facsimile thereof, Republican or Democrat, just may get ‘Puter’s vote.  And ‘Puter’s willing to bet that after the November elections, if the Democrats get trounced, New York just may see Governor Andrew Cuomo give such a speech, as he positions himself to run for the White House in 2016. What  more attractive candidate to the vast middle than a governor who takes on his own base to balance a hemorrhaging state’s budget?

Only Nixon could go to China.  Only Republicans can cut defense spending.  Only Democrats can take on unions.  Until now.

We live in interesting times, and the times are getting interesting-ier and interesting-ier.

About 'Puter

Always right, unless he isn’t, the infallible Ghettoputer F. X. Gormogons claims to be an in-law of the Volgi, although no one really believes this. ’Puter carefully follows economic and financial trends, legal affairs, and serves as the Gormogons’ financial and legal advisor. He successfully defended us against a lawsuit from a liquor distributor worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid deliveries of bootleg shandies. The Geep has an IQ so high it is untestable and attempts to measure it have resulted in dangerously unstable results as well as injuries to researchers. Coincidentally, he publishes intelligence tests as a side gig. His sarcasm is so highly developed it borders on the psychic, and he is often able to insult a person even before meeting them. ’Puter enjoys hunting small game with 000 slugs and punt guns, correcting homilies in real time at Mass, and undermining unions. ’Puter likes to wear a hockey mask and carry an axe into public campgrounds, where he bursts into people’s tents and screams. As you might expect, he has been shot several times but remains completely undeterred. He assures us that his obsessive fawning over news stories involving women teachers sleeping with young students is not Freudian in any way, although he admits something similar once happened to him. Uniquely, ’Puter is unable to speak, read, or write Russian, but he is able to sing it fluently. Geep joined the order in the mid-1980s. He arrived at the Castle door with dozens of steamer trunks and an inarticulate hissing creature of astonishingly low intelligence he calls “Sleestak.” Ghettoputer appears to make his wishes known to Sleestak, although no one is sure whether this is the result of complex sign language, expert body posture reading, or simply beating Sleestak with a rubber mallet. 'Puter suggests the Czar suck it.