The moral case for reform

John Kurzweil is editor of California Political Review.
Posted: August 8, 2005

Peter Schweizer, in his book Reagan’s War, says Ronald Reagan’s guiding insight was that for all its bluster and destructiveness, communism was not a tower of strength to be feared, but a quivering mass of weakness ripe for defeat. Reagan knew its very reliance on lies and violence betrayed its weakness, and so was able to proceed against it with a confidence in final victory shared by few other men.

Visits to websites run by a major opponent of the state’s November reform initiatives — the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) — conveyed a similar impression of weakness, and reminded me of a comment from Albert Speer’s Inside the Third Reich:

It remains one of the oddities of this war that Hitler demanded far less from his people than Churchill and Roosevelt did from their respective nations. The discrepancy between the total mobilization of labor forces in democratic England and the casual treatment of this question in authoritarian Germany is proof of the regime’s anxiety not to risk any shift in the popular mood .... Whereas Churchill promised his people only blood, sweat, and tears, all we heard during the various phases and various crises of the war was Hitler’s slogan: “The final victory is certain.” This was a confession of political weakness. It betrayed great concern over a loss of popularity that might develop into an insurrectionary mood.

This, of course, is the weakness of materialism: by definition unable to draw upon the virtually limitless reservoirs of strength in the human spirit, it must make do with the shallowest of appeals, those of worldly self- interest and the tawdry emotions that accompany it — anger at one’s enemies, real or perceived; festering resentment over life’s difficulties and disappointments; continuous fear of “running out” of life’s necessities; shallow lust after the appearances of personal success — and envy for anyone who seems to have found it — but without the seriousness of purpose that motivates genuine striving for greatness. As Midge Decter says of left-wing feminists in another part of this issue, they appeared on the scene “militant, angry, and in the grip of a curious but lethal combination of galloping self-pity and driving ambition.”

No doubt I will be accused of saying California’s labor unions are run by Nazis and communists. No, I am not saying that. I do say the role those controlling California’s public employee unions have chosen to play in this election betrays weakness, showing the same signs of weakness — reliance on empty slogans and stimulation of low emotions — that tyrannies do.

In “Winning Big, Going Global,” for instance, a short pep talk signed by SEIU President Andrew L. Stern at http://www.seiu.org/who/2003_annual_report/ stern_letter.cfm, Stern asks: “Who could have imagined that this union of working people who often feel individually powerless could become recognized by public officials and corporate executives as one of the most powerful organizations in the country?” (emphasis added)

I know this is standard liberal rhetoric, but why should that excuse it? Where, after all, is this load of stuffing coming from? Stern makes 21st century America sound like feudal England, with peasants and serfs and lords of the manor. In worldly terms — the terms Mr. Stern is concerned with here — the American middle class workers that make up his union are among the most “powerful” people ever to walk the earth. They dispose of income qualifying them as rich in almost any society in other parts of the world today and anywhere at all throughout history up to the most recent past. They have fewer worries about disease, accidental injury, war, famine, crime, poverty, ignorance, repression, racism — you name it — even boredom, than at least nine-tenths of all the men who ever lived. They enjoy technological advancements and the freedom of choice they bring that make the greatest holders of wealth and power of past ages (and still much of the world today) paupers by comparison. And as for California government employees specifically, almost no one can match, much less beat, the pay/benefit/retirement packages they enjoy, thanks to SEIU’s and other unions’ lavish political donations to grateful Democrats who return the favor by agreeing to every demand for more that state government receives from the very same unions.

But still they feel “powerless”? Perhaps it is merely convenient for Mr. Stern to encourage them to feel that way, or else they might begin to doubt the necessity of supporting his bureaucratic union structure and vast left-wing political operations with their involuntarily paid dues.

Here’s a standard articulation of the political issues California faces, presented by SEIU’s Sacramento-based Local 1000 on its website: “Public workers, teachers, firefighters, nurses, police, and the people from our communities who desperately need our services stood up May 25 to protest Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s $70 million special election and his cruel budget cuts.” And here are some lines from a new TV spot union bosses are airing: “Off camera announcer: ‘Papers report the governor has a secret plan to create a “phenomenon of anger” against teachers and other public workers, blaming them for what’s wrong with California.’” This slam reportedly comes from an LA Times article that quoted Schwarzenegger media adviser Don Sipple in a conference call with supporters in which, presumably, Mr. Sipple made the major gaffe of suggesting voters be invited to consider the motivations and tactics of the state spending lobby. He should have remembered that no one supports budget- busting state spending except “people who desperately need our [union] services” and that only Republicans may be called “cruel.”

The key issues on this ballot are, one, ending the self-interested drawing of legislative and congressional district lines to insure the Parties that hold a district never need worry about losing it and, two, requiring union political machines to receive permission from public employees before taking their money for politics. Where is the left’s consideration of the serious issues of democratic government here raised? Where is its honest dealing with the ancillary issues arising from the phenomenon not of anger, but of taxpayers — virtually all the people — sacrificing for the comfort of the pampered few who work in state government?

Where is the honest analysis — in the interests of those “who desperately need our services” — of the actual efficacy of state programs? Accountability is not only unknown in Sacramento, it is considered a vile topic raised only by people of low motives and corrupt nature. We have “entitlements” to social welfare programs and “baseline budgeting” that begins with last year’s spending as the absolute floor on which to build this year’s increases — but no accountability. A few year’s ago, a newspaper reported that legislative hearings uncovered the truth that no one, literally not anyone, knows how the budget for California’s vast prison system is spent. The money — billions of dollars — goes, but we can’t say where, or couldn’t, at least as of the date of those hearings. I would be grateful to any reader who can show me the state has done anything substantial to change things.

In CPR’s most recent issue, Ray Haynes (“A terrible thing to waste,” May/June) cataloged the decade-long crusade propelled mainly by teachers union honchos to head off the setting of academic standards for state public school instruction and of all testing to determine the quality of their teaching along with any talk of merit awards to encourage good teachers. Accountability, in a word, would not be established. The people “who desperately need our services,” not to mention that they also pay the bills, would not be permitted to learn how well their schools are teaching the kids who actually do desperately need to learn. Listen to the voice of the unions, talking either to their own members or to the people of the state. All you hear are demands for more money, never any calls for accountability.

Finally, when do these people consider the larger, more generous concerns for the overall direction of our state or the long-term fate of its people? What is becoming of our freedom? How will it all be sustained? What will become of our children? — questions asked seriously only by men and women confident of the moral strength of their positions, people willing to pledge blood, tears, and sweat, knowing that the justice of their cause demands and justifies it. But weak people are too busy scrambling for survival, too hag-ridden by their own small dreams, by their “feelings of powerlessness,” by envy and anger, to consider these selfless questions.

The moral cause of this election is to break the cycle of despair afflicting California government. We can be free people: self-reliant, prepared to work hard, ready to endure disappointment, to persevere, to live. We need no Nanny State to protect us — it is, indeed, the state bureaucracy that is strangling us, depriving us of our confidence. The end of the gerrymander and of forced political contributions won’t leave us orphans; it will liberate us and make us strong, because the cause it serves is just.


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