Worst generation ever, Michigan’s Baby Boomers are.
From the moment they arrived on their respective college campuses, the Baby Boomers have been at each others’ throats.
The vehemence of their fight, which continues in the Michigan Legislature as it considers a right-to-work law, is spurred by a fantasy that history has disproven many times: That one’s political opponents would cease to exist if only this candidate were elected or that law were passed.
Like a bully in an after-school special, the fantasy goes, the other side, nose bloodied, will slink away into the role of loyal-but-ineffective opposition.
But politics doesn’t work that way. It never does. At age 28 I’ve read enough political obits to know that any movement declared dead today could, and probably will, hold power tomorrow. (Except the Whigs. Those dudes aren’t coming back.)
I was a George W. Bush voter in 2004. Bush’s reelection came on the heels of an unprecedentedly kind 2002 midterm election for Republicans — midterms are notoriously poor for the party of the sitting president, as Bill Clinton learned in 1994 and Barack Obama learned in 2010. I remember people arguing that the GOP’s hold on power, given by voters who preferred its stand on “moral values,” was near absolute.
People said the same in 2008 when then-Sen. Barack Obama was elected president by a wide margin. This time, all we heard was about the GOP’s “circular firing squad.” Could the Republicans ever remove their hands from each others’ throats long enough to pull things together?
But then the 2010 election — the rise of the Tea Party — happened and Democrats lost control of the U.S. House. Throw in the redistricting that took place in 2010 and the GOP was able to maintain its hold on the House in 2012 despite losing eight seats and earning fewer votes than the Democrats. The people have spoken but the system’s hearing aid is broken.
That fantasy, that one day the people on the other side will cease to exist, has motivated both sides of our labor dispute in Michigan.
The unions made the first mistake with Proposal 2, which would have ingrained collective bargaining rights in the state constitution, upending who-knows-how-many state laws in the process (170 was the number from Attorney General Bill Schuette). This was, in the perspective of most Michigan voters, who were called to approve the amendment in November, a woeful overstep. Though less than 20 percent of the Michigan workforce is unionized, almost all of us respect the role of unions in creating the middle class in America. But we weren’t being asked to pay our respects. We were being asked to lift organized labor to an above-the-law status by putting collective bargaining into our Constitution. We said no and it wasn’t even close. “No” won 57 percent of the vote.
UAW president Bob King, a champion of Prop 2, is to blame, but one can see how the allure of the supreme law lured him in. By definition, things that appear in the black letter of the Michigan Constitution aren’t unconstitutional. Absent a freak court ruling, like the Sixth Circuit decision that voided Michigan’s 2006 voter-approved ban on affirmative action, King would’ve been hailed as a hero of the working man. Now, he might be the guy on whose watch Michigan got a right-to-work law, a sad reversal of fortunes.
Gov. Rick Snyder could’ve been a leader here. Could’ve had his Abraham Lincoln moment and said that even though the Proposal 2 bullet had been dodged, the right-to-work bullet could not be fired. Or, if it were, it would have to become law through a veto override. Snyder could’ve put the children on both sides to bed without dinner, and moved on to the things Republicans actually ran on — bringing jobs to Michigan.
With the push for right-to-work, some in the pundit class have adopted a false equivalency between the push for Proposal 2 and the right-to-work fight. Proposal 2 asked millions of Michigan voters their consent to enshrine collective bargaining in our supreme law. Of major consequence, yes, but it would’ve taken major support. It would have been the will of the people.
Contrast that with the Republican push for right-to-work.
They didn’t try this in Jan. 2011, when this group’s mandate was clear. And they’re not trying it in January 2013, when the new Legislature, with fewer Republicans in power, takes office. No, they’re trying to ram it through the lame-duck session, a move that could be called cowardly. The bill has also been loaded with an appropriation, so it cannot be overturned by voters as eager to punish this overstep as they were Proposal 2.
This is slimeball politics. House Speaker Jase Bolger should be ashamed of it. If Bolger were lawmaker enough to push for this in January, I’d still disagree on the intelligence of and the need for it, but it would be all in the game. Elections, after all, do have consequences.
But for Bolger to try to slip this in now, during the lame duck — well, it helps me understand why Bolger took such an active role in Roy Schmidt’s last-minute party switch, which was by all accounts hamhanded and may have even been illegal. If there are any clown suit shops in Lansing, one imagines they’ve been doing brisk business since Jan. 2011.
Rather than figuring out how to reconfigure the teacher retirement system in a way that doesn’t kill school district budgets, rather than finding new ways to invest in Michigan’s 15 public colleges and universities, Snyder, Bolger and company are working on a right-to-work bill that we don’t know will raise a single worker’s pay or create a single new job. Snyder’s reputation as the adult in the room, as a reformer interested in performance above politics, will go out the window if he can’t demonstrate that right-to-work will bring jobs home — and fast. We’ve been waiting for 30 years now for pro-rich alterations to the tax code and legal system to “trickle down” to the rest of us. Right-to-work might be another test case proving that it won’t.
One day, and hopefully sooner rather than later, these Baby Boomers will retire to their rocking chairs and my generation, the Millenials, will hold power in Michigan.
I can only hope that when we do get our shot, we put more effort into growing the pie that we all share, rather than fighting to the death for the last piece.