Rank ordering of preferences

by Henry on April 8, 2005

There was a bit of an argument that was provoked by my recent post about Republican intentions and labour reform; Sebastian Holsclaw, among other commenters, suggested that not only could Republicans be trusted to undertake reform and increase accountability in the labour movement, they were the only political party that could be so trusted. Democrats were too close to the unions to want to change them. By sheer coincidence, I was reading Rick Perlstein’s Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus over the last couple of days, and came across the following bit (p.37), in which Goldwater compares idealistic and incorruptible union leader Walter Reuther to James Hoffa senior (who was incidentally a Goldwater fan):

“Do you mean to tell me,” asked an amazed committee accountant after wading through the ascetic leader’s expense accounts,”that Walter Reuther pays for his own dry cleaning when he stays in a hotel?” Goldwater was not deterred. “I would rather have Hoffa stealing my money, ” he declared, “than Reuther stealing my freedom.”

Now on the one hand, Goldwater was one individual, and he’s dead. But on the other, he was perhaps the single most important influence on modern Republicanism. As Perlstein documents, Goldwater’s particular brand of don’t-touch-me conservatism came to dominate the Republican movement. His ordering of preferences is, I’d submit, very strong evidence that one strain (arguably the dominant strain) of modern Republicanism shouldn’t be trusted anywhere near the question of trade union reform. It’s not interested in reforms to improve transparency so much as gutting the labour movement. Charismatic, personally honest leaders are a much bigger threat to these people than corrupt union bosses like Hoffa.

(I should also say that “Before the Storm” is a cracking read; anyone who’s interested in the forces driving current American politics should read it).

{ 41 comments }

1

Nicholas Weininger 04.08.05 at 9:15 am

The irony here is that Goldwater was himself a sincere, incorruptible idealist, and his statement is quite consistent with that. He’s expressing a preference for messy freedom over efficient tyranny.

But modern Republicans really are not Goldwaterist in any meaningful way. They realized that his sincere ideological commitment, coupled with the tin-eared political ineptitude common to people of consistent principle, made for a losing electoral formula. Far more effective to take the most crowd-pleasing parts of his rhetoric, throw overboard almost all of the substance, and find a slick media master to deliver the shell of the message. Perlstein, as I read him, actually acknowledges this; his recounting of Reagan’s campaign speech toward the end of the book is the most telling moment in the whole story.

The context of the quotation is telling, too. Goldwater was defending Herb Kohler’s right not to negotiate with the UAW, which had used systematic and widespread violence during its strike. Reuther’s “idealism” didn’t extend to respect for peace or property.

2

Russell Arben Fox 04.08.05 at 9:20 am

“As Perlstein documents, Goldwater’s particular brand of don’t-touch-me conservatism came to dominate the Republican movement. His ordering of preferences is, I’d submit, very strong evidence that one strain (arguably the dominant strain) of modern Republicanism shouldn’t be trusted anywhere near the question of trade union reform. It’s not interested in reforms to improve transparency so much as gutting the labour movement.”

Nice connection, Henry. It’s pretty common to hear liberals occasionally pine for the “Goldwater Republicans”–socially moderate, economically libertarian and prudent, the whole nine yards. Supposedly, such an improvement over the Southern-based, Christian Right Republican party today. I tend to find such complaints strained–the simple truth is that Goldwater’s “don’t-touch-me conservatism” is alive and well in the Republican party today; it’s just a libertarianism turned corporate. When Bush talks about an “ownership society” as a key to freedom, he’s talking about, well, “owners”–in other words, business. The long-standing Republican hostility to unions, and too often to social equity questions in general, doesn’t seem to have been qualified by “compassionate conservatism” one bit.

3

The Navigator 04.08.05 at 9:23 am

I’m not among those who dismissed Sebastian H. as a winger hack; he’s a thoughtful, intelligent guy, but sometimes he’s just way off the tracks, and if he thinks the GOP is worthy of our trust to do labor reform right – that’s just comical. At least the Dems are torn between their labor and big business allegiances; the GOP has been on the warpath to destroy organized labor for the last, oh, eighty-five years at least, I’d say. The Repubs have had all this time to make NLRB fines for unlawful practices a meaningful deterrent, rather than a cynical joke. So, have they? Of course not, don’t be ridiculous.
If the Dems were hopelessly pro-union, they would have overturned Taft-Hartley when they controlled the White House and Congress in 1977-81, or 1993-95. So, did they? Of course not.

4

C.J.Colucci 04.08.05 at 9:54 am

Unions? Republicans are still getting mileage out of unions? They are hanging onto the private sector by their fingernails as it is, and the economy is trending toward all sorts of jobs that are hard to unionize no matter who’s in charge orwhat the rules are. Not that any of that matters; even the enfeebled labor movement has to be crushed, if for no other reason than nostalgia.

5

Matt 04.08.05 at 9:54 am

I recall listening to Newt Gingrich some years ago on CSPAN– he was sounding pretty rational, at first– and then the subject of unions came up. He literally turned purple, got all hot and sweaty and started spouting really, truly bizarre statements. Goldwater’s heir, I guess.

6

Henry 04.08.05 at 10:32 am

Nicholas, your interpretation of Perlstein seems to me to be plain wrong. Perlstein does discuss how Reagan repackaged Goldwater’s message – but makes it clear that it was a repackaging, not a repudiation. The entire point of the book, as I see it, is how Goldwater’s campaign was the vital first step in the destruction of the previous managerialist consensus, and the creation of a new, individualist pro-market, pro-business one. As to the particulars of Reuther – Perlstein shows quite unambiguously, Goldwater’s ‘investigation’ of Reuther was a political stunt. There was violence on both sides – even before the strike began, “company officials held target practice on man-shaped targets.” And Goldwater himself acknowledged this.

As Reuther finished up his testimony, Goldwater leaned over to Bobby Kennedy to admit that Republican committee members had no case. “You were right,” he said. “We should never have gotten into this matter.”

7

Cranky Observer 04.08.05 at 11:12 am

> preference for messy freedom over
> efficient tyranny

One of my life observations is that when people call freedom (or any political process) “messy” what they mean is that I should clean up their mess and return to my hovel while they vacation on Maui.

Cranky

8

Mrs Tilton 04.08.05 at 11:18 am

As Perlstein documents, Goldwater’s particular brand of don’t-touch-me conservatism came to dominate the Republican movement.

Came and then left, I’d say. I don’t doubt today’s Orwellian Theocrat lot would eagerly if privately concur with Goldwater re: Reuther vs. Hoffa. But were Goldwater still with us today, I suspect one look at the latter-day GOP would drive him to get mediaeval on their ass.

I recall a story (recounted, I think, by Garry Wills) of a former Goldwater aide who had made an ideological odyssey and become a fervently anti-war leftist. Goldwater happened upon him lying down in the road, participating in a protest. ‘Hey’, asked the senator, ‘why don’t you ever drop round anymore?’ ‘Emm, I thought your staff might be kind of pissed off if I did’, came the reply. ‘Well, piss on them‘, said Goldwater; ‘you’re my friend.’

BTW, does anybody capable of thinking really dismiss Sebastian as a winger hack? I mean, he’s violently wrong about almost everything, of course. But he’s honest and decent, and has taken important positions that can’t have won him many friends among his ideological comrades.

9

Nicholas Weininger 04.08.05 at 12:24 pm

Henry: again I think you confuse the rhetorical with the real. Goldwater really wanted to abolish the entitlement state, and would have done so if elected, and said so even when it made him unpopular. Reagan talked a good game about how big welfarist government was bad for a free society, but made mealy-mouthed excuses whenever a really popular welfare program was mentioned; and as President he signed into law a massive tax increase to shore up Social Security. Take union law for another example: Goldwater wanted both Taft-Hartley and Wagner repealed and antitrust laws applied to unions; Reagan indulged in generic anti-union rhetoric and fired the air traffic controllers, but did little if anything to change the fundamental framework of union regulation. Reagan didn’t “repudiate” Goldwaterism exactly– and I didn’t claim he did– but he abandoned the essential ideological core.

There is not, and has not been for decades, any sort of individualist, pro-market, pro-business consensus in the Republican Party. Instead, we have a lot of nice soundbites about individualism and markets, with the same old game going on behind the mask.

Re Reuther: how, exactly, is *target practice* for defensive purposes comparable to actual attacks on persons and property? Were the man-shaped targets actual men? Also, you’re mischaracterizing the quotation– Goldwater’s admission was *not* that Kohler’s management was morally culpable for anything, which it wasn’t, but that the attempts to dig up dirt on Reuther had failed and that then-current labor law (which he, as a matter of principle, detested and wanted repealed) was unfortunately on Reuther’s side.

10

sd 04.08.05 at 12:32 pm

This may well be the weakest argument I’ve ever read on CT. So one guy who was historically influential in the Republican party made a statement filled with rhetorical flourish four decades ago and thus we can justify our smug refusal to debate a government action on the merits because, goddammit, the sinister wingnuts can’t be trusted ever.

11

jet 04.08.05 at 1:36 pm

Mrs. Tilton,
“and has taken important positions that can’t have won him many friends among his ideological comrades.”

Name just one.

12

Mrs Tilton 04.08.05 at 1:55 pm

Jet,

Name just one.

OK, here’s one. Sebastian has spoken out at length against torture and extraordinary rendition. Republicans in general do not. Some pretend that no torture is going on, or that what is going on is not torture; others take a more robust view of things. Sebastian will not, and that does him credit.

I can’t recall anything you have written on the topic. If you’ve cast your lot in with Sebastian, good for you.

13

Henry 04.08.05 at 3:21 pm

Hi Nicholas

Bad phrasing on my part – when I said “Goldwater himself acknowledged this,” I was referring back to the political stunt bit – I interpolated the intervening sentence when finishing my post, and didn’t re-edit properly. My bad. But Perlstein does state absolutely unambiguously that there was continuing violence on both sides (e.g. third para, p. 36). Blaming Reuther alone for this is at odds with the historical record. Nor was this an isolated instance – there’s a long, long history in the US of company bosses organizing violence, murder and intimidation to stop union organizing drives. You can’t just point a finger of blame at the union side.

Further, while I agree that the Reagan revolution didn’t deliver on some of Goldwater’s agenda, I think you’re grossly underestimating the consequences of Reagan’s coming to power. institutions such as the NLRB, which had been mainstays of labour, had their valence reversed so that they became means of undermining labour’s power (a process which is still ongoing). Where he didn’t succeed (i.e. in rolling back the welfare state substantially), it was largely thanks to institutional inertia rather than his, or his cabinet’s, preferences. Paul Pierson is good on this.

I can certainly understand that Reagan’s eight years in power might not have been everything that a serious libertarian would have wanted – but to imply, as you seem to be implying, that it didn’t result in a very substantial and planned set of institutional setbacks for organized labour, is to make an argument that I reckon is at odds with history.

Jet – Sebastian’s willingness to call out bloggers who implicitly condone torture certainly qualifies. I certainly don’t view him as a winger hack – although I do disagree vehemently with him on a whole slew of political issues.

14

mq 04.08.05 at 3:39 pm

Outside of the torture issue, for which I do give him credit, Sebastian’s positions are astonishingly predictable based on simply noting where the Republican party stands on the issue. Unlike independent minded libertarian types like Jim Henley, he does not diverge significantly from whatever the Republican line is on religion, on the war in Iraq, etc. etc.

15

dipnut 04.08.05 at 4:42 pm

It’s not interested in reforms to improve transparency so much as gutting the labour movement.

Rather, it is undertaking reforms to improve transparency, knowing that the ultimate effect will be to gut the “labor movement” (scare quotes, because the thing is not labor, and it does not move).

If the “labor movement” is prevented from lying, stealing, and thuggery, it will cease to exist as a political force. Perhaps that wasn’t true in Goldwater’s day, but it’s true now.

16

bob mcmanus 04.08.05 at 4:43 pm

Sebastian sucks and he is ruining the site.

(A Tacitus/ObsWi injoke concerning threads that devolve into poster-bashing.)

17

Nicholas Weininger 04.08.05 at 4:55 pm

Henry: yes, Reagan’s presidency resulted in substantial institutional setbacks for labor. What it didn’t result in, however, was a substantial victory for market freedom. There is a difference. Leaving the power of an agency basically untouched, while changing the set of interests in whose service that power is used, doesn’t advance individualism or freedom at all, not even partially.

This is something I think Goldwater understood and Reagan didn’t, and this is why I don’t see Reagan’s presidency as any sort of triumph of Goldwaterism. The structural power of government over economic life decreased hardly at all; what changed were the groups rewarded and punished.

On unions in general– certainly there is a history of management violence. But in the Reuther case I still think “continuing violence on both sides” is still not quite a fair characterization. Perlstein recounts the shooting of striking workers by sheriff’s deputies in 1934; this is violence, but not continuing as the dispute in question was twenty years later. Then when recounting the strike tactics used by both sides in 1954 (I’m guessing this is the para you’re referring to, beginning “He had had enough…”– in my paperback edition it spans pp. 35-36, probably you have the hardcover?), on the management side he lists spying and entrapment attempts, unsavory tactics but not morally comparable to the physical attacks perpetrated by the union.

I know this is getting down to nitpicking, but it seems the sort of thing where the details matter.

(BTW, thanks for the Pierson recommendation, but which Pierson are you recommending? Amazon shows several).

18

Henry 04.08.05 at 6:53 pm

I’ve got the paperback edition too. P.36, third para. “The strike went on through 1957, an agonizing slow war of attrition, the violence piling up on both sides.”

It sounds as if our basic disagreement stems from our political viewpoints. You’re interested in the rollback of the state, tout court, and how Reagan failed to deliver on this. I’m interested in how the Reagan revolution undermined the power of a group of social actors who I care about. In other words, I reckon that we’re both right – I’m interested in the change in the set of interests, you in the lack of change in the state forms.

The Pierson is Paul Pierson and in particular his book – Dismantling the Welfare State?: Reagan, Thatcher and the Politics of Retrenchment – he has a shorter version of this in World Politics sometime around 1995 or so if my memory serves me right.

19

Tim H 04.08.05 at 7:01 pm

>If the “labor movement” is prevented
>from lying, stealing, and thuggery,
>it will cease to exist as a political
>force.

Wow. Would the same go for the GOP?

20

Nicholas Weininger 04.08.05 at 8:23 pm

Ah, OK, fair enough. I’d passed that over since Perlstein gives no specific examples of what “piled up” on the management side, but I suppose his word is worth taking. I think you’re about right on the disagreement. And I’ll put the Pierson on my list.

21

Sebastian Holsclaw 04.09.05 at 1:16 am

“BTW, does anybody capable of thinking really dismiss Sebastian as a winger hack? I mean, he’s violently wrong about almost everything, of course. But he’s honest and decent, and has taken important positions that can’t have won him many friends among his ideological comrades.”

Thanks, I think. :)

Henry, The question of whether or not Republicans ‘can be trusted’ to reform trade unions is a little odd. So far as I can tell most of the people here (including you) think that (framing it uncharitably) forcing people to join trade unions, extracting their money and forcing them to use it for political gamesmanship that they don’t like while obscuring exactly where the money is going, is peachy keen as long as it is benefiting the left.

If you don’t think there is something wrong with the way trade unions operate, you aren’t going to want anyone to reform them. The question about whether or not Republicans can be trusted to do it is just a distraction from the real question. You don’t think there is much wrong, but it is easier to argue that Republicans can’t be trusted with trade unions than it is to defend the actual practices of trade unions that you want to defend. That is why you aren’t much worried about the established historical fact that Democrats don’t reform trade unions–you don’t actually think they ought to be reformed. Approaching it the way you are would be like initiating an hours-long discussion of how to fix US public education at the primary school level only to tell me at the end that you don’t think there is really anything seriously wrong with the system. It is easy to shoot down reform ideas if your premise is that there isn’t anything really wrong.

22

markus 04.09.05 at 2:06 am

@Sebastian
The frame is exactly the problem. It appears to me, that while I can acknowledge the legitimacy of your argument of “force”, many people on your side have trouble thinking beyond “force”.
This despite the fact that it’s hard to imagine, that we’d disagree that employers also wield considerable force, that the concept of someone entering into an employment contract freely and voluntarily is a useful abstraction, but not true in a substantial number of cases (take e.g. Walmart in small communities).
From there, I conclude, that in response to the economic force wielded by the employer, employees should also have access to some kind of force of their own, to make the sides roughly equal again, so that the remaining negotiations are free from distortions caused by imbalances of power. It is inherent that the force wielded by unions will do some damage (as does the force wielded by the employer), but while seeking to minimize it, I regard is as a necessary evil for the functioning of the whole process of “negotiations on work conditions and wages”.
So yes, there are things wrong with trade unions, but asking people to fix it whose discussion of the matter rarely ever goes beyond force (that is, people who _express_ hostility to the concept of organized labour (whose whole point is gaining “force”) as such) is asking a bit much, isn’t it?

23

Henry 04.09.05 at 8:20 am

Hi Sebastian

You’re making a move here (don’t know whether you’re doing it consciously or not), which is out of bounds – you’re effectively accusing me of arguing in bad faith. That is, you’re saying I’m not interested in union reform – I’m only interested in whether or not unions are able to use their resources to benefit the left. Am I wrong in that interpretation? As it happens, that’s quite untrue – it would actually be more accurate to say that I’m more interested in the left insofar as it benefits unions, or the kinds of politics that unions might represent in a transformed economy. As noted in the previous discussion, I’m not a Democrat, I’m a social democrat – I want to see an economy in which there’s a much fairer distribution of wealth, and in which workers have a much greater say in how the economy operates. It’s an old-fashioned point of view, and one which has little to no chance of being implemented in the foreseeable future in the US – but to claim that I (and people like me) are not interested in union reform is both unjustified and rather insulting – it’s at the heart of our politics. I don’t know whether the insult is intended or not – but it’s there. What I’m saying – and I’ll repeat it again, is that union reform is important, but that it can’t be trusted to Goldwater/Reagan type Republicans. That isn’t an odd question to debate at all – and indeed it’s one that you debated at length (and made claims about)in the previous thread. What I’m saying (and what you seem to me to be ducking) is that people like Harry Bridges and Walter Reuther provide an alternative model of trade unionism. This may be profoundly incompatible with your view of what politics should be like, but it is undoubtedly clean in the sense that we’re talking about here. To claim that we’re not interested in union reform is to distract from the actual argument that we’re debating here, in a quite unhelpful way.

24

Sebastian Holsclaw 04.09.05 at 1:15 pm

“You’re making a move here (don’t know whether you’re doing it consciously or not), which is out of bounds – you’re effectively accusing me of arguing in bad faith. That is, you’re saying I’m not interested in union reform – I’m only interested in whether or not unions are able to use their resources to benefit the left. Am I wrong in that interpretation?”

Perhaps I should say that you don’t seem interested in reform in the real world. You say that Republicans ought not be allowed to do so and you know that Democrats will not. They are the only parties able to bring reform (unions have quite effectively shut out their members’ ability to do so by doing the things that you don’t want Republicans to reform). If you want me to admit that you have some Platonic idea of reform that you support, I absolutely admit that. But what does that have to do with reality.

You suggest that I’m arguing in bad faith, but you either fail to realize, or fail to deal with the knowledge that the entire premise of your post is that Republicans cannot offer reforms in good faith. Bridges is 60 years in the past and Reuther is 50. (And humorously one of Reuther’s key issues was the opening of General Motor’s books which you have specifically come out against for unions.) Republicans cannot offer reforms. Democrats love the status quo. Union members are denied (and you approve of the denial) of information which could lead to internal reforms. What precisely is left that I can attribute to you more than a purely theoretical interest in reform? If it exists, you have not put it into your writings here. I am not making a rhetorical move. I am pointing out that your theoretical interest in reforms are strongly impeded by your postitions on real-world actions.

25

Sebastian Holsclaw 04.09.05 at 1:26 pm

The argument you make is like the argument that Democrats ought not be trusted with foreign policy decisions because they are too willing to capitulate in the face of resistance. That is an argument against electing Democrats (good or bad, that is what the argument is about). That is NOT an argument about any specific foreign policy proposal. You transform an argument about Republicans which would be an excellent argument against electing Republicans if someone shares your view on unions and believes that is a very important issue, but which is an awful argument against specific proposals offered by Republicans.

26

Henry 04.09.05 at 2:25 pm

Sebastian – Yes, it’s true – I am trying to argue that Republicans (or more precisely, the currently dominant strain in the Republican party) can’t offer trade union reforms in good faith. But there’s evidence that Republicans’ interests are antithetical to those of the trade union movement as a political actor – I don’t believe that you had any evidence that I was arguing in bad faith.

Again, you claim that Republicans are the only actors that can be trusted with trade union reform. Right? Yet the current Republican leadership has demonstrably shown far more interest in pushing back the power of trade unions as far as possible than in reforming them. A couple of examples – the National Right to Work Foundation’s letter, which went out under the signature of the Foundation’s vice-president Tom DeLay, which accused “union bosses” of being a “a clear and present danger to the United States.” That could perhaps be defended as a specific animus against union bosses; the threat to veto the creation of the Department of Homeland Security unless it was union free cannot. The systematic bias of the NLRB against unions’ efforts to organize the workplace since Republican appointees became a majority of the board. The efforts of the Bush administration in its first term to court the Teamsters (and, most particularly, the elements within the Teamsters surrounding Jimmy Hoffa jr.), so as to recreate the traditional alliance in which Teamsters endorsed Nixon, Reagan etc. The Republican party can be trusted to “reform” the trade union movement in exactly the same way as, say, a Cold War Soviet general could have been trusted to reform the US military establishment, or General Pinochet could have been trusted to reform the Chilean movement for democratic reform. That is to say – the Republicans can be trusted to do their best to reform the trade union movement out of existence as a political actor. The overwhelming preponderance of evidence is (a) that they want to do their damnedest to squash trade unions’ political power, and (b) that they are prepared to do deals where politically expedient with the most disgustingly corrupt elements in the trade union movement. This is not what one might describe as an appealing track record for purported reformists. Or have you any actual evidence of Republican leaders being interested in pushing through reforms for a cleaner, more politically effective trade union movement? I’d like to see it if so.

27

Sebastian Holsclaw 04.09.05 at 6:18 pm

“The Republican party can be trusted to “reform” the trade union movement in exactly the same way as, say, a Cold War Soviet general could have been trusted to reform the US military establishment, or General Pinochet could have been trusted to reform the Chilean movement for democratic reform.”

And if we are going to be over the top, having Democrats do it would be like having the KGB reform the Communist Party.

Therefore pretty much none of the major politcal actors can be trusted to reform unions.

But once again, this is a horrible argument about any particular proposal. Proposals can actually be analyzed on their merits rather than the merits of who is proposing them. You don’t like the probability that disclosure will cause union members to dislike their own unions. Republicans may well propose disclosure with that in mind. But frankly, if unions have to hide their actions from their members they don’t deserve the pretense of representing them. It isn’t as if they have national security concerns or something.

“Or have you any actual evidence of Republican leaders being interested in pushing through reforms for a cleaner, more politically effective trade union movement?”

Republicans are interested in unions that are more politically effective AT REPRESENTING THEIR MEMBERS because Democrats have created a system where unions get to squeeze money out of Republican union members for Democratic fund-raising.

That isn’t what you think of as a more effective trade union movement because you like being able to leverage people against their own preferences so long as you get to force them along the path you like.

From my point of view, that argument is pathetic, but you don’t ever have to deal with the weakness of your arguments because you engage in demonization instead of argument.

28

Dan Simon 04.09.05 at 6:21 pm

Henry, let’s see if we can make this whole discussion a little clearer. Suppose that the proposals you’re objecting to had been made instead, word for word, by somebody entirely outside the Republican party–a random blogger, say, or an academic at an obscure university. Would you then consider them a good idea? If not, then why not? And if so, then what difference does it make that they happen to have been proposed by somebody whose motives you distrust?

29

Henry 04.09.05 at 7:59 pm

Sebastian – yet again you’re making unsupported and very offensive claims about my hidden motivations. As I’ve pointed out repeatedly and at length, I am not especially interested in the success of the Democratic party except insofar as it advances a political agenda in which unions themselves become more powerful (and internally more democratically representative) actors. What is it about this that you don’t understand? Have I not repeated it enough times to get it through to you? If unions were more politically powerful and better able to represent their members’ interests, and this weakened the Democratic party, my attitude would be tough luck for the Democratic party, an institution that I have no great love for. I want to see unions become more powerful as political actors because they would be able to represent their members’ interests better, and to claw back some of the economic territory that they have been forced both by Republican administrations and by Democratic ones to concede over the last forty years. Do you really, really want to argue that the Republican party would support a powerful trade union movement, independent of the Democratic party, that would be able to represent its members’ interests properly against, say, Walmart? The Republican party that has been consistently on the side of the Walmarts and against the trade unions for the last forty years? If you honestly believe that this description is a ‘demonization’ of the Republican party, you’re bullshitting yourself. And either back up your assertions as to what my real motivations are with some evidence, or shut up about them. At this stage, I’m getting bored of boxing against shadows.

30

Sebastian Holsclaw 04.10.05 at 12:20 am

“Have I not repeated it enough times to get it through to you?”

You repeat it, but your proposals do not support your assertion. The funny thing is that you are getting hung up on my alleged assertions about your motivations when I don’t give a damn about your motivations. I care about the actual effects of the things you propose

And now I see that is the whole problem. You don’t like the motivations of Republicans so you believe that is a good argument against every possible proposal from them. You think motivations trump all. I care about effects. You think when I am attacking your motivations when in fact I am attacking the effects of your proposals. The real world effect of your proposal is that union reforms would not happen. I could speculate on your purpose in acting that way, but I don’t need to. I will just point out that you claim to want reform in unions but in practical effect you wouldn’t allow for it and leave it at that.

Is that statement incorrect?

Dan asked:

Suppose that the proposals you’re objecting to had been made instead, word for word, by somebody entirely outside the Republican party—a random blogger, say, or an academic at an obscure university. Would you then consider them a good idea? If not, then why not? And if so, then what difference does it make that they happen to have been proposed by somebody whose motives you distrust?

And now I see that from your perspective Dan’s question is unfair. Motivation is everything. Real world effects are nothing. You are acting as almost a characterature of the heart-over-head liberal in this particular argument.

To reiterate, your motives are irrelevant. I will not say that somewhere deep in your heart that you don’t ‘want’ reform in unions. I will say that your suggestion to bar Republicans from proposing reforms have the practical effect of making reform exceedingly unlikely. Secondarily your focus on motives appears to me to be an attempt to attack a proposal that you could not attack on the merits. Why you would choose to do that could make for interesting speculation on motives if you were doing it with respect to Republicans, but at your request I will merely note the oddity and refrain from prying into your deeply cryptic motivational structure.

31

Jason McCullough 04.10.05 at 4:27 am

“Republicans are interested in unions that are more politically effective AT REPRESENTING THEIR MEMBERS because Democrats have created a system where unions get to squeeze money out of Republican union members for Democratic fund-raising.”

This is a very strange statement. Can you name a single thing a mainstream Republican leader has done in the last 10 years that helped a “union be politically effective at representing their members?” I can’t think of a party + interest group match with more hostility.

32

Antoni Jaume 04.10.05 at 8:14 am

“Republicans are interested in unions that are more politically effective AT REPRESENTING THEIR MEMBERS because Democrats have created a system where unions get to squeeze money out of Republican union members for Democratic fund-raising.”

There “THEIR MEMBERS” means the members of the Republican party, not the members of the unions as such.

DSW

33

Henry 04.10.05 at 10:08 am

No, Sebastian,

I believe I addressed the issue of how these regulations are likely to be used in the second comment to the previous post. For evidence that this is likely to happen, look at the history of the NLRB – a set of institutions which were introduced to protect labour interests, and that have been turned by Republican administrations into a set of tools for hampering the ability of labour to organize workers (for statistical evidence on this, see Margaret Levi, Matthew Moe and Theresa Buckley, “The Transaction Costs of Distrust: Labor and Managament at the National Labor Relations Board,” in Russell Hardin ed., Distrust, NY: Russell Sage, 2004).

What I’m saying is that you’re trying to cover over the gaping holes in a hilariously unsustainable argument by resorting to ad-hominem claims that I have a secret agenda of forcing people to support the Democratic party. See above, passim. And, by doing this, you’re avoiding having to address the transparently ludicrous claim you advanced earlier – which is the issue addressed by this post – that Republicans have an interest in furthering the interests of trade unions as political actors. Sebastian – that’s the claim you were trying to defend – and that’s the claim that you’re now trying to wriggle away from addressing because it’s completely indefensible. Whether or not unions support the Democratic party, a powerful trade union movement is a threat to the economic interests that the Republican party represents. You can argue that workers’ interest aren’t well defended by a powerful trade union movement. You can argue that there are good normative or economic reasons why we shouldn’t want strong trade unions in the economy. You can argue that many or most Republicans are motivated by these reasons rather than by self interest (a claim that I’d be prepared to accept in part – from all accounts, Barry Goldwater was an honourable guy, and perfectly sincere in his beliefs). But the claim that Republicans have an interest in making unions more politically effective is self-evident and quite preposterous bullshit. And I’m calling you on it.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 04.10.05 at 12:08 pm

“And, by doing this, you’re avoiding having to address the transparently ludicrous claim you advanced earlier – which is the issue addressed by this post – that Republicans have an interest in furthering the interests of trade unions as political actors. Sebastian – that’s the claim you were trying to defend – and that’s the claim that you’re now trying to wriggle away from addressing because it’s completely indefensible.”

You are calling me on a claim I’m not making. I’m making the claim that Republicans are advocating reforms which will force unions to act more in accordance with the desires of unions’ own members. This is important because union membership in certain sectors is effectively mandatory. Every time I make that claim you reiterate that Republicans are attacking unions.

“But the claim that Republicans have an interest in making unions more politically effective is self-evident and quite preposterous bullshit.”

This is now the third time I have directly responded to this claim. I did so twice in the other post. The problem is your definition of ‘politically effective’. A huge part of politically effective is REPRESENTING your membership.

Republicans are very interested in making it possible for union members to find out what unions are doing with their money–that is the main thrust of the proposal which sparked these two posts. I have freely admitted that this is because unions are almost certainly representing their membership in ways that their members do not like. If the revelation of how unions are spending its members’ money constitutes “an attack on unions” the current claim of unions to “represent” its members is revealed to be a lie.

You don’t want that lie to be revealed.

That is why you absolutely will not engage the proposal. That is why you absolutely must engage in ad hominem attacks. The Republican proposal is not an attack on unions. It does not attack union members. The Republican proposal is an attack on the idea that corrupt unions which must hide their actions really represent their members.

You say that Republicans can’t be trusted because they don’t have unions’ best interests in mind. This isn’t about the health of one particularly corrupt version of human institution, this is about the lives of people. Contrary to your horrific opinion of what Republicans want, Republicans actually want a prosperous country with prosperous workers. If unions no longer represent such workers well, there is nothing inherently wrong with pointing that out. If the revelation damages the current incarnation of unions, it is only because the current incarnation of unions isn’t actually representing its workers anymore.

You are defending the status quo of union management. You aren’t defending unions that actually bother to represent their members–they have not reason to feel that revealing their actions to their members will be a threat or that it represents an attack. Strangely that conflicts with your rhetoric about worker empowerment.

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Dan Simon 04.10.05 at 12:17 pm

I believe I addressed the issue of how these regulations are likely to be used in the second comment to the previous post.

Henry, here’s all you say in that comment:

A comparison that might make things just a little bit clearer to you – paying taxes is a good thing, and occasional audits of tax payers are a necessary means to this. But do you really, seriously, want to argue that when J. Edgar Hoover started getting his political opponents audited, that this was a good thing too by extension? Come off it mate.

I don’t understand the analogy. Are you suggesting that the solution to the problem of political misuse of the IRS is to reduce the amount of information that all taxpayers have to provide about their income? This sort of argument is typical of radical libertarians, Henry, not social democrats. Are you also opposed to tight reporting regulations for ordinary citizens, corporations, nonprofits, and so on? Do you have any reason to believe that the oversight of unions under the new regulations will be any more draconian than, say, the extraordinary measures included in Sarbanes-Oxley?

More to the point, do you consider Sarbanes-Oxley to be bad for business? Surely the argument in its favor is that it strengthens corporations, by reassuring investors that they have accurate financial information about the companies they’re investing in. Why wouldn’t strict oversight of unions enhance their credibility in the same way?

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Henry 04.10.05 at 12:49 pm

Sebastian – please point to one instance – just one- in this dialogue where I’ve made a claim that was an ad-hominem attack. In responding to quite offensive and repeated claims about my ulterior motivations, repeated in your last comment, I’ve specifically refrained from commenting, or speculating on your motivations, instead giving you the benefit of the doubt. Indeed, I’ve actually defended you at the beginning of the post from someone who was accusing you of being a political hack. I haven’t attacked you yourself to this point – instead I’ve attacked your claims. I’ve said that your claim that Republicans have the political interests of unions at heart is bullshit – and it is. You’ve continually tried to duck the issue of whether or not Republicans are opposed to trade unions’ ability to represent their members’ interests politically – which they self-evidently are, regardless or not of whether these unions are linked to the Democratic party. The trade union movement has interests which are strongly opposed to those of key business actors, such as Walmart, whom the Republicans support, and who in turn support the Republicans. Are you denying this? At this stage I’m going to stop trying to be fair – there is something fishy, unpleasant and disturbing about your effort to play defence for a political party that is quite openly opposed to the trade union movement, that has sought to create ad-hoc alliances with the most corrupt elements that movement, and that has persistently tried to forward an agenda that guts trade union power. You’re bullshitting, Sebastian, and you know it. It’s not a pretty sight.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 04.10.05 at 2:19 pm

Statements numbered for easy reference

I’ve said that (1) your claim that Republicans have the political interests of unions at heart is bullshit – and it is. You’ve continually tried to duck the issue of whether or not (2)Republicans are opposed to trade unions’ ability to represent their members’ interests politically – (3)which they self-evidently are, regardless or not of whether these unions are linked to the Democratic party. (4)The trade union movement has interests which are strongly opposed to those of key business actors, such as Walmart, whom the Republicans support, and who in turn support the Republicans. Are you denying this? (5)At this stage I’m going to stop trying to be fair – there is something fishy, unpleasant and disturbing about your effort to play defence for a political party that is quite openly opposed to the trade union movement, that has sought to create ad-hoc alliances with the most corrupt elements that movement, and that has persistently tried to forward an agenda that guts trade union power.

Claim number 1, I do not make. I have repeatedly distinguished my view from that. At this point I just leave it to other readers to decide if I have done so because you are clearly incapable noticing the distinction between unions and union members.

Which brings us to claim number 2 (Republicans are opposed to trade unions’ ability to represent their members’ interests politically) has two problems in your analysis of it.

A) It is NOT the same as claim number one, though you appear to use the two claims interchangeably. Unions and union members are not identical categories.

B) So far as it applies to the proposal at hand, it is clearly false. The ‘attack’ on unions which you are complaining about attempts to allow union members to find out where their money is going. As such it supports the ability of union members to find out how unions are ‘representing’ (scare quotes oh so intentional) union members’ interests. If that turns out to be an attack on unions (the institution) it can only be effective because the institution has been representing the interests of its members in a fashion that its members don’t like very much.

Claim number 3 has serious problems because claim number 2 is false. Unions, especially corrupt unions are not identical to their members, nor do they have identical interests. I have specifically distinguished between the two when talking about the issue and you have repeatedly conflated them. At first I thought I wasn’t clear, now I suspect you choose to pretend I have not made the distinction because your argument is piss-poor if you have to deal with it.

4) Why would I deny this? But it doesn’t do nearly the work you seem to think it does because you seem to think it is obvious that trade unions who are opposing business interests automatically are also advancing workers’ interests. Was opposing a war against Saddam automatically advancing Saddam’s interests? I don’t think you want to go down that road.

5) The idea that you were ever being fair to my argument reveals either serious self-deception, cynical rhetorical gamesmanship, or a complete lack of understanding of my argument. For simplicity:

Proposal X may be good or bad no matter who proposes it.

If you are suspicious of the person proposing it, that may cause you to examine X a bit more carefully.

Nevertheless, the mere fact that you are suspicious of the proposer’s motives is not at all a good argument against the proposal X.

Not trusting someone’s motives is not a good policy argument.

The proposal X for the purposes of this discussion, is good for accountability to union members. The extent to which it is bad for union institutions is wholly dependent on how well those institutions have actually been representing the interests of the union members.

Please note that despite your attack on me: “there is something fishy, unpleasant and disturbing about your effort to play defence for a political party that is quite openly opposed to the trade union movement” there is nowhere in the above argument a defense of a political party. I acheive this not be reformulating my argument, but by the virtue of it never having been a part of my argument in the first place.

Which brings me back to: “Sebastian – please point to one instance – just one- in this dialogue where I’ve made a claim that was an ad-hominem attack.”

Your entire argument is an ad-hominem attack. The very definition of an ad-hominem attack is an attack on the person as if it were a logical attack on the argument. The whole thrust of these two pieces is (and I paraphrase, but the rest of the readers may judge whether or not it is unfairly) ‘Republicans are proposing something about unions. They are people who don’t have union interests in mind. Therefore I will not talk about the merits of the proposal but will dismiss them out of hand since they are being proposed by Republicans.’ The “therefore” is a classic example of ad-hominem argumentation. You attack the proposal BY attacking the one making the proposal. You have repeated it in the main post of both threads, and in every response to me.

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Henry 04.10.05 at 5:17 pm

Sebastian – to reply and to turn down the rhetorical dial a couple of notches (I accept that I’m in part guilty of ratcheting it up in the first place – but only in part).

Your specific claim

“Republicans are interested in unions that are more politically effective AT REPRESENTING THEIR MEMBERS because Democrats have created a system where unions get to squeeze money out of Republican union members for Democratic fund-raising.”

As I’ve argued repeatedly and at length, this claim is untrue. The Republican party manifestly doesn’t have an interest in furthering the interests of union members qua union members, regardless of whether or not the unions in question are corrupt, or are not corrupt. I don’t deny that there is often a difference between union members’ interests and the interests of unions. What I do claim is (a) that the interests of union members are best represented by a politically powerful union movement, and (b) that the interests (and sincere beliefs)of Republicans lead them inevitably to oppose a politically powerful union movement. You can disagree with (a) – but then you are arguing either that union members are better off when unions are weak, or that union members are better off when they’re not union members at all. You further have to explain how it is in the interests of union members not to have collective means of fighting back when faced with powerful actors in radically unequal bargaining situations (viz. Walmart). If you want to disagree with (b) you’re going to have to come up with some strong countervailing evidence that shows instances in which the modern Republican party has sought to strengthen the labour movement rather than business. Given that the overwhelming preponderance of evidence points in the other direction, you’re going to have your work cut out for you. You’re also going to have to explain how the only major trade union that the Republicans have had friendly relations with over the last forty years has been the Teamsters, with the notable exception of the brief period under which the Teamsters was under the control of reformists.

Again, as stated repeatedly, I have no objection as such to increased transparency in the trade union movement. How could I? What I’m stating – and I’ll state it again – is that (a) purportedly pro-transparency reforms can be used as a means of making it far harder for unions to take political stances that are in the interests of their members through increasing paperwork etc, (b) that transparency will greatly help the opponents of unions (who labour under no similar requirements) in antagonistic political bargaining situations, (c) that the devil of regulations of this sort is in the detail of their implementation, and (d)that the evidence from implementation of the supposedly pro-labour regulations of the NLRB gives us strong reason to believe that Republicans will seek to implement these regulations as to hurt trade unions as political actors. You may disagree with this argument. But where do you get off claiming (to quote from some of your comments above) that:

So far as I can tell most of the people here (including you) think that (framing it uncharitably) forcing people to join trade unions, extracting their money and forcing them to use it for political gamesmanship that they don’t like while obscuring exactly where the money is going, is peachy keen as long as it is benefiting the left.

you like being able to leverage people against their own preferences so long as you get to force them along the path you like.

You don’t want that lie to be revealed. That is why you absolutely will not engage the proposal.

Ad-hominem slurs don’t substitute for arguments – and half-withdrawing them and then setting them out again is pretty poor form. I’ve provided substantial evidence that the Republican party does indeed oppose the political power of trade unions, and indeed the economic interests of individual trade union members when these interests clash (as they must) with those of firms. Nor is this an ad hominem – as I’ve said, I’m quite happy to accept that this may sometimes stem from sincere beliefs about what is in the general interest – Barry Goldwater is widely conceded to have been one of the most individually decent people in politics in the last fifty years. I’m not trying to demonize Republicans – I am saying that their interests are opposed to those of trade unions and of individual union members. And I’m providing evidence. But it does seem that you’re trying to demonize me. Let’s see either some evidence that I am indeed trying to compel people to join trade unions, to force people to do things that they don’t want to do, and to cover up lies, and if you don’t have that evidence, a proper retraction seems to me the decent thing to do.

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Jason McCullough 04.11.05 at 1:21 am

“Republicans are very interested in making it possible for union members to find out what unions are doing with their money—that is the main thrust of the proposal which sparked these two posts. I have freely admitted that this is because unions are almost certainly representing their membership in ways that their members do not like. If the revelation of how unions are spending its members’ money constitutes “an attack on unions” the current claim of unions to “represent” its members is revealed to be a lie.”

So the really simplified version of your theory is “if union members knew what their leaders were doing they’d make them give money to Republicans instead?” I’m all in favor of transparency, but your implicit conclusion as to what transparency would result in is a bit implausible there.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 04.11.05 at 3:46 am

“So the really simplified version of your theory is “if union members knew what their leaders were doing they’d make them give money to Republicans instead?” I’m all in favor of transparency, but your implicit conclusion as to what transparency would result in is a bit implausible there.”

No, I’m saying that if transparency is an attack, the way it would be an attack is because union members don’t agree with how the unions are spending their money. If the membership is in agreement, transparency isn’t an attack. I’m not claiming transparency is an attack. Henry is.

What I’m stating – and I’ll state it again – is that (a) purportedly pro-transparency reforms can be used as a means of making it far harder for unions to take political stances that are in the interests of their members through increasing paperwork etc, (b) that transparency will greatly help the opponents of unions (who labour under no similar requirements) in antagonistic political bargaining situations, (c) that the devil of regulations of this sort is in the detail of their implementation, and (d)that the evidence from implementation of the supposedly pro-labour regulations of the NLRB gives us strong reason to believe that Republicans will seek to implement these regulations as to hurt trade unions as political actors. You may disagree with this argument.

Good freaking heavens, you finally discovered the basis of real argumentation instead of ad hominem attacking. Before we switch gears I would like to strenuously note that this has not previously been the topic of conversation, though I am happy to actually engage in the argument about substance. I’m thrilled we finally got to this point. The deeply unfortunate part is that we could have spent the past four days talking about this if you didn’t think that ad hominem attacks were arguments.

(a) purportedly pro-transparency reforms can be used as a means of making it far harder for unions to take political stances that are in the interests of their members through increasing paperwork etc

Can be used? Sure, in theory. Any strong evidence that the paperwork is so unbelievably onerous as to do this? It is almost certain that unions keep track of payments already. If they don’t, there is even more serious trouble and likelyhood of corruption than we have previously discussed. Furthermore the kind of spending we are talking about rarely occurs at the local unit level–almost always at the state or national level. The idea that such large organizations can’t track their money and then disclose it is almost laughable. The national organizations are certainly large enough to handle this kind of issue. If they don’t track it now, there is a serious accountability problem. If they do, they can disclose it. Also, is this the crux of the issue? Would a mere reduction in the amount of paperwork swing you into agreement?

that transparency will greatly help the opponents of unions (who labour under no similar requirements) in antagonistic political bargaining situations

You’ll have to be specific about how you think this works. Are you afraid that outsiders will appeal to union members using the information? This comes back to union member autonomy, if the members don’t like the information it seems very likely that the unions aren’t representing them well.

(c) that the devil of regulations of this sort is in the detail of their implementation

Well there is a tautology. Any details of implementation you want to express particular concern about? Or are you just assuming their existance based on whatever you would call the certainly not demonization of Republicans?

d) that the evidence from implementation of the supposedly pro-labour regulations of the NLRB gives us strong reason to believe that Republicans will seek to implement these regulations as to hurt trade unions as political actors.

Ok. Once again this is pretty cryptic. The job of the NLRB isn’t to be a purely pro-union cheerleader. “The NLRB’s primary mission is:
(a) Preventing and remedying unfair labor practices by employers or unions, and (b) Holding elections at which employees decide if they wish to be represented by unions.

Republicans may very well use transparency regulations to hurt unions as political actors. Information–especially information that union members end up hating is probably useful for that purpose. But that is the problem for your argument isn’t it? Transparency makes sense as ‘an attack’ principally when union members wouldn’t agree with union expenditures if revealed.

“I’m not trying to demonize Republicans – I am saying that their interests are opposed to those of trade unions and of individual union members.”

You really seem to have trouble with the distinction. Republicans don’t like the current form of trade unions. That has very little if anything to do with opposing the interests of individual members–many of whom seem perfectly content to vote for Republicans.

What precisely do you object to in this sentence:

So far as I can tell most of the people here (including you) think that (framing it uncharitably) forcing people to join trade unions, extracting their money and forcing them to use it for political gamesmanship that they don’t like while obscuring exactly where the money is going, is peachy keen as long as it is benefiting the left.

Do you object to forcing people to join trade unions? Nope. Do you object to extracting money from those forced? Nope. Do you object to unions using that money for political gamesmanship? Hell no. In fact a huge worry is that such expenditures might decrease. Do you object to obscuring where the money is spent? Nope. You worry that if it were revealed it could be used by mysterious opponents of unions in politically sensitive bargaining. (You glide over the fact that such use would most likely be revelation of how the union expenditures clash with the desires of the union members). Is it the benefiting the left part that you object to? Seems like a very likely conjecture. But if it makes you happy I’ll omit that part only. Though I admit it seems weird that you would also support all those things if they benefit the right.

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markus 04.12.05 at 3:45 am

a fascinating debate marked by Sebastian’s unwillingness to consider the implications of Daniel Davies one minute MBA and Henry’s unwillingness to debate the proposal purely on its own merits.
It’s unfortunate that no debate was had on whether in this particular case (A) an argument purely on the basis of the agent of reform is sufficient and (B) whether it is actually possible (well, anything goes, so make that “sufficient”) to consider the proposal in isolation.
Unsurprisingly, I come down firmly against B, and indecisive on A. The main reason for rejecting B is that even if one were to consider it purely on the merits, it’s still reasonable to consider “who benefits” and “who wants it”. To me that’s part of an extended consideration of the merits. Partly because it is a useful proxy for a consideration of all technical details and their implications, possibilities for abuse and so on, which are likely to be unavailable to non-specialists. Partly it’s the simple fact that intentions matter for precisely these little details, because it’s not that difficult to game an otherwise perfectly fine proposal in the fine print.
Which is why I don’t believe it is sufficient to note “more transparency is good” (I’m sure we all agree) and move on.

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