LOCKED IN THE CAGE, OF COURSE WE FIGHT ONE ANOTHER
I'd like to dismiss out of hand the Rassmussen poll showing 48% support of Governor Scott Walker in the Wisconsin union fight, and only 38% support for the unions; I think Nate Silver's criticism of the methodology is valid, and the consistent right skew of Rasmussen's polls has been blatant over the years. lso, I'd love to be able to dismiss the front-page story in today's New York Times that quotes John Q. Public critics of the union as a lot of nonsense -- yeah, its lead author is the son of Pinch Sulzberger, and the quoted critics include one small businessman, the wife of another, and only one union worker.
But my gut sense tells me that while there's still far more support for public sector unions than the right wants you to believe, the usual pattern of modern American politics applies: the fury on the right is not matched by passion on the left, the middle is quite flippable, and right-wingers are better able to do the flipping because they've spent a lot longer crafting their arguments.
You go to Polling Report and see a poll conducted earlier this month by Pew that shows labor unions with a 45%-42% favorable-unfavorable split, and public sector unions with an even more favorable split -- 48%-40%. Respondents said that in a dispute between a union and government they're more likely to side with the union, 44%-38%. (If it's a union and business, business wins, 43%-405, which is depressing enough.)
However, you get down to cases and you get this from New Jersey poll respondents, via Quinnipiac:
* 56 - 38 percent support layoffs for state workers....
* 65 - 24 percent for furloughs for state workers, including 61 - 25 percent among Democrats and 61 - 28 percent in union households.
* 77 - 20 percent for wage freezes for state workers, including 72 - 23 percent among Democrats and 64 - 34 percent in union households.
* 66 - 29 percent for reducing pensions for new state workers, including 56 - 39 percent among Democrats and 57 - 42 percent in union households.
Ezra Klein was on Lawrence O'Donnell's show last night (video below) offering this explanation for where we are:
I think that it has been fascinating to watch a transference of anger in this country from Wall Street and investors and corporations in 2007 or so, which Barack Obama blocked, told the banks, "I'm the guy standing between you and the pitchforks," blocked the bill in the House trying to ratchet back those bonuses at AIG, had to help them, had to make sure that we kept confidence in the financial markets. Without a villain, without Barack Obama letting the people have the villain they sort of seemed to want, the Republican Party stepped in the void and said, "You know, what? It's government and it's public employee unions that are the cause of your problems." And now it's people like Walker who are being able to pick up on that. There is a void left in the national narrative of what has gone wrong in our country over the past couple of years. Barack Obama did not effectively fill it, for reasons both good and bad, and Walker and others have been able to step into there and use it to try to accomplish some very long-term GOP priorities here. Some of them may make some sense, some of them may not. But I do think there's a very large political story here, and it does have to do with the failure of the Democrats to articulate a narrative that made sense to people and made them feel like they actually had a plan for how to get us out of here.
I agree that Obama quite deliberately refused to turn the rich into villains. But I wonder if it would have worked. After thirty years of Reaganism, and forty years of backlash against the 1960s? (Yeah, I know that workers and lefties sometimes clashed back in the '60s and early '70s. Nevertheless, unions are now seen as linked to Democrats and liberalism.)
Go back to Polling Report and scroll down to a 2009 Gallup poll. You see that in response to the question "Overall, do you think labor unions mostly help or mostly hurt ... workers who are not members of unions?," 62% of respondents say non-union workers are "mostly hurt" by union workers -- and that's been the majority answer since 2003.
We don't even think about the rich in tough times. We don't think they can be made to share in the sacrifice -- or we fear what happens if they're asked to (they won't hire us!). They're the scientists, we're the rats in the cage. They feed us or shock us, as they choose. We can't escape, and we can't even devise a strategy to avoid the shocks. So we do what caged rats do when shocks are randomly administered and unavoidable: we fight with the other rats in our cage.