Douthat doesn't like government unions at all; he believes conservatives have made
a strong argument that the rise of public sector unions represents a decadent phase in the history of the welfare state, a case study in the warping influence of self-dealing and interest-group politics.And Douthat believes this applies to cops, even though many conservatives are reluctant to chllenge cops:
But as we’ve been reminded by the agony of Baltimore, this argument also applies to a unionized public work force that conservatives are often loath to criticize: the police.See, this is where I go from disagreement to bafflement. Douthat argues that municipal unions in general are powerful enough to squeeze too much money out of taxpayers and to protect union members who should be disciplined or fired -- but then he reminds us that quite a few states have forced "collective-bargaining reforms" on municipal unions, which suggests that municipal unions aren't all that powerful anymore in much of the country. And if states have exempted police unions from these "reforms," that's not because of the power of unions, it's because of the power of cops.
Police unions do have critics on the right. But thanks to a mix of cultural affinity, conservative support for law-and-order policies and police union support for Republican politicians, there hasn’t been a strong right-of-center constituency for taking on their privileges. Instead, many Republican governors have deliberately exempted police unions from collective-bargaining reforms -- and one who didn’t, John Kasich of Ohio, saw those reforms defeated.
Yastreblyansky has a lot to say about Douthat's column. He tells us:
The right's pseudo-intellectual critique of public sector unions is illustrated only by the police (and to a lesser extent the staffs of correctional institutions), because they're the only ones eagerly supported by conservative politicians and placated by terrorized liberal ones afraid of being stigmatized as pro-criminal. Teachers, health inspectors, tax assessors, even firefighters don't get this kind of backing from anybody, and the teachers in particular are under constant assault from conservatives and hedge-fund liberals piling on.He concludes:
It's the conservatism that makes the police forces abusive, and nothing less.I think that's basically true. Teachers' unions are supposedly too powerful, but that alleged power hasn't prevented conservatives (and phony liberals) from mounting multiple assaults on unionized schools: vouchers, charter schools, homeschooling, generous tax breaks for private school tuition, and so on. Where are the comparable efforts to undermine police unions? Wouldn't clever right-wing think-tankers be dreaming up all sorts of alternatives to unionized police forces if right-wingers didn't like cops as much as they do? Why aren't we talking about, say, a privatized parallel system of policing, something that would, y'know, disrupt unionized police forces? The awesome power of teachers' unions doesn't deter the right from concocting such schemes, so it can't be unionization that's deterring conservatives in the case of cops.
Why do cops go unchallenged? Let's look at a few other institutions where we utterly lack the national will to regulated or deter misconduct. Think of Wall Street -- the guys there don't have unions, yet we do nothing when their conduct is outrageous. Look at rape in the military, or among college athletes -- we don't want to punish those guys either, and they don't have unions.
All the institutions I've just named have something in common with the police: They're overwhelmingly male cultures that represent what conservatives consider the best of traditional masculinity. (And you could add that they're cultures believed to be antithetical to liberalism, which makes them even more admirable to conservatives.) We're reluctant to hold the bad actors in these cultures responsible for their crimes because we think they're real men, and only wussy metrosexual liberals are unmoved by their real maleness.
That's why we don't punish bad cops. It's not the unions.