Lost in the Shuffle: Issues that Matter
My problem with political dialogue that focuses on the likes of Bill Ayers is simply this: Such dialogue distracts us from the far more substantive, meaningful dialogue we should be having. Unfortunately, I am now as guilty of said distraction as those who shoved Ayers into the dialogue in the first place.
I decided weeks ago to shine an occasional spotlight on Bill Ayers, not in the interest of defending Ayers, but in the interest of rebutting arguments that attempt to make Ayers into what he is not: A reason to discount Sen. Obama. I believe my objective was honorable. But yesterday, I took the exercise a step too far, posting a video clip of Ayers — in which he offers thoughtful, constructive, sane advice to new teachers — under the headline: “Does This Man Frighten You?”
Once again, my intent with that post was not to defend or vindicate Ayers, but to further drive home the reality that there are things Ayers has advocated with which many people could agree — e.g., promoting the nobility of the teaching profession; taking a grassroots approach to school reform, etc. — just as there are things Ayers has advocated with which many people could never agree — e.g., ending capitalism; bellying up to Hugo Chavez, etc. Accordingly, I believe our only legitimate ask of people who have sat on boards with Ayers — or taken his classes, or otherwise associated with him — is that they separate the good from the legitimately not-good. And the extensive evidence we have on Obama suggests he has done just that. So, let’s drop it.
Unfortunately, with yesterday’s post, I failed in two ways: First, I did not clarify my intent, leaving readers to decode it from a cryptic headline and video. Second, I posted only a video showing the constructive, common-man Ayers, omitting any countervailing clip showing the out-of-bounds, anti-culture Ayers. In these respects, I was as lopsided and biased in my presentation as I believe Stanley Kurtz has been.
Looking beyond yesterday’s post, my decision to counterbalance the Ayers-related hysteria has now culminated in a more general failure. One or two posts on Ayers would have been sufficient. By writing more, I advanced rather than dismantled the distractive quality of these non-material issues.
And that failure really hit home between Friday night and this morning, as I learned more about Obama’s support for — and McCain’s opposition to — a return of the “Employee Free Choice Act.” For those not familiar with this bill, here’s how an article Friday in the Miami Herald explained it:
The act … would update the nation’s labor laws and end a long-standing practice of secret balloting that dates to 1935 and the National Labor Relations Act.
Instead of voting in secret in a federally supervised election to determine whether to unionize, under the new proposal employees could unionize simply by collecting signatures from more than half the workers at a business.
On the surface, that doesn’t sound like such a bad thing. In practice, the repercussions could be significant. Case in point: A friend of mine is an executive for a mid-sized firm that, despite economic pressures, has maintained a manufacturing plant in the U.S. He told me there should be no question in anyone’s mind: If the Employee Free Choice Act becomes law — and the employees at my friend’s company unionize as a result — then the company would immediately shut down its U.S. plant and move operations and jobs to Mexico.
Label it “hard-nosed corporate greed” if you like, but I don’t believe that’s the case, at least not in this situation. My friend’s company is in a very competitive business, where raising prices is effectively a non-option. Thus, dramatically higher labor costs would leave his company’s managers no choice but to take the steps necessary to curtail those costs and keep the company (and its other jobs) protected. If that’s true, and if that pattern were repeated thousands of times over, the impact to U.S. employment and the larger economy would make our current woes seem laughingly non-substantial in contrast.
Now, please understand: I am not anti-union. I believe unions can play — and throughout our history have played — a valuable role. What’s more, my son will likely join a union in the not-too-distant future, in order to maintain access to a group health plan. At the same time, I know unions are as corruptible as any corporation or other large institution, and they have (at times) grossly distorted the balance between hard work and fair pay.
The tragedy here is not this one issue or the Act itself. The tragedy here is that neither Presidential candidate seems eager to talk about such issues (the very point of the aforementioned Miami Herald article) — or how such issues could be managed, and compromises made, to yield the best outcome for everyone concerned.
Worse, journalists and voters (and yes, I’m the most guilty of all) have too eagerly engaged in attack-and-defend dances on subjects like Bill Ayers, self-blinded to the reality that there’s a whole slate of more meaningful topics we probably should have been discussing all along.
Shame on me. Shame on all of us.