By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
There I was reading Steven Pearlstein's column in this morning's Washington Post, enjoying a typically smart Pearlstein piece on how Washington insiders like Tom Daschle and Wall Street greedheads like John Thain still cling to a misplaced sense of entitlement.
Times are just too tough for that brand of arrogance, Pearlstein argued. But then, in keeping with the Post's current practice of reflexively cuffing labor unions, he took a wildly unfair swing at working folks.
The bursting of the bubble economy has "jeopardized basic assumptions and expectations," Pearlstein began.
Tom Daschle's problem wasn't that he didn't pay his taxes. It was that he—along with those who vetted his nomination...and many of his colleagues in the Senate—found it perfectly ordinary and acceptable that he would be able to cash in on his time in the Senate by earning more than $5 million over two years as a law-firm rainmaker, equity fundraiser, corporate director and luncheon speaker, all the while being driven around town in a chauffeured town car.
For the American public, Daschle became the latest symbol of everything that is wrong with Washington— the influence-peddling and corner-cutting and sacrifice of the public good to private interest. Now that this system has let them down, and left them poorer and anxious about the future, people are angry about it," Pearlstein wrote.
Right on, Steve! I'll help you drag Daschle and Thain to the tumbrel.
But then, for some misbegotten reason, Pearlstein lumped union working men and women in with the greedy.
I don't know why the Post's columnists and editorial writers do this. Maybe it's a cheap way to build street cred with conservatives. Or maybe it is a psychologically defensive posture, given the vicious way the Post company broke its own unions, yet staffs its newsroom with the Ivy Leagued kids of old Lefty parents who put them to bed with "Joe Hill" as a lullaby.
To help America deal with this recession, Pearlstein says, union workers need to forfeit their demands for fair pay. Construction workers should give up their hard-won guarantee that federal public works projects offer reasonable prevailing wages. And those greedy public employees (you know, your cops and teachers and firemen who get driven to work in chauffeured town cars) ought to have their wages frozen.
Earth to 15th Street: from Boston to Bethesda, level-headed leaders of public service unions (like their counterparts in the auto workers' unions and other organizations) have been negotiating voluntary salary caps, cuts and freezes for months.
Meanwhile, in the private sector, the percentage of union workers has slipped well below 10 percent. Since union workers earn about 30 percent more than non-union laborers, do you think there might be a connection between the demise of unions and stagnant middle-class incomes?
And as for those construction jobs, just what it is about hoping for $25 an hour—$52,000 a year—that gives an electrician in Omaha or Denver a sense of entitlement?
I'd call it a sense for survival. Especially if your spouse has been laid off, and the health care insurance is gone, and the kids are wondering why mom and dad look so anxious this winter, and where the money for college is ever going to come from.
Pearlstein's suggestion that gutting the prevailing wage is going to create "more jobs" or give taxpayers "a better return on their infrastructure investment" is silly. These are Republican Party talking points from the 1950s. Do you believe that politically-connected public works contractors, free to cut wages, are going to save the money for you? Or will they find a way to keep it for themselves? Discuss.
There are lots of places in our society where sacrifice will be required. I'll resist the suggestion that, given the dire state of our free press, public-spirited columnists might agree to take voluntary cuts in their six-figure salaries.
I'll settle for far less. I'll settle for Post columnists who are not reflexively anti-union.