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John Glenn, Heroes and Collective Bargaining

Is John Glenn a hero?  Tricky question. First American to orbit the earth and third American in space. A long list of awards and medals to his name.  But also a Senate a career that was less than illustrious (including the Keating Five scandal).  When I think John Glenn I think bland Democratic politician not heroic astronaut. Your mileage may vary.

But the point of this post is not to attack John Glenn or dissect his career – however fun and instructive that may be – but to point out the tricky nature of heroism.  And to highlight the ridiculous bait and switch happening with Ohio’s collective bargaining law ballot issue (Issue 2) debate.

Public sector unions want the public to believe that Senate Bill 5 was a dirty move by power hungry politicians that puts the public at risk. They want you to believe that the “Everyday heroes” in our communities – the public safety forces, nurses, teachers, etc. – are being robbed of the very tools they use to protect us.

As I have posted before, their entire campaign is based on a false sense of moral superiority which is in turn based on misrepresenting the facts and manipulating the public’s emotions.  And it just so happens that the latest ad is a perfect example and it stars John Glenn.

As they used to say, Read On …

Here is the video in question:

This really ticks me off. This whole campaign insists that what stands between the public and death and destruction is not skilled first responders or highly qualified teachers nor even dedicated public servants. No, what really keeps us safe, protected and educated is collective bargaining laws passed in the early 1980′s. If unions are not allowed to control the bargaining process in the exact way they want and write the minute details of staffing levels into binding multi-year contracts then the general public is not safe on the streets, in their homes, or at the hospital.  Oh, and their kid’s education will suffer too.

Let’s follow the logic on this. Police, firefighters, nurses, teachers and other public workers are “everyday heroes” who serve their community out of dedication and commitment to high standards not love of money or power. Any attempts to change the collective bargaining laws in a way that weakens union power or gives state and local governments more flexibility, however, means that citizens are at risk and these heroes will force the repeal of reform legislation onto the ballot and take to the airways to decry it.

These are heroes who just happen to insist they they, and only they, are capable of protecting the public interest and must do so under complex statutorily mandated collective bargaining laws that clearly favors public sector unions at the expense of governments and taxpayers.  These people are heroes but if you threaten their power they will cut you, man.

Now, it is particularly useful that John Glenn is the person presenting this argument because it allows us to highlight an important point that is getting lost here. You are not a hero just because you are a police officer, firefighter, nurse or teacher.  And just because your job, or some aspect of your past career, was heroic doesn’t mean you can use that as a trump card in a political argument.  You may in fact be lousy at your job and a risk to the public. Or you may be good at your job but do it for very selfish reasons. Or, like most people, you could be a complicated mix of motives and skills.  A person with lax morals and a tendency to be a jerk could very well in the course of their job rescue a child from a burning building or perform CPR. This would make them a hero in some important sense. But from that point on they don’t get everything they want – they don’t get some sort of trump card that trumps the needs and concerns of their employer and the rest of the organization – let alone the public at large.

John Glenn the astronaut is seen as a hero. Someone who risked himself in order to achieve something for the country as a whole – someone who represents an ideal of courage and service.  But you know what? John Glenn was also a politician.  Now I happen to think that this John Glenn was mediocre and wrong on just about every public policy issue of his lifetime. So which John Glenn is speaking here?  The hero obviously.

We Are Ohio wants you to think of an idealized version of this hero and pretend that this is what collective bargaining is about. That if these public servants oppose  something it must be bad. This is emotional manipulation pure and simple.

Unions are not heroes. They are self-interested organizations aimed at protecting their members and increasing their pay and benefits whenever possible. Let me repeat that, unions are by their very nature self-interested. The whole reason they exist is to protect and negotiate on behalf of their members. Their ideological, political and monetary interests are enhanced with collective bargaining laws that give them more power.

Oh, and by the way, John Glenn is a politician whose power and electability depended on union power and donations.  But now that he is a sort of grand pubah of Democratic politics he can speak as if he has no self-interest in this debate; as if it is just about protecting the public.

Issue 2 is about bringing flexibility and reform back to government. And yes, it is about weakening the power of unions. This is not nefarious or sinister. Public sector unions currently have too much power and too much leverage when it comes to state and local governments. They have increased the cost of government and they have made it less flexible and less innovative. They are an opponent of reform on almost every issue and at every level.  This has nothing to do with the heroism.  The system is not working and hasn’t been for some time. The fiscal reality simply won’t allow us to ignore this anymore.

Take it away Columbus Dispatch:

Elected officials should be in control of public expenditures. For the nearly three decades since the advent of Ohio’s extremely lopsided collective-bargaining law, elected officials have had too little control over the overwhelming majority of their budgets: salaries and benefits for public employees. That was always poor public policy, but in better economic times, it was sustainable. It isn’t anymore.

And this is the second aspect of this insulting argument about everyday heroes: elected officials are elected by who again? Yes, that’s right the public.  Who elects union leaders? Union members. In fact, unions take the money of members whether they like it or not and spend it as they see fit.

So what is really happening here is that the unions are insisting that the majority public as represented by its popularly elected leaders must give in to the threats of the minority public sector unions or their very lives and safety will be under threat.  The people who pour millions of dollars into elections and politics are trying to turn around and say that “politicians” can’t be trusted to put public safety first (ignore for a moment trying to get re-elected after cuts to public safety resulted in lives lost) and that only they can be heroes.

Excuse me for thinking that entrenched union power at the expense of the public purse is not heroism; that public decisions should be based on open debate and republican (small R) government not statutory giveaways to a politically powerful minority who refuses to face fiscal reality.

We Are Ohio, and their union supporters who are pouring money into Ohio to run these ads, want Ohioans to fall for an emotional bait and switch. They want them to think the choice is between valuing service, and wanting safety, and government reform. This is a false choice and slander at the same time.

Heroism is not based on legal power or entrenched interests. It is based on character. True heroes should understand this.

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