Saturday, February 26, 2011

Reagan’s Confrontation with PATCO as a Model for Governors in 2011 (Part 2): The Lessons for Today

Lesson #1:  A real attempt at negotiation is always worth it.  Thanks to Reagan's first two offers--which even the New York Times called "more than reasonable"--the media was uncharacteristically supportive of President Reagan.  Thus far, the efforts of Governor Walker in this regard have been admirable.  Though, to be honest, he really doesn't have that much room to maneuver.  WI is fundamentally broke, so the options are (A) scale back benefits, or (B) lay people off.  Governor Daniels, represented the opposite extreme by simply rolling over and advocating that Indiana Republicans drop their right to work bill.  Negotiation is a good thing...but giving away the store is not.  I fear that all Daniels has done is signal weakness to the IN Democrats and torpedo any chance he had of becoming the GOP presidential nominee.

Lesson #2:  When you're backed into a corner, you've only got two choices:  come out swinging, or get pummeled.  Nixon, Ford, and Carter all buckled under threats from PATCO.  It reached the point with Carter that even the courts criticized him for not taking a strong stand.  The intransigence of PATCO--much like what's being put on display in WI and IN today--left Reagan with no real choice.  He could either roll over for PATCO, thus eliminating his ability to function as a Chief Executive, or he could let PATCO know there was a "new sheriff" in town.  Republican governors, and in a sense even Republican legislators, throughout the country need to internalize this lesson.  The Left has been emboldened by over twenty years of relatively weak-willed domestic leadership.  In the post-Reagan era, GOP standard bearers have proven all too willing to "go along to get along" or "work together to get things done."  What this ultimately means is, we self-limit our own political powers (e.g., George H.W. Bush going along with tax increases, sharing chairmanships with Democrats during the early days of G.W. Bush's presidency, dropping judicial nominees that Bush had every right to appoint simply because a handful of Democratic senators on the judiciary committee refused to allow a vote, etc.) and work together to get the Democrats' agenda passed.  All too frequently, the reward for this magnanimity is increasingly irrational demands in the future, followed by charges of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.  The Left today draws roots and inspiration from true radicals: Mao, Bernadine Dohrn, Bill Ayers, the Weather can't negotiate with such people, you have to defeat them.  It's time for conservatives to start playing to win.

Lesson #3:  Doing the right thing often has unpredicted serendipities.   Reagan's tough stand against PATCO disabused other public sector unions of the delusion that they were irreplaceable, and could therefore dictate their own work terms.  Reagan put other public workers on notice that unreasonable demands would not be tolerated.  Indeed, after the PATCO firings the postal workers union cancelled the strike it had scheduled for the following Saturday.

When business leaders saw that Reagan wasn't afraid to stand up to union strong-arm tactics, they too were emboldened to take stands.  While many on the radical Left continue to try and characterize this as a "war on labor," others contend that a reining in of the power of Big Labor was necessary to help create a more flexible and decentralized American economy--an economy which later took off like a rocket ship.

The effects of breaking the PATCO strike extended even beyond the borders of the U.S.  "Haynes Johnson of the Washington Post pointed to international financiers who...claimed their confidence in Reagan's seriousness about controlling inflation dated from 'when Reagan broke the controllers' strike."  Additionally, numerous rumors and anecdotes have related how Reagan's handling of the strike caused the Soviets to sit up and take notice.  Sovietologist Richard Pipes is reported to have said, "They way the PATCO strike was handled impressed the Russians and gave them respect for Reagan.  It showed them a man who, when aroused, will go to the limit to back up his principles."

Today's conservative leaders need to stick to their guns and have a little faith.  Learn from the history of Ronald Reagan...there's certainly worse people to take political advice from.  For example, those who tell us it's time to move beyond Ronald Reagan.

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