Newsweek's Evan Thomas: Public Employee Unions Are a Problem for Democrats

Something has definitely gotten into Evan Thomas's water, as for the third time this month, he advanced a viewpoint on PBS's "Inside Washington" quite contrary to the other liberal panelists.

On Friday's installment, with lone conservative regular Charles Krauthammer taking the day off, the Newsweek columnist practically assumed his position as the voice of reason taking on the other guests regarding the budget situation in Wisconsin (video follows with transcript and commentary):

EVAN THOMAS, NEWSWEEK: Well, yeah because I think it’s a problem for the Democratic Party. The Democrats really depend on these public employee unions in a lot of states for their support and for their political muscle, and public employee unions got a problem here. I want to distinguish between unions and public employee unions. Unions obviously are critical, but in the public sector, public employee unions have a pretty easy time getting a lot of benefits because nobody’s really pushing back all that hard.

NINA TOTENBERG, NPR: Oh, excuse me.

THOMAS: That is a problem for the Democratic Party, because right now, the way it’s being framed is, “Whose side are you on: the public employees union or the taxpayers' side?”


Now watch Totenberg's absurd response:

TOTENBERG: So, it’s the unions’ fault that the managers caved? In this case, I don't know what the details are in all the other states where this is happening, but in Wisconsin, this is by now a manufactured crisis because the governor can’t take yes for an answer. The unions have said, "We'll give you all the cuts in benefits and salaries you want, we just want to preserve our collective bargaining rights," and he says no.

You really have to wonder if NPR sets an upside limit to intellectual capacity for its on air employees, as Totenberg's reply to Thomas was staggeringly idiotic.

On the one hand, she blamed state managers for caving in to the union demands that have now put Wisconsin - like so many states - in a budget bind. Seconds later, she complained that Walker won't accede to an agreement with the unions that doesn't limit their collective bargaining rights.

That's akin to blaming food for making a child fat and then criticizing the parent for trying to restrict his or her child's diet!

For years nay decades, the public employee unions in Wisconsin - as in so many states - have basically put a gun to the heads of government to get the most generous benefits packages available. To solve the long-term budget crisis, collective bargaining for benefits must be limited or the solution that comes with the unions' current offer will be short-lived.

Not surprisingly, Totenberg's less than room temperature intelligence quotient and/or her dying love for unions prevented her from understanding such logic:


COLBY KING, WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think Charles [Krauthammer] is right about this being an important moment. I won’t say a magnificent moment, at all, but it’s an important moment because what is at issue at the part of this in Wisconsin and probably elsewhere is collective bargaining on the part of employee unions, and the question is whether that’s going to be sustained or not. The governor of Wisconsin is clearly out to break the unions. That’s his objective, and everybody has got to watch this. All the states are watching this to see what’s going to happen here, because if happens there in Wisconsin, it could very well happen elsewhere, and I think it’s going to be, this is, this is a fundamental fight that we have on our hands now.

As has been typical in virtually all of these discussions since the Wisconsin battle started is the absence of disclosure concerning the 21 states that currently restrict or limit completely collective bargaining by public employee unions. That said, it was time for Mark Shields to sing the praises of unions:


MARK SHIELDS, PBS: Let's be very blunt. The United States workers would never have had a five-day work week, an eight-hour workday, we would never have had minimum-wage laws, child labor laws, health and pension benefits without the skill, the passion, the commitment and the clout of organized labor. Owners and employers just didn’t voluntarily wake one morning and say, “Let's be nice today to workers.” So, have unions made a difference in America’s landscape? Do they make a difference every day? You better believe it. At the same time, the same people, my good friend Evan, whom I respect enormously, endorses and embraces private sector unions, which now have fallen in strength to a point where they represent one out of twelve workers. They are defanged. They are basically powerless. Okay. When they represented 35 percent of workers a generation ago, not Evan, but many on the right said they were a threat to American democracy. They were a threat to the American way of life. Now public employees have the same right to collective bargain that any employee does. I mean, it’s that simple. How does a school teacher, a lone school teacher negotiate with the city of New York or the city of Milwaukee? You have got to pull your resources to do that.

Shields, like so many union lovers in the media, also ignored the fact that 21 states currently limit in whole or in part collective bargaining by public employee unions. The constant omission of this fact is negligence bordering on total dishonesty:

PETERSON: “Democrats, “Charles Krauthammer says, “are desperately defending the status quo. Republicans are charging the barricades.” How about that?

KING: Well, that’s dramatic language, but let’s go back to what Mark was talking about. The governor wants to eliminate collective bargaining, but he said they can bargain over wages. But look at what he leaves out of the picture – conditions of employment, circumstances that only a union can come together and change in a public setting or in a private setting. You can, a teacher can’t, or a teacher or a firefighter or a police officer can’t renegotiate the conditions and the circumstances where he’s going to work or the benefits around him. He can’t negotiate that by himself.

Now watch Thomas, in Krauthammer's absence, act as the voice of reason:

EVAN THOMAS: Okay, okay, okay, this is all true, but, let's look at the situation around the states. Public employee unions have disproportionate power because in a private situation, the shop owner, the store owner will push back because if they give away the store, they lose the store. In a public setting, it’s state legislatures who just want to get more contributions from unions. They’re happy to say yes, especially for the unfunded stuff down the road. We've gotten ourselves into a tremendous jam here by states saying, “Sure, you can have great pensions down the road, later. Yeah, that’s all fine.” So there’s like $3 trillion of these unfunded pensions. It’s a serious situation.

TOTENBERG: That’s true, but that’s worth negotiating over, and figuring out a solution to. It is not worth stamping people on the head till they’re dead.

It is not worth stamping people on the head till they’re dead. That's how Totenberg sees it.

Despite the fact that 21 states already have the same or similar provisions to what Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is asking for, public employees in his state will be dead without the unfettered right to collectively bargain for their pension and healthcare benefits.

It boggles the mind that anyone so intellectually challenged and/or dishonest is paid with American tax dollars to advance such total nonsense.

Washington Post Newsweek NPR Inside Washington PBS Mark Shields Gordon Peterson
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