Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Casting the Second Stone

According to reports, the bus drivers strike continues in the Twin Cities. Not that most of us would know about it based on levels of traffic congestion, individual mobility, or retail economic measures. On all of these accounts, things are running beautifully. Perhaps never better. Plus, the government is saving millions by not having buses on the road. A compelling argument to consider suspending the public busing system permanently. Yes, for those very few unfortunates who do require assistance with transportation (a number far fewer than we realized, before this strike took place), private market solutions should be investigated and implemented. This surely will be less expensive, and at least as efficient, as the status quo. It’s a perfectly rational, logical argument, if I do say so myself.

But never let it be said rationality and logic were the bases for public policy in the Twin Cities (or any major urban area). When it comes to issues of government spending, it’s all about class warfare and perceived grievances, entitlement and emotional manipulation. Which brings us to the passionate arguments of that Crocus Hill rabble rouser himself, homeless person exploiter extraordinaire, Nick Coleman.

Now, you do have to give him some credit for honesty. In today’s Star Tribune, he’s not even bothering to pretend he cares about logical argument or the facts of this particular case. Instead, he sees his role as follows:

I do not know whether the union has the moral high ground, and it doesn't matter. Hashing out a new contract between the union and the Metropolitan Council is not my job. It is the governor's job.

Young, up-and-coming journalists take note. Nothing beats shamelessly embracing laziness as a virtue for absolving yourself from having to form reasonable opinions based in fact and then communicating them effectively to the readers. Because, truth be told, all that thinking and writing is hard work. And when your employer is fine with publishing ridiculous slurs based on flawed premises - why bother with hard work?

Case in point, Coleman’s latest attack on Governor Pawlenty:

This bus strike isn't very Christian.

"Our governor always talks about how everyone's got to 'share the pain," [security guard Bob] Wright said while members of the transit union rallied across from his building, in front of the Hennepin County Government Center. "But it's people without means and people of color who are feeling the pain on this strike.

"What is up with our good conservative Christian friends? Where is their empathy? 'That which you do for the least of these, you do unto me.' Those are the clear words of Christ. So where the hell is the empathy? And where the hell is the governor?"

Good questions Mr. Wright.

I just hope Mr. Wright wasn’t waiting around for any good answers, because as he’s told us, Nick Coleman isn’t in that business. Nope, not his job. But it is interesting to see Coleman so eagerly questioning another man’s religious commitment. Makes me wonder if back in 1990 then Pioneer Press columnist Nick Coleman played any roll in the frothing media lynch mob going after Rudy Boshwitz when he allegedly questioned the Jewishness of secular saint Paul Wellstone during their Senate campaign. Not having the necessary LexisNexis resources (yet) I can’t verify this. But I’d say the odds are at approximately 100% he was at the forefront of said frothing mob.

Getting back to the point of Coleman’s direct charge, that Pawlenty’s stance in the strike is not Christian, let me provide some background information for those not paying attention (like Nick Coleman). The Governor’s position is that health insurance premiums for bus drivers should approximate that experienced in the private sector. The government cannot afford to continue to provide the Cadillac of benefit plans for public employees, without raising taxes on the citizens. (The very citizens who are already paying their own high insurance premiums via their own employers.) Pawlenty is simply choosing not to use the coercive power of the state to redistribute incomes, from the pocketbooks of hard working private sector employees (who have all sorts of health costs on their own), to the pocketbooks of public sector employees (who feel they are entitled to privileged status).

This seems, at the very least, to be a value neutral position, spiritually speaking. Also remember, Pawlenty has nothing to do with the bus system ceasing operation and creating all those ”people without means and people of color who are feeling the pain on this strike.” Those people are feeling the pain only because the drivers abandoned them. They took off and the Governor is unable (legally/politically) to bring in replacement workers who could ease the pain of the unfortunates.

And why did the drivers abandon them in the first place? Because management would not agree to provide increased compensation for their efforts. And if public employee union members don’t get their way, it’s not like they’re just going to quit (like any self respecting private sector employee would have to do). Instead, they’ll shut the entire enterprise down, callously stranding those who do depend on them.

This is the bus drivers' offer to the Governor, condensed to its raw essence: force the taxpayers to fund our healthcare at an extravagant level - or we will screw the poor and handicapped. And then we’ll blame it on you.

Remind me again where that appears in the New Testament.


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