The Long View 2006-09-05: Union Revolt; Bob Roberts; Mead

I had recently been thinking thoughts much like John Reilly's here: if labor unions in the US had real political power again, one of the first things they would do is demand decreased immigration, and effective enforcement of labor laws. Since at the moment neither major US party really supports unions, it would take a party realignment for anything to really happen.

Union Revolt; Bob Roberts; Mead

Most stories about the labor unions these days touch on the support of their activists for illegal immigrants. There had been so many such stories that one might be forgiven for supposing that unconditional amnesty for illegals was settled policy. Then, yesterday, which was Labor Day, stories like this one from Marketplace began to appear:

Many rank-and-file members of the AFL-CIO question why their union is pushing for legalization for undocumented day laborers. But proponents say the move is a sign of things to come. Rachel Dornhelm reports.

And here's an example from the local level:

Local 75 of the Plumbers and Gas Fitters will break from tradition and not march in Milwaukee's Labor Day parade today because the union considers the inclusion of immigrant advocates a distraction from Labor Day. ... "This is strictly a Labor Day celebration. Any other purpose of this parade would not do Labor Day any justice, in my opinion. It's designed to celebrate labor. Labor only," said Harry Kreuser, Local 75 business manager.

In fact, despite all the talk about the next great initiative for organized labor being the campaign to organize illegal service-industry workers, you can mine the AFL-CIO website in vain for evidence of special support for illegals (for whom the polite term is "undocumented workers"). The national leadership is cautious about what they will say to the public, apparently.

This refusal among the rank-and-file to go along with what, in effect, is an open-borders labor policy is the first real sign of life that the labor movement has displayed in a long time. The first sign of revival is often the awakening of the need for self-preservation. As regular visitors to my site will know, I actually do support something close to amnesty (including a godfathered guest-worker program) for illegals currently in the US, provided it goes into effect after the borders are secure and a new regime of low-immigration is in place. What the pro-immigration wing of the unions is trying to do is incoherent, however. They want to coerce the state into ignoring its immigration laws while simultaneously insisting that the state enforce more rigorously its workplace health-and-safety and overtime laws. A government that can't control its borders certainly won't be able to control what happens in the workplace.

At least the plumbers seem to grasp the point.

* * *

Bob Roberts is a film by Tim Robbins that was released in 1992. Ever eager to keep up with popular culture, I got around to seeing it last Saturday. It's about a right-wing country-music singer who runs for the US Senate, dogged all the while by a freelance reporter who has the goods on his CIA connections, particularly the program to support the Nicaraguan Contras by selling crack cocaine in black neighborhoods in the United States. That may sound a little complicated, but it was a feature of the left-wing conspiracy litany at the time the film appeared.

In this and other ways, the film has aged oddly. "Yuppie" is a term of reproach. Part of the soundtrack consists of news reports about the buildup in 1990 for the first Iraq War. One of those reports featured an assessment that the Baathist government could be a few months away from having an atomic bomb. That assessment turned out to be true, but you would not know that from the film. Bob Roberts seems to represent the Left just as it realized that it might really be in trouble. The title character's appearance on TV is sabotaged by one of the cast who says, "You can't let that yuppie go on the air and say whatever he likes!" The strangest element is the reporter with the subversive story too big for mainstream media to handle. There have been many such stories since the film appeared, but they have almost all cut the other way: the Right breaking through the mainstream media monopoly to report on the malefactions of the Left.

Fans of political invective will particularly enjoy the appearance of Gore Vidal as Senator Brickley Paiste, Bob Roberts' prim and liberal Democratic opponent. His appearances are all the more interesting because sometimes he is clearly out-of-character, just cranky old Gore Vidal complaining about the omnipotence of the National Security Council.

Bob Roberts takes place in the world of ANSWER and All their themes were in place long before anyone outside of Texas had heard of George W. Bush.

* * *

Walter Russell Mead is among the most illuminating denizens of the murky depths of the nation's foreign policy think tanks. His piece in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, God's Country is a useful corrective to current polemical literature about the alleged rise of American theocracy. In particular, he explains how the different strands of Protestantism actually function in American politics to affect US foreign policy:

Evangelicals are more optimistic than fundamentalists about the prospects for moral progress. The postmillennial minority among them (which holds that Christ will return after a thousand years of world peace, not before) believes that this process can continue until human society reaches a state of holiness:...Although the premillennial majority is less optimistic about the ultimate success of such efforts, American evangelicals are often optimistic about the short-term prospects for human betterment....

One might take issue with many of his points. For instance, Southern Baptists are not as ready to be wholly identified with evangelicalism as Mead seems to think. And Mead revives this old suggestion:

[E]vangelicals managed more than a century of close and generally cooperative relations with Muslims throughout the Arab world. Muslims and evangelicals are both concerned about global poverty and Africa. Both groups oppose the domination of public and international discourse by secular ideas. ... fostering Muslim-evangelical dialogue may be one of the best ways to forestall the threat of civilizational warfare.

That sounds as if it should be true; Peter Kreeft gave the idea systematic form in Ecumenical Jihad. The problem is that it just doesn't work. Sorry.

Despite these quibbles, Mead is almost certainly right about this:

As more evangelical leaders acquire firsthand experience in foreign policy, they are likely to provide something now sadly lacking in the world of U.S. foreign policy: a trusted group of experts, well versed in the nuances and dilemmas of the international situation, who are able to persuade large numbers of Americans to support the complex and counterintuitive policies that are sometimes necessary in this wicked and frustrating -- or, dare one say it, fallen -- world.

Conversely, to the extent that the anti-theocracy lobby succeeds in driving the evangelicals out of the public square, to that degree any American foreign policy will lack public support.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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