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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Chait: Why Politics Drives GOP’s Campaign to Crush Unions

Jonathan Chait’s New York Magazine post “In Michigan, the Republican Will to Power” provides a lucid analysis of the rationale behind the GOP’s campaign to crush unions in Michigan, and throughout the industrial heartland. Chait describes the Republican’s ” obsession with the ways in which the power of government can be used to help the governing party maintain its own power” and adds:

… Norquist’s ill-founded suspicions of the Democrats was merely a failed attempt to mirror-image project his own operational mode, which is widely shared among movement conservatives. It was the driving force behind the Bush administration’s failed 2005 campaign to privatize Social Security, which conservatives widely and gleefully predicted would, if successful, bring tens of millions of Americans into the “investor class” and thus transmute them into allies of capital rather than labor.
This is the same mentality at work in numerous states where Republicans, having gained power in the 2010 off-year election wave, have invested their political capital in legal changes designed primarily to tilt the future playing field in their party’s favor. That is the basic purpose of the wave of laws to make voting less convenient (Democrats being more heavily represented among sporadic voters) and to crush unions. As much as Republicans detest unions as economic actors, they hate them far more as political actors, organizing significant minorities of voters as discrete voting blocs aligned with the Democrats.
This is the best way to understand the Republican party’s sudden attack on unions in Michigan. Last year, the Michigan director of Americans for Prosperity, the right-wing activist group, explained, “We fight these battles on taxes and regulation but really what we would like to see is to take the unions out at the knees so they don’t have the resources to fight these battles.” Republicans understand full well that Michigan leans Democratic, and the GOP has total power at the moment, so its best use of that power is to crush one of the largest bastions of support for the opposing party.

Despite the Republicans’ delusions to the contrary, Chait concludes “I don’t think Democrats abstain from this behavior (to anything like the degree the GOP employs it) because it’s made of angels. Rather, the Democratic party comprises an economically diverse coalition, including not just labor but business as well.” However, he adds, “nobody in the GOP cares about labor at all, so it’s easier to unify them behind the kind of political/class war strategy we’re seeing here.”

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