There are good reasons why so many Americans are disgusted by the current state of politics, and a story in today's MichiganCapitolConfidential.com captures many of them. It describes progress in the Legislature of a modest school employee pension reform proposed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Here's the gist: Most Democratic and many Republican lawmakers are self-interestedly serving the system, not the people.
Specifically, they are on the verge of imposing a new $25.9 billion liability on taxpayers solely to satisfy one powerful special interest, the Michigan Education Association. They would do so by reducing or eliminating the state's flexibility in managing — and trimming — a post-retirement health insurance benefit for school retirees. This benefit is unsustainable and generous beyond almost anything enjoyed by the tax-paying neighbors of school employees.
Our lawmakers are doing this when they all know that this state is on-track for eventual bankruptcy exactly because of such policies. We're just a few steps behind California, New York and Greece in this regard.
Frankly, it's shameful. To her credit, Gov. Granholm offered a reasonable pension reform package, though one far short of what's really needed. It immediately came under heavy fire from the school employees union, which has pulled out all the stops to gut or defeat the measure. Legislative Democrats are essentially acting as the MEA's agents — not as representatives of the people — and a number of Republicans are helping.
They've been so successful that on balance the legislation is now more destructive than reforming. At best it's just one more gimmick to temporarily patch-over the annual "deficit crisis" so that politicians can escape back onto the campaign trail. But this short-term gimmick carries uniquely destructive long-term effects.
Here's the best thing both sides could do to avoid this imminent train wreck: Throw out all the current proposals and enact exactly what Gov. Granholm proposed.
Long-time conservative author M. Stanton Evans coined the following explanation of American politics: "We have two parties here, the evil party and the stupid party. Occasionally, they get together to do something both evil and stupid. That's called bipartisanship."
To be sure, it's wrong and the essence of incivility to believe that one's political adversaries are "evil," because that means they want bad things to happen to innocent people. They don't. Instead, many politicians are guilty of an inter-related combination of misguidedness, self-interest and dishonesty to constituents about who they really are.
All three defects are on display here. On the Democratic side, some legislators are misguided by the notion that outsized benefits make public employees a "vanguard of labor," paving the way for comparable rewards for private-sector workers.
The sin on the Republican side is politicians misrepresenting themselves to constituents. No Republican openly runs on a platform of defending those outsized government-class perks and privileges. But a few of them quietly send signals and make deals with the unions, promising to be with them when it really matters.
Acute self-interest is at work on both sides of aisle. These political careerists believe — and may be correct in doing so — that they owe their current jobs and future job prospects to avoiding the wrath of government employee unions.
Whatever their motivation, this week they are legislating on behalf of a politically powerful minority at the expense of the people, and it is wrong. A continuous train of such abuses is threatening our state and nation's future, and alienating the American people from their own government.