Peggy Noodnik Gets It Right

Peggy Noonan routinely misfires in her Wall Street Journal column, but this week she’s entirely on target in her piece about the public-union rumpus currently raging from Wisconsin to New Jersey. Here’s what she says about the latter:

If the union leaders had been smart—if they’d had a heart!—they would have held a private meeting and said, “Look, the party’s over. We’ve done great the past 20 years, but now taxpayers are starting to resent us, and they have reason. They’re losing their benefits and footing the bill for our gold-plated plans, they don’t have job security and we do, taxes are high. We have to back off.”

They didn’t do this. It was a big mistake. And the teachers union made it just as two terrible but unrelated things were happening to their reputation. In what might be called an expression of the new spirit of transparency that is sweeping the globe, two documentaries came out in 2010, “The Lottery” and “Waiting for Superman.” Both were made by and featured people who are largely liberal in their sympathies, and both said the same brave thing: The single biggest impediment to better schools in our country is the teachers unions, which look to their own interests and not those of the kids.


When union leaders negotiate with a politician, they’re negotiating with someone they can hire and fire. Public unions have numbers and money, and politicians need both. And politicians fear strikes because the public hates them. When governors negotiate with unions, it’s not collective bargaining, it’s more like collusion. Someone said last week the taxpayers aren’t at the table. The taxpayers aren’t even in the room.

I come from a union family (Teamsters, Printers), but credit where credit’s due: Noonan nailed it this time.

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11 Responses to Peggy Noodnik Gets It Right

  1. dankennedy says:

    John: I’ll leave the Peggy Noonan-reading to you. But, as you know, it’s been widely reported that the unions in Wisconsin have agreed to all of Scott Walker’s financial terms, which leaves their collective-bargaining rights as the sole remaining issue. Is that wrong? If it isn’t, then how is Noonan right, and about what?

    • Campaign Outsider says:

      Dan: That’s absolutely true in Wisconsin. Noonan was talking about the teachers union in New Jersey. I should have made that clear.

  2. Bob Gardner says:

    “Look, the party’s over. We’ve done great the past 20 years, but now taxpayers are starting to resent us, and they have reason. ” is something that would have made sense as advice to those people making more than $250,000/yr back in December, when the Bush tax cuts were extended.
    ” It makes no sense to burden people with further demands when they’re trying to get their optimism back.” would be good advice for those Governors who are trying to break unions.
    John Stewart was the one who nailed it. $50,000 plus benefits is less than $250,000. A lot less.

    • Campaign Outsider says:

      I’m not in favor of busting unions, Bob, and I don’t think a) they should have their collective bargaining rights taken away, or b) people who make $50,000 should get whacked more than the $250,000 folks.

      This is about public image as much as money. The unions’ burn-the-boats approach may garner public support for the Wisconsin protesters, but elsewhere it’s a millstone.

  3. Steve Stein says:

    Here’s something for your continuing series, from Paul Krugman, referencing Dean Baker, about these “gold plated” pensions Noonan’s going on about. I’d like to see Peggy live on a teacher’s pension.

    • Campaign Outsider says:

      Peggy on a teacher’s pension isn’t really the point, is it Steve? I’m not sure either side of this debate is covering itself in accuracy. I’m just looking at the public relations side of it and it seems to me the unions are losing there because of how intractable they come off.

      • Steve Stein says:

        Intractable? The WI public service unions have given into every demand Walker has made *except* for ceding collective bargaining rights.

        Since when is not refusing to die “intractable”?

      • Campaign Outsider says:

        I know that the Wisconsin unions have made concessions, as have some others. Noonan’s column was about New Jersey, and my comments are about unions in general, which in many ways have been their own worst enemy.

    • Campaign Outsider says:

      I’m totally confused, Dan – so I should call my dean and make wage and benefits concessions? Seriously – I’ve already said that the Wisconsin unions have public support. It’s the other unions that are hamstrung by their image (and tactics).

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