Monday, February 28, 2011

Shepard Smith on Wisconsin union busting

Shepard Smith is the one person on Fox "News" I have any respect for at all. He's the only person on Fox who actually - occasionally, at least - seems to be a journalist.

Yeah, I don't really know if he's always like this. After all, I only see the video clips where he's making sense. It's sort of a "man bites dog" kind of thing. It gets attention when a Fox anchor is perceptive and honest, just because it's so surprising.

So maybe Shepard Smith isn't always admirable, I don't know. Frankly, I doubt if he could keep his job if that were the case. Of course, he's conservative, I'm sure. But I don't really care about that. There are conservatives I respect. It's just that I can't think of another one connected with Fox "News."

In this clip, it's still Fox, of course, so we can't expect too much. But it's funny to see Juan Williams taken aback, when he starts the normal right-wing spiel about this stuff. Williams thinks he's been set up for the normal Fox "News" rant about union support for Democrats, and he's clearly surprised as heck to be mistaken. It really is funny to see him scramble to recover, don't you think?

First, Williams tries to pretend that it's all about the "budget crisis" in Wisconsin. Well, naturally, that's the Republican Party line. Of course, the truth is that the "crisis" was largely manufactured by the governor. There wouldn't even be a budget crisis if he hadn't cut taxes on business as soon as he took office. Even so, the unions already agreed to all of the cuts Walker demanded. Yeah, this isn't about the budget at all.

Williams clearly doesn't expect to be called on that lie - not on Fox, certainly - but he quickly recovers his balance, assuming that Smith wants the fallback narrative, that unions take money out of workers' pockets to give to the Democrats, who reward them with lavish benefits. Again, Smith surprises him by pointing out that the disparity in campaign donations is all in favor of the GOP.

There are a several things that always surprise me about this particular right-wing line. The first is that unions have been declining in membership and in influence for decades. So how can Republicans plausibly blame unions for our current troubles? The average worker's wages, adjusted for inflation, peaked in the 1970s. How can Americans be dumb enough to blame unions, when things have gotten worse and worse as union membership has declined?

Of course, Republicans also blame Democrats for the debt when, as the above graph shows, they're the ones who've been in charge when the debt increased. And they actually controlled Congress for an even greater length of time than the presidency. (Don't get me wrong. All too many Democrats went along with them.) We've been on the wrong path for decades, true, but it's been the right-wing path. Well, I guess we Americans are just too ignorant of our own history.

The second thing that surprises me is all this talk about "lavish" benefits paid to public workers. OK, clearly, Republicans are working very hard to make non-union workers jealous of what they're missing themselves. But why does that work? Why wouldn't they stop to think that, gee, maybe we should have a union, too? And if you're really going to get angry about such things, doesn't it make far more sense to get angry at tax cuts for the wealthy?

I really don't get it. How can this even work for the GOP? Whenever you argue that the wealthy should pay their fair share of taxes, Republicans claim that you're promoting "class warfare." But they're basically pushing civil war within the middle class. Yeah, don't fight the wealthy who've made out like bandits in recent years, while the rest of America has struggled. Fight the guy who's just like you!

Finally, and this really makes no sense, Republicans argue about how unfair it is to use union dues to help Democrats. But they have absolutely no problem with taking corporate money to help Republicans. Hey, if you own mutual funds - say in your IRA or 401-k - you own parts of many corporations, but you have zero control over what they do. When they donate to Republicans, it's a matter of wealthy CEOs donating your money to help themselves.

Now, I'd have absolutely no problem with banning unions from political campaigns, as long as businesses were banned, too. The fact is, there's far more corporate money going to Republicans than union money going to Democrats. And if the latter is wrong, the former is even worse. At least in unions you've got some say over where the money is spent.

Unfortunately, Republicans have a propaganda machine par excellence - and no shame at all. If bigotry and fear-mongering work politically, that's all they care about. Fox "News" is the worst of the worst, so it really is surprising to see Shepard Smith at least occasionally try to set the record straight.

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