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Trillions and Trillions The Liberal Culture of Compulsion

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Radical Suits and Their Suckers

by Christopher Chantrill
February 24, 2011 at 6:30 pm


BACK IN the 1970s my daughters used to say: “Let’s play princesses!” and a grand old time they had. I imagine that in progressive families, the cry was different. “Let’s play community organizers!” No doubt a grand old time was had by the baby radicals too.

The trouble is that some people don’t grow up. It’s one thing to play community organizers in the back yard when you are a kid. It’s another thing when real lives are at stake, as in Wisconsin.

A better name for “community organizer” is “radical suit,” because community organizers are really the lefty version of the corporate suits that fly in to the plant in their executive jets, issue just enough ridiculous orders to prove that they haven’t a clue, and then head back to the FBO and the next gig.

The definitive word on radical suits came out in 1885 in Zola’s Germinal. It tells the story of the radical suit Etienne Lantier, who hikes into town to organize the coal miners of northern France in their strike against the mine owners over wage cuts. By the time Etienne’s done helping, he’s provoked the miners into violence and death, and their wages get cut anyway. At the end of the novel, Etienne heads back to Paris for his next gig after watching the miners return, defeated, back to work. It’s a beautiful spring day, and he is dreaming revolutionary dreams, of “men springing up, a black avenging host... [that] would crack the earth asunder.” If you want to read the official history of the radical suits then Howard Zinn’s hagiography, A People’s History of the United States is the book for you.

For the best part of two centuries the radical suits have been playing the workers for suckers and it’s about time they got called on it. Let us look at three ways in which the radical suits lead their followers on a road to nowhere.

First of all, it’s almost always better for the workers if they don’t strike. Strikes are good for the union bosses, of course. That is what Sarah Palin was telling her “union brothers and sisters” in Wisconsin this weekend. Strikes are bad for the workers because they usually never make up the wages lost. And, of course, the strike damages the workers’ employer. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that where public education is concerned.)

Second, the radical suits are confirming the workers in their agricultural-age peasant culture that experiences the world as a fixed pie where you have to fight for your share or get it from a powerful patron. That’s just not how the world works any more; in today’s world you get ahead on your skills and your willingness to serve.

Third, the radical suits are tempting people with the siren song of political power. Give us just a little more political power, they sing, and we will make your life better. Tell that to the grass growing up in the streets of Detroit, to the millions that lost their homes in the housing bust. Political power turned to economic uses almost always ends up as a poisoned chalice, a destructive drug that turns peaceful cooperation into the morning-after squabbles of the zero-sum game.

Now we have the radical suits joyously flying to Wisconsin to lead public sector workers on a journey to nowhere, as Walter Russell Mead laments. The government workers in the streets of Madison, Wisconsin, he writes, are “regular Americans playing by the rules as they found them.” Unfortunately for them, the rules of the Big Unit social model are on the way out. The well-paid teachers of Wisconsin are stuck in a time warp.

Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit likes to tease us daily with talk about the higher education bubble. But think about the changes that K-12 education is facing. I recently talked to a high-school senior complaining about a lousy calculus teacher at his fancy-pants high school for the arts. No problem, of course, because this student was able to figure things out by watching the calculus YouTube videos from Kahn Academy. And he can take a ton of courses on-line.

Not to get too Marxist about this, but we are talking about the inevitability of a law of history. The productive forces are changing, and the social superstructure is going to have to change too. The liberal and the radical suits can help their Big Unit followers through the change or they can drive them into the ditch. It’s their choice.

Thus far, it seems like we are all condemned to watching endless reruns of W.C. Fields and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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presented by Christopher Chantrill

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