Right-to-Work Will be Blamed

If Gov. Snyder loses re-election

With a good deal of validity it has been said that history is written by the victors. Keeping that in mind, it follows that if Gov. Rick Snyder loses the 2014 Michigan gubernatorial election, the defeat almost surely will be attributed to his support and enactment of right-to-work.

Blaming a Gov. Snyder loss on right-to-work would, of course, be totally inaccurate. But anyone who thinks questions of accuracy prevent the proliferation of nonsense hasn’t paid attention to how the national mainstream news media operates.

Gov. Snyder asked the Legislature to pass right-to-work in late 2012; it did so and he signed it into law. This occurred in reaction to a failed attempt by a coalition of large unions to put language in the state constitution that would have permanently stacked the deck in labor’s favor at the bargaining table.

Right-to-work, which prohibits workers from being required to financially support a union as a condition of employment, is virtually a nonissue in this year’s election. More Michigan voters support right-to-work than oppose it and most voters who hold a grudge against Gov. Snyder over the issue were never likely to support him in the first place.

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Nonetheless, should Gov. Snyder falter in his bid for re-election, the legacy of his failure to win is likely — in the long run — to be reduced to an erroneous but simplistic truism. This truism, which will be repeated with growing certitude, will be that after Gov. Snyder right-to-work in a state with a long tradition of unionism the voters threw him out of office.

Count on it; probably sooner rather than later, this will be the message presented as straight-forward cause and effect. It is precisely the sort of snapshot explanation the image-worshipping national mainstream news media loves to peddle — a portrayal too alluring for it to resist.

In reality, if Gov. Snyder loses it will probably be due to a combination of causes, none having anything to do with right-to-work. Two of these causes would be general in nature, while three pertain to specific segments of voters.

* Causes of a general nature would be: first — at the national level — the Republicans have missed the opportunity to seize the mantle of reform that, in a nonpresidential year, could have bolstered GOP turnout across the country; and second — at the state level — if it turns out that too few of the voters outside of the business community sense the effects of the current economic uptick. 

* Causes of a more specific nature would be the result of seeds of dissatisfaction sewn within voting groups from which Gov. Snyder might otherwise have expected support. Many senior citizens believe, correctly or incorrectly, that he raised their taxes without giving them a break in return; social conservatives distrust his implied flirtation with policies some consider as gateways to recognition of gay marriage; and economic conservatives see many of his policies (especially Medicaid expansion and his efforts to double the fuel tax) as being too government-centric.

All of these reasons, and perhaps a few others, will surely be mentioned by the mainstream news media in its postelection analysis if Gov. Snyder is defeated. Undoubtedly, at the state level, the news media will continue for a certain period of time to cite these, rightly, as the causes of his defeat. Those nearest to any event almost always tend to recall more factual details for a longer duration than those at a distance.

But fairly quickly at the national level and then eventually even at the state level as well, the real factors behind a Gov. Snyder loss will fade into the mist and be replaced by the untrue, yet shallow and easy (therefore preferred) narrative that right-to-work is what doomed him.

Truth morphing into symbolic fiction is not a process limited to politics. Tellers of tales twist storylines to their liking regardless of the overall category. However, it is in the arena of politics that baseless truisms have perhaps the greatest capacity to become enshrined as lessons.

To the conservative base, if Gov. Snyder were to lose it will be because he ignored basic principles. To seasoned citizens, if Snyder were to lose it would be because they think he hiked their taxes. Yet, for the national mainstream news media, though these elements will have contributed to his loss, they will be considered trivialities not worth mentioning.

One can almost hear the epitaph already: “He turned the birth place of unionism into a right-to-work state and paid the price for doing so.”

(Editor’s note: Jack Spencer is Capitol Affairs Specialist for Michigan Capitol Confidential and a veteran Lansing-based journalist. His columns do not necessarily represent the views of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy of Michigan Capitol Confidential.)


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