Quick! Change the Subject

Hoffa tries to manipulate the Tea Partiers

Last Wednesday Teamsters President James P. Hoffa offered his unsolicited advice to the Tea Party movement. In an article that is cleverer than usual for union officials, it’s worth taking time to note what Hoffa avoids, because the whole thing is basically an exercise in deflection.

The first dodge: “What suddenly sent the Tea Party protesters to town hall meetings last summer and to Washington in the fall? It was our worsening economy.”

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This is a neat bit of revisionist history and not entirely false — certainly the current recession was a factor that motivated so many Americans to attend rallies and town halls. But Hoffa glides past the single issue that was at the forefront of all those rowdy town halls: the health care reform package that has the potential to effectively nationalize one-sixth of the American economy. Tea Partiers saw this health care program as part of an overall effort to expand government. They also were inclined to believe that an overgrown government had itself become a tremendous drag on resources, triggering, or at least aggravating the recession. In the minds of the Tea Partiers, the first step toward economic recovery was to prevent the passage of the health care bill.

The union movement, in which Mr. Hoffa plays an influential role, has long been deeply involved in the health care drive. One of the numerous problems with the bill is the need for unions to protect themselves from taxes needed to pay for the monstrosity. Aside from not wanting to chip in to pay for the thing though, the union movement has long been a supporter of government-run health care. It’s quite understandable why Hoffa would hope to distract Tea Partiers from the health care issue, though it’s harder to imagine how he would expect them to forget about it.

Hoffa goes on to argue that “[p]rotesters blame ‘big government’ for their woes, but their anger is misdirected. It’s the big conglomerates that are fleecing them. The fact is that institutional power has moved from government to Wall Street and large corporations.”

Again, that’s not entirely false either. Much of the reason why government has malfunctioned is the way that large, politically connected interests have exploited their ties to government officials — both elected officials and unelected bureaucrats — to protect and enrich themselves. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. is but one example of government being used to enrich favored businesses at the expense of taxpayers.

But businesses aren’t the only big entities with clout in government. Unions aren’t exactly hurting for funds — Hoffa’s Teamsters hauled in nearly $180 million in 2008, and we have every reason to believe that a lot of that money, as much as half, went into politics and lobbying. Unions play an especially influential and controversial role in Michigan government as well.  (They've even managed to dip into MEDC funds that are meant to promote businesses!)

Hoffa concludes that “The Tea Party protesters are being manipulated by the very same conglomerates that are causing their problems.” That’s subject to all sorts of debate, but what is fairly clear is that James Hoffa would love to manipulate them himself for his own purposes.