Wrestling with Reality

Apparently some members of the Ann Arbor Education Association, a local affiliate of the Michigan Education Association public school employee union, believe that there is nothing more pressing than ginning up contributions to the MEA’s political action committee, so they created a rambling 21 minute video for that purpose. "PACho Libre" is amusing in an immature sort of way — one can’t help but generate snickers by presenting images of professional wrestlers while Olivia Newton-John sings "Let’s Get Physical" — but underneath there are some troubling glimpses into the thinking of union supporters.

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The story is set in a dystopian future in which pro wrestlers have successfully lobbied to cut school spending and reduced public education to a shell of its former glory ("Teacher, the chalk doesn’t work!" one student cries out), dumbing down the public and ensuring the popularity of their, uh, sport. In the societal collapse that follows, one brave teacher decides to meet the wrestlers head-on. Donning a Mexican wrestling mask in a parody of the movie "Nacho Libre," he becomes PACho Libre, the living embodiment of our only hope for saving American civilization: The Michigan Education Association PAC. (PACho Libre – Get it?)

After the obligatory Rockyesque training sequence, the human PAC fund faces his nemesis, "the Legislator," in the ring. The Legislator throws PACho off balance with a combination of rhetorical boilerplate and logical non sequiturs. Just when PACho looks to be down for the count, an orphan hands him a few coins. Enlivened by the modest campaign contribution, PACho delivers heavy blows to the Legislator, and eventually pins him to the mat, winning the match and apparently restoring so-called full funding to public education. The video ends with a woman identified as "Linda Carter, AAEA President and Shameless Wrestling Floozey (sic)" expressing her gratitude to PACho with suggestive language.

To the extent that PACho Libre provides insight into the thinking of MEA supporters, it’s not encouraging. In particular, there’s no mention of the state’s economic problems. The struggling auto industry, job losses, declining tax base, falling state and local government revenues — it seems these realities either don’t exist or don’t matter in the world of those who made PACho Libre. Neither does the Michigan Education Special Services Association, the MEA’s controversial and expensive affiliate that acts as a third-party health insurance provider. Equally revealing is that the movie is "dedicated to the students, families, and staff whose lives, dreams, and careers will be affected by the closing of 52 schools in Detroit by the end of next year." The irony is that these schools are closing not as a result of state budget cuts, but because Detroit parents are choosing to pull their children out of a failed and unsafe system at the rate of 10,000 per year.

To the extent that state funds are tight, the video’s premise is that it is all due to some special interest that thinks it can profit from the decline of government-run education.

And funds aren’t really all that terribly tight. According to the National Education Association, Michigan ranks in the top 10 nationally for total expenditures on public education, at roughly $19 billion a year. On top of that, the Senate Fiscal Agency reports per-pupil funding has steadily outpaced the rate of inflation during the past decade.

One more observation about PACho Libre: In the final fight scene, "The Legislator" makes arguments. The arguments may not be good ones — which is to be expected since his lines were written by a union member bent on making him look ridiculous — but the bottom line is "The Legislator" actually debates. PACho Libre, on the other hand, needs money, but once he has it he wins on plain brute strength. He has no arguments of his own to make.

So now we know the truth: It isn’t about winning debates or making wise policy or providing good education. It isn’t even about securing good wages and benefits through collective bargaining. In the end it’s all about political muscle; it all boils down to PAC money. That’s not a happy ending.


Paul Kersey is senior labor policy analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.