The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Sunday, March 01, 2015


Commentators on the left have been obsessing over Scott Walker recently. The reason—he's a Midwestern Governor (and potential GOP presidential contender) with executive experience who says what he means and means what he says—even when powerful constituencies rally against him. These same commentators have made much of a recent comment by Walker, where he intimated that his handling of the strife caused during his face down of Wisconsin's public sector unions has, in its own way, prepared him for challenges like the threat of radical Islamic groups (e.g., ISIS). Of course, the left immediately conflated his comment and dishonestly suggested that he was comparing union members to ISIS. Like so many other delusional positions taken by the left, the accusation isn't even worthy of comment.

But is it really possible that an executive's actions in domestic situations like a union negotiation can provide a good indication of their action on the international scene? Peggy Noonan relates the story of Ronald Regan and PATCO, the federal air traffic controller union. In 1981 during Reagan's first year in office. PATCO demanded a 100% pay raise under the threat of an illegal strike. Reagan, an ex-union man himself, offered 11 percent. When that was rejected, Reagan told the union that any strike was illegal and that if it commenced, every person who walked out would be fired.. Noonan continues the story:
Reagan’s tough line was not completely comfortable for him, personally or politically. He’d had little union support in the 1980 election, but Patco was one of the few that had backed him. Not many union leaders had been friendly to him, but Patco’s had. And he was a union man. he didn’t want to be seen as a Republican union buster.

Still, Reagan believed no president could or should tolerate an illegal strike by federal employees, especially those providing a vital government service. Not only was there a law against such strikes, each member of Patco had signed a sworn affidavit agreeing not to strike.

Talks resumed, fell apart, and by the summer 70% of the air controllers walked out.

They had thought Reagan was bluffing. He wouldn’t fire them, they thought, because it would endanger the economy and inconvenience hundreds of thousands of passengers—and for another reason, which we’ll get to in a moment.

The walkout became a crisis.

Reagan did what he said he would do: He refused to accept the strike and refused to resume negotiations. He called reporters to the Rose Garden and read from a handwritten statement he’d composed the night before. If the strikers did not return to work within 48 hours, they would be fired—and not rehired. The 48 hours was meant as a cooling-off period. In the meantime, Reagan made clear, nonstriking controllers and supervisory personnel would keep the skies open
Reagan proceeded to fire every striking controller who did not return to the job, and kept the skies open with military and supervisory personal while new controllers were trained.

I remember these events vividly. The overall response was 'Wow, Reagan says what he means and means what he says.'

Our friends and enemies around the world watched these events carefully. History indicates that Reagan defined himself during that period, not just on domestic issues but on the foreign policy front as well. Noonan elaborates:
Foreign governments, from friends and allies to adversaries and competitors, saw that the new president could make tough decisions, pay the price, and win the battle. The Soviets watched like everybody else. They observed how the new president handled a national-security challenge. They saw that his rhetorical toughness would be echoed in tough actions. They hadn’t known that until this point. They knew it now.

This is why Reagan’s secretary of state George Shultz said that the Patco decision was the most important foreign-policy decision Reagan ever made.

Everyone knew at the time that it was a domestic crisis. It wasn’t until years later that they came to appreciate that it was foreign-affairs victory.
Over the past six years other foreign actors (from Russia's Vladimir Putin to the Mullahs of Iran) have watched a different occupant of the oval office blunder through domestic decisions, making promises he couldn't or wouldn't keep, caving to a variety of powerful constituencies, and otherwise talking the talk, but not walking the walk. This does not go unnoticed, and the hard men who lead our enemies act accordingly.