Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Boys Just Wanna Have Gun

I think Jon Stewart spoke for every comedian alive when he raised his eyes upward and muttered, "Thank you, Jesus." Then, of course, he went on to do a convulsively funny five minutes on Dick's Missed Shot. Leno and Letterman added to the merriment, and David Gregory continued to show us what a free press looks and sounds like.

But this is a serious matter, really: finding good, clean quail is a sophisticated and difficult art—kind of like seeking a true Democrat. So today, Terry McKenna rejoins us with his gun properly locked and loaded, and he's got shrapnel to spare for both of our power-drunk and morally debilitated political parties. And if you think Terry is a voice crying out in the wilderness, check this out—none other than Moveon.org is exploring the idea of flushing out some right-leaning Dems. The covey is open, Mr. McKenna:

I assume most of our readers are Democrats and leftists. So please take this as an earnest warning and not just spin.

Do you really believe that the era of Republican domination has begun to end? True, the troops are restless – but so what. The Republican Congressional majorities will probably be trimmed in this year’s “off year” election. But over the long term, the Democrats have nowhere to go but down.

And why is that? Because the Democrats are a party of minority interests wrapped up into a single brand; and a brand that has aged badly. Look at them. Civil service workers, unionized laborers (some overlap there); racial minorities; environmentalists and the remains of the old left (you know, Noam Chomsky, and the like). The Democrats remind me of a trip to a grocery store. Go up the aisle where the cleaning supplies are kept – you get matches, candles, copper cleanser, even mousetraps. Some of the brand names are 100 years old. The items are still useful, but none of them will be a featured ad in the Super Bowl. (The Republicans are probably represented by the aisle with Health and Beauty Aids – lots of new products, but they really don’t do what the ads claim.)

The problem for Democrats is how they deal with real issues in real places. Let’s look at just two current issues.

Just this past week the Senate agreed to debate legislation to cap asbestos litigation. Republicans are proposing a “no fault” solution. The Democrats (supported by trial lawyers) are against it. In favor, Republicans point out how little real good has come out of decades of litigation. We have bankruptcies and massive attorney fees. The distribution of gains is skewed not in favor of damage, but by the dynamics of jurisdiction. Thus, if you can sue in a more favorable state, you can win more money.

The real issues in this matter are clear. Hundreds of thousands of victims have been identified. Businesses that are currently viable are targeted as much for their cash as for anything else. The major asbestos users have long ago been sued. Some (like Johns Manville) no longer exist in their original form. Others continue to fight. But more and more, the newly targeted companies were marginal users of asbestos in the long past era when asbestos was a viable commodity.

A no-fault system seems a reasonable solution, one attached to a victims' compensation trust fund. Yet Democrats refuse to do more than obfuscate on this issue. They raise a legitimate concern about how a trust fund might contain too little to pay off victims (while saying nothing about what happens when a targeted company goes bankrupt). Then they raise the cherished right for a day in court. But the generation of asbestos workers are already dying away (mostly from old age). The new claims come as often from folks (like myself) who worked in construction maybe 30 years ago and who now have minor pulmonary damage of unknown etiology. The damage is often trivial and the link to asbestos flimsy, but if you wrap enough of these cases together, you can get a windfall…at least for the attorneys. (By the way, if any of you have ever removed an old vinyl floor tile, there is a good chance that it contained asbestos – and that the floor glue also contained asbestos… did you wear a mask? Are you now middle aged – if you get periodic bouts of bronchitis you may be able to sign on to a class action suit. And yes, it’s that easy.)

We need some kind of genuine reform of the tort system – whether by no fault management or maybe via new ideas yet to be thought. But the Democrats refuse to think of any.

Let’s look at another issue. The cost of paying for benefits for public employees (including teachers). Though it is not a federal matter, it is a national issue.

I’m talking about costs, not performance. Using my home state of New Jersey, and taking a look at the suburban counties like my own, we have well funded local governments that seem to deliver the goods. The schools seem to do well. The police and fire services are well run. And people live safe, decent lives. But the costs are getting quite large. We have double dippers, pensions inflated by overtime pay in the final years. A mentality that favors retirement at age 55 (in an era when people live to 85!). But to the politician who mentions class size, or reducing pension benefits, woe to your chances at election time.

Genuine compromise and reform is needed. But in states like mine where the Democrats are in power the only solution is more taxes.

There needs to be a new uniting idea. And maybe the Democrats will find the will for renewal. But I’m not going to hold my breath.

—T. McKenna

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