December 8th, 2010

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#293 – Dick Bernard: Continuing the tax cuts

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

For the record, some time ago, before the November elections, I wrote my U.S. Senators arguing in favor of letting the tax cuts expire for everyone at the end of 2010 – including my own.

My wife and I are small fish in the economic pond that is the U.S., but even for ourselves I demonstrated by actual numbers that the net effect of those ill-considered tax cuts earlier in this decade had quite a dramatic impact on our personal tax bill. I said that these were tax savings we neither needed nor could the country afford them. We were destroying our grandkids futures, I argued.

I think of this two page letter to my elected representatives in the wake of yesterday’s announcement of agreement in principal between President Obama and the Republicans and the resulting rhetorical tsunami particularly from the left (with whom I am most often in agreement).

The most well reasoned opinion I’ve seen about the compromise is this one from a west coast blogger I have come to like. It speaks for itself.

But Outside the Walls is my blog, and how is it that I think the President of the United States did what he had to do in dealing with a very tough reality?

I spent most of my working life as a teacher’s union representative, charged with making some sense out of the abundant nonsense that litters every one of our lives: trying to help resolve petty and profound disagreements between individuals and groups of individuals and labor and management.

In such a setting you learn rapidly – and then live within – the reality that nothing is ever as simple as it most often is portrayed by the advocates from one side or the other. Even the stark line between ‘friend’ and ‘enemy’ blurs.

As I read and listened yesterday I kept thinking of a specific situation that occurred in about 1996 in the very town in which I now live.

It was a bitterly cold January, and the local union here – actually two competing unions which were finally cooperating – was at death’s door heading to a Strike.

In fact, everything was in place for the strike: picket signs, captains, schedules, etc. The strike was to happen at 7 a.m. the next morning.

The State Mediator called the parties together for one more attempt to reach agreement, and anyone who’s ever negotiated knows the scenario: labor and management were in separate rooms in an unpleasant place, sitting with stale donuts and old coffee, considering a mutual reality. If we didn’t settle below our sacred rock bottom bottom line, one side would be out on the streets, and both sides would have to figure out how to save face later.

I said that there were two competing unions in this scenario. I was representative for the smaller of the two. My local President wanted a strike in the worst way.

The night wore on and nobody was budging. The mediator was going back and forth.

Finally came the moment of truth: somewhere around midnight or after the Mediator called out our chief negotiator, as well as managements, and let them know the lay of the land, which was pretty dismal. Essentially, he said ‘you folks figure it out, or its your problem’.

Time went on interminably, and then the chief negotiator, representing the majority union, came in the room and asked me to join him.

The reality struck home. This was what we were going to get. Period. Were we going to strike for the difference? No. I supported settling.

The bargaining team sitting in the room agreed; my local President did not. He was very angry. He’d had a large stake in having that long overdue strike.

It was a stormy, snowy night, and the telephone tree went into effect well after midnight: no pickets in the morning. The 20 miles solitary drive home was very lonely.

A short while later we held a meeting to ratify or reject the agreement. Several hundred teachers came and heard the presentation, and voted in secret ballot. In my recollection, the contract we thought was so deficient was overwhelmingly ratified.

My local President – the one who wanted the strike – held me responsible for selling out and had nothing to do with me for the remainder of his term of office.

Life went on. He retired, and a couple of years later he called and asked me a question about something or other.

It was his way of saying “it’s okay. Life goes on”. And it did.

President Obama did what he had to do. It’s not the best, but the best that is attainable.