April 18, 2009

See, That's the Difference Between a Popular Movement and an Establishment Structure

Justin Katz

National Education Association of Rhode Island Executive Director Bob Walsh expresses puzzlement over Colleen Conley's being allowed to be the spokesperson for the RI Tea Party:

on Buddy's show on Ch. 6 on Sunday - he went fairly easy on her after she could not answer basic questions about the size of RI's budget or where she was proposing to cut it. She was also on the second segment of Newsmakers. ...

Do you think if my side was having an event of this scale that we'd let one of out own appear on Buddy's show, or any show, that unprepared?

I'll confess that, on any given day in the recent past, I'd have been stumped by the question, "How large is Rhode Island's budget?" What I would cut is a different matter, but the notion that somebody could be prepared to that degree on such short notice likely strikes the reformist ear funny in a way that brings out two significant points. (Note that I'm putting aside the consideration that the Tea Party's focus was national.)

The first point is that the exact total budget number, of itself, isn't but so important from either an intellectual or rhetorical standpoint. Removed from context, it's meaningless. What's $7 billion (ish)? In order to assess whether that's too much, it is more significant to know that Rhode Island consistently ranks highly on matters of taxation, that its social programs are generous, that its public-sector unions are disproportionately well compensated compared with the private sector, and above all, that the budget deficit has been stepping up every year on a march toward a billion dollars of shortfall and that legislators won't take the steps necessary to turn it around.

The second, more critical, point is that the right-of-center reform movement in Rhode Island and across the country does not consist of folks who earn their living by reciting political arguments by which they stand to gain in their careers. Ask Ms. Conley a question about stationery, and she'll likely produce a more satisfactory answer. Ask me the standard rough opening for a three-foot door, and I'll ask you whether it's a six-six or six-eight and whether we're framing off finish or rough.

It would be more comparable, however, to ask me how many months worth of work I know my current employer to have or Colleen the size of the local market for custom illustrated cards, because the state budget is part of the public-sector total from which it is Mr. Walsh's job to extract amounts for his union's members. Personally, I've got too many numbers running through my head on a given day to have the capacity to recite the subsegment totals of RI government spending. We newly active citizens must rely on such strategies as generalizing the specifics that we read, hear, or see in the news into "too much," "too restrictive," "too generous."

This new dynamic — this increasingly engaged population — may be something for which Bob Walsh and his "side" aren't prepared. They won't be able to pull us into mutually canceling disputes over numbers, because we'll have to look them up, at which point we'll be able to explain how they're spinning them. And if they argue that we don't know what we're talking about — which they're already doing — well, that's more of a felt thing, from the audience's point of view, and not having memorized talking points is not a disadvantage if the speaker seems to have grasped the underlying issue and compensates for missing esoteria with good faith and honesty.

Buddy would likely stump Bob if he asked about the header size of his front entryway, but that wouldn't disqualify Mr. Walsh from suggesting that he'd like to be able to lock the door.

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Another artificial, irrelevant standard. This was organized as an event about national issues.

Nice job, Colleen. You've got the head of a major public labor union in Rhode Island worried - and he wasn't even one of the targets of the rally you organized!

Posted by: Monique at April 18, 2009 8:00 AM

Justin a great observation on your part into the thought process of robotic types like Walsh. It's hilarious how he and his ilk struggle with the concept of a loosely organized event attended by an increasingly engaged populace.

Posted by: Tim at April 18, 2009 11:51 AM

The RIF crowd is all in a dither because there was a tea party and lots of people came.

Posted by: kathy at April 18, 2009 6:17 PM


What a total cop out. If you are going to be taken seriously, you have to do more than bitch. If our social program are too "generous" -- identify how you would cut them.

Eliminate dental care for poor kids? How about reducing the number of services the developmentally disabled receive? Fewer DCYF case workers? Ah, now the question becomes more complicated. That's the reason you like to whine about "too much spending" and just keep the "debate" at that level. You duck the responsibility of putting yourself on the line.

And, of course, you would have to acknowledge that government and public policy is far more complex than the talk radio hosts make it out to be. You might also have to recognize that policy making is a messy process of pragmatic compromises.

Now that I think of it, why don't you just keep spamming links to NRO.

Posted by: Pragmatist at April 18, 2009 8:05 PM

Don't know much about history
Don't know much biology
Don't know much about a science book
Don't know much about the french I took

But I do know that I love you
And I know that if you love me too
What a wonderful world this would be

Don't know much about geography
Don't know much trigonometry
Don't know much about algebra
Don't know what a slide rule is for

But I do know that one and one is two
And if this one could be with you
What a wonderful world this would be

Now I don't claim to be an "A" student
But I'm trying to be
So maybe by being an "A" student baby
I can win your love for me

Don't know much about history
Don't know much biology
Don't know much about a science book
Don't know much about the french I took

But I do know that I love you
And I know that if you love me too
What a wonderful world this would be

La ta ta ta ta ta ta
Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh
La ta ta ta ta ta ta
(Science book)
Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh
(French I took)

But I do know that I love you
And I know that if you love me too
What a wonderful world this would be

My thanks to Sam Cooke

Posted by: Phil at April 18, 2009 8:56 PM

Or if you dont like that one there's this...

Theres no point in asking us youll get no reply
Oh just remenber a dont decide
I got no reason its all too much
Youll always find us
Out to lunch !

Oh were so pretty oh so pretty vacant
But now and we dont care

Dont ask us to attend cos were not all there
Oh dont pretend cos I dont care
I dont believe illusions cos too much is real
So stop your cheap comment
Cos we know what we feel

Were pretty pretty vacant
Were pretty pretty vay-cunt
And we dont care

You all will have to guess this one.

Posted by: Phil at April 18, 2009 9:08 PM

"he and his ilk struggle with the concept of a loosely organized event attended by an increasingly engaged populace."

Curses! Foiled again!

Posted by: Monique at April 18, 2009 11:14 PM


Methinks you have never spent a day in the private sector. In that far away land, people are faced with rising/changing customer needs and wants, competitor offerings, technological possibilities and changing economic and regulatory environments EVERY DAY. And in order to survive (which, surprise, surprise, concentrates the mind much more forcefully than the terrible threat of having to pay a few dollars for your health insurance), they creatively develop new offerings and new ways to deliver them in order to continue to attract customers, employees and investors -- EVERY DAY! Remarkable, isn't it?

So, please, stow your rhetoric about how difficult it would be to cut RI's bloated social services budget, or improve its public eduction, roads, bridges, etc. Because anybody who has spent more than a week in the private sector knows how to attack these problems, and sees right through the litany of excuses you public sector types regularly repeat.

Posted by: John at April 19, 2009 10:11 AM
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