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Who’s Got the Power?

By Matthew Yglesias

"Who’s Got the Power?"

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I by no means begrudge airport baggage screeners their newfound union rights. Still, the speed, alacrity, and daring with which the Democrats pushed forward on this issue does make a telling contrast with the parties sloth and timidity in taking the progressive side in other fights about national security issue. Just as during the 2002 Homeland Security debate, you see that the Democratic Party is very substantially the creature of public sector unions. When an issue is important to them, Democrats will really fight for it. Not just lip service — they’ll run meaningful political risks on behalf of the public sector unions.

To stop a war with Iraq? To halt torture? Illegal surveillance? Suddenly you see a lot less speed, a lot less determination, and a lot less backbone. Not that I begrudge the unions their influence, either. They won it fair and square — with organizing, with money, with volunteers, with discipline, with clear requests, etc. As you see with any influential group, securing influence takes work. Sadly, there are virtually no institutions of any consequence organized around providing a progressive take on the substance — as opposed to labor procedures — of national security issues. And until that changes, you’ll keep having what we have today; a Democratic Party with very clear ideas about whether or not airport screeners should be represented by unions, but very hazy ideas about how to deal with Iran.

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