At the 1996 Republican National Convention, Bob Dole gave one of the most mystifying speeches I’ve ever heard. As he accepted the nomination, Dole took a detour from his war-hero biography to attack an enemy of America: teachers.
“And I say this,” Dole declared. “I say this not to the teachers, but to their unions. I say this, if education were a war, you would be losing it. If it were a business, you would be driving it into bankruptcy. If it were a patient, it would be dying.
“And to the teachers unions I say, when I am president, I will disregard your political power, for the sake of the parents, the children, the schools and the nation.”
Bashing teachers seemed like such a non-sequitur. The voters must have thought so, too, because a few months later, Dole lost decisively to Bill Clinton. Dole tried to argue that unions, not teachers, were the reason education was suffering. But it’s impossible to make that distinction without questioning the right of teachers to bargain collectively.
Now, 15 years later, Clinton’s protégé, Rahm Emanuel, has also chosen teachers’ unions as the first enemy of his mayoral administration. Not what you’d expect from a Democrat, but A) Emanuel is a pro-finance Democrat, not a pro-labor Democrat, and B) we’re learning that he governs by confrontation. Picking a fight with someone is as essential a part of the mayor’s day as his morning swim. Unions prevent him from imposing work rules by fiat, and, as we’ve seen, Emanuel is a guy who shouts, swears and bullies when he doesn’t get his way.
Temperamentally, Emanuel is like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, an abrasive jerk who was constantly looking for enemies. Giuliani left office as a hero, because he was the right man to have as mayor on September 11, 2001, when the city had a real enemy.
Even Giuliani knew whom to pick on, though. He started off his administration by going after the “squeegee men,” the guys who stood at red lights, washed the windows of halted motorists, then demanded a tip. Giuliani figured that if you didn’t tolerate low-level lawlessness, high-level lawlessness would go away, too. He was right. When Giuliani was mayor, New York’s crime rate dropped to levels not seen since the 1960s.
Emanuel could take a lesson from Giuliani in choosing his enemies.
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