Re: Nothing Egregious About This Picket Line

Without coming down on either side of the particular issue on the table (which, whatever else its effects, has helped to highlight the multiple dumbnesses of Rhode Island politics), I have to express an objection to something that Andrew wrote earlier today:

… Vice-President of the United States of America is not a union job. Vice-President Biden’s decision not to attend the conference is a purely political one and it is ludicrous to assert that people should self-curtail their rights of free expression and assembly, because the VP of the US needs to be protected from having to make political decisions.

The consideration that’s missing from this analysis is that the Providence firefighters should and do have a more direct and more substantial interest in the well-being of Providence and of Rhode Island. It costs Biden next to nothing — and lesser federal functionaries even closer to nothing — to skip the convention. He’s in office; he’s just started in office. Indeed, bowing out arguably helps him to burnish union bona fides and illustrate independence from political leaders who happen to share the Democrat brand.
He’s a politician, and he’ll behave politically. Saying that the firefighters’ union should not consider the consequences of its actions because they are filtered through the proxy of a politician’s decisions is like saying that a dog owner shouldn’t seek to protect his pet from having to resist biting guests. In the context of a dinner party, teaching the dog is not the focus; protecting one’s associates is. In the context of rallies and national conventions hosted in Rhode Island, the Vice President’s development and stagecraft shouldn’t be the focus of those whose actions might repercuss in the state; the local community should be.
One could argue that the union’s stunt will not have substantial consequences. It would also be reasonable to argue that things played out in a way that the union couldn’t have foreseen, and its own political considerations required it to persist. But the general principle that a person or group’s responsibility does not extend to anticipating the likely actions of others is not a notion that it is wise to promote.

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Andrew
Andrew(@carroll-andrew-morse)
Editor
12 years ago

Has my saying that a decision is a political one come across as implying that it’s a proper one? That’s not what I’m saying; what I am saying is that the person responsible for Joe Biden not attending this conference is Joe Biden, and that no one can claim legitimate surprise at how members of the Obama administration have weighed their duties to unions versus their duties to their more general constituencies. I hope those East-Siders and others who think what’s happened this week is sufficient motive for a counter-protest will take this into consideration, when filling out their state and Federal ballots in the future. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Local 799 knew their actions would prevent national-level Democrats from attending the Mayor’s conference, and I wholeheartedly agree with… the general principle that a person or group’s responsibility does not extend to anticipating the likely actions of others is not a notion that it is wise to promote, …but there’s a real chicken-or-egg quandary with applying it to this situation. Mayor Cicilline knew that the union would picket an event that brought national Democrats to RI, the union knew its action would prevent the national Dems from showing up, and so on down the line. What rational basis did he have to believe that the firefighters’ union was going to sit this one out? If preventing the pickets was the paramount issue, remember that an option was put out by the union whereby there’d be no picketing, if the Mayor wouldn’t attend the conference. Mayor Cicilline could have taken one for the team, and if he had put half the energy into a PR campaign promoting a decision to step aside that he’s put into his insane “first-amendment” policy, I think he would have come out in… Read more »

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