“The ends justify the means,” for better or worse, has always been the modus operandi of the American union movement. Back at the beginning of the 20th Century, this often translated into violence, as union leaders used bombs and murder to counter equally vile tactics—or worse—by their industry foes. Union violence is more common today in the threatening than in the actual execution, but the public unions battling Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin have made it increasingly clear that ethics, fairness and truth are not going to stand in the way of their objectives, particularly the objective of winning the battle for public support.
A new low may have been reached with the effort to blame Walker for the suicide of Jeri-Lyn Betts, a 57-year-old teacher suffering from chronic depression, who apparently committed suicide last week. The pro-union website The Progressive announced her death with a headline connecting her death to the unions’ struggles with Walker, implying in its story that the governor’s efforts to curtail union bargaining power and increase union member contributions to health care and pensions were “in part” responsible for Betts’ death.
Ironically, the article uses one of the “Six Tell-Tale Signs of Biased News Stories” flagged in an earlier post this weekend, “Implying without saying.” The Progressive headline “Wisconsin Teacher in Apparent Suicide, “Distraught” Over Walker’s Cuts” is a classic example of the device, as it just as correctly could have read, “Wisconsin Teacher in Apparent Suicide, “Distraught” Over Impending Cancellation of Fox Series “Fringe”, or “Wisconsin Teacher in Apparent Suicide, “Distraught” Over President Obama’s NCAA Basketball Picks.” The fact is that people with clinical depression are distraught, period, and suicide is an all too common result of the illness: its is estimated that 15% of all clinically depressed individuals kill themselves, and far higher percentage make at least one attempt. Laying the blame for the suicide of a clinically depressed woman, whom Governor Walker never knew and held no malice toward. on his deficit management efforts is wildly dishonest and cynical, not to mention crass.
But unions have always believed in total war in their labor battles, and exploiting the death of an emotionally ill woman to smear the character of a Governor who was a political foe is consistent with a tradition that is, if not grand, at least consistent.
Maybe Walker should consider himself lucky. A century ago, the union might have just blown him up.