When thuggery is okay

Opponents of right-to-work complained of the rapid legislative action in Michigan, a lightning strike during a lame-duck session. But Michigan’s GOP legislators didn’t want to repeat the experience of Wisconsin, where lawmakers were hounded and personally threatened in the drawn-out fight over collective bargaining. The business of banging drums, shouting and occupying buildings is not about rational persuasion so much as a show of muscle to intimidate.

These aren’t tactics favored by the right, and if they were it would be an ongoing national scandal. It was considered a danger to the republic at the inception of the tea party when constituents asked sharp questions of the late Sen. Arlen Specter and booed at a town-hall meeting. An industry was devoted to evaluating the threat to the country represented by Glenn Beck’s words. And when Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot by an obviously deranged young man, liberal commentators rushed to blame cross hairs put on a congressional map by Sarah Palin.

The same standards will never be applied to the unions. Not that they would abide by them. Too much is at stake. For them, the Wisconsin and Michigan fights are fundamentally about power. They need the coercive power of the state to force as many people as possible to become members and cough up dues. And they need the dues to fund the election of politicians who will protect their interests. By inserting worker choice into the equation, right-to-work risks crimping the whole enterprise.