AUSTIN -- Worst idea of 2001 so far: naming a newspaper columnist to
the U.S. Cabinet.
You really don't want columnists running the government. As any newspaper reporter can tell you,
all newspaper columnists work maybe two hours a day and spend the rest of their time drinking martinis and misbehaving.
In addition to this deplorable professional life, Linda Chavez brings
some truly unwelcome baggage
to the position of labor secretary.
What is it about people who are drawn to one political extreme and then
flip to the other?
Chavez started out as a member of the Young People's Socialist League and now is on the
conservative extreme of the Republican Party. You notice that many of the neo-conservatives
have similar backgrounds -- there seems to be some personality affinity for true believership.
In the Bible, Job says he wishes that his enemy had written a book.
A newspaper column works just as well.
As one of Chavez's admirers put it, "She embodies the term `movement
That's another way of saying "self-righteous zealot."
Chavez, an anti-feminist who has been married for 34 years, does not
call herself Mrs. Gertsen.
She is, however, opposed to all affirmative action programs, is a vociferous opponent of
anti-discrimination measures and has urged the reversal of several civil rights policies.
But of course the reason she was named to the Cabinet is precisely
because her father was
New Mexico Spanish. This is why Hispanics call her "the Latina Clarence Thomas,"
meaning someone who has benefited from affirmative action but is opposed to it.
If she were just a newspaper columnist, that wouldn't make much difference
(columnists can advocate
any fool notion and often do), but the labor secretary administers affirmative action programs for all
federal contractors -- about 20 million workers.
Chavez has also campaigned against the minimum wage, with that chipper
denial of the facts on this issue
that marks the "movement conservative" -- all of whom hold that increasing the minimum wage leads
inevitably to inflation, despite the obvious fact that it doesn't.
The trouble for George W. Bush in naming a labor secretary simply to
insult organized labor and
to punish unions for supporting his opponent is that labor is not just about the union movement.
It's about all American workers. Although it is true that only about 20 percent of American workers
are in unions, that 20 percent sets the standards across the board in salaries, benefits and working conditions.
If you are making a decent salary in a non-union company, you owe that
to the unions.
One thing that corporations do not do is give out money out of the goodness of their hearts.
In a memorable column, Chavez dismissed the notion of a glass ceiling
for women as "almost entirely wrong."
She was writing about a Labor Department study that found only 5 percent of senior managers at major
companies are women and much other evidence of the glass ceiling. She simply dismissed all the evidence
in the report and announced that the real reason for such figures is that women choose to put their families
first and/or not work very hard. Problem solved.
Sexual harassment? Nope, the rising number of sexual harassment lawsuits
means that we are
"a nation of crybabies" and men are "so often the targets of such witch hunts."
A typical Chavez column takes a few incidents of sort-of-silly results
of the Americans with Disabilities Act
and then uses them to discredit the entire effort -- a favorite tactic with "movement conservatives."
There's never been a law yet that didn't have a ridiculous consequence
in some unusual situation; there's
probably never been a government program that didn't accidentally benefit someone it wasn't intended to.
Most people who work in government understand that what you do about it is fix the problem
-- you don't just attack the whole government.
For some reason, Chavez thought that Casey Martin, the disabled professional
golfer who sued the PGA
is order to use a cart to get around the course, was conclusive proof that the ADA is nothing but
"an effort to force employers to offer special treatment in the name of accommodating the disabled."
Her campaign against bilingual education is an oddity. One can always
debate about bilingual programs.
In Texas, we know that throwing Spanish-speaking kids into English-only schools and punishing them
for speaking their language was a disastrous failure, and we have the records to prove it. But Chavez's
response was to lead a campaign to make English the official language of Colorado.
I totally fail to see the point. We can pass resolutions and laws and
initiatives making English the Official
Language until we're blue in the face, but it's not going to teach a single Hispanic kid how to speak English.
When Chavez conducted a memorably nasty 1986 Senate race against Barbara
Mikulski of Maryland
(she moved there from Colorado in 1984), a `Baltimore Sun' columnist (I told you they should all be shot) wrote,
"Chavez has a knack for picking issues that are either unfair or outdated or out of line."
I'd say so.