E. J. Dionne’s Sermon for the Day

by William Voegeli

Today’s sermon is, of course, the same one Dionne delivers in every column: When they do it to us, it’s outrageous. And when we do it to them, it’s courageous. The “it” changes with news cycles and political needs.

Michigan’s new right-to-work law is especially “insidious” because Republicans “waited until after the election to pass it” in a lame-duck session of the state legislature. Compounding the deceit, Governor Rick Snyder “avoided taking a stand on right-to-work” before the November 2012 election. After it, however, Snyder “miraculously discovered” that right-to-work “would be a first-rate economic development measure.”

So the moral of the story appears to be that state legislatures holding lame-duck sessions shouldn’t pass important, controversial bills. Furthermore, governors who did not make their position on the controversies known to the voters before the most recent election are craven cowards if they sign those bills into law.

Like every Dionne moral principle, it’s imperative except when it’s not, which is any time it applies unflatteringly to his fellow Democrats. Consider Illinois. In the lame-duck session after the November 2010 elections, the Democratic majority raised the state’s income tax on businesses from 4.8 percent to 7 percent, and on individuals from 3 percent to 5 percent. Pat Quinn, the Democratic governor, had not kept silent about the tax increase during the 2010 campaign. Instead, he had promised to veto any tax bill that raised the rate on individuals above 4 percent.

Just days after the election, however, Quinn miraculously discovered that the state’s finances were in much worse shape than his advisers had been telling him, and he had been telling the voters. “Our fiscal house is burning,” the governor said by way of obliquely explaining his decision to sign rather than veto the tax increase. “It’s important for state government not to be a basket case.”

You can only imagine the scorn Reverend Dionne visited upon the Illinois Democrats, those sniveling hypocrites who deceived the people and then passed a controversial bill from the bunker of a lame-duck session. Quinn must lie awake at night, wondering if his reputation will ever recover from Dionne’s scathing assault, calling him “reasonable,” “brave,” “doing the hard work,” and “responsible.” 

In reality, Governor Snyder and Michigan Republicans should take Dionne’s rebuke every bit as seriously as his readers have learned to take Dionne’s intellectual honesty.  

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