Right-to-Work and the Super Bowl: A Better Case

February 4, 2012

For immediate release (590 words).

As a political strategists in battle-wearing Wisconsin watching union protesters threaten to block the Super Bowl spotlight in my homestate of Indiana, I could not help but think there had to have been a better way to make the Right-to-Work argument.

A maxim of war is that you, not your opponent, defines the location of the battlefield, and the hype of a Super Bowl made a poor battlefield for the serious issue of labor law. Reform-minded political leaders in Indiana did themselves a disservice by allowing proponents of the status quo to define the debate and pick this particular field of ideas.

In general, conservatives and leaders advocating for free markets and limited government need to rethink their approach to political battle. The present approach cedes far too much ground to those who promote big government, big labor, big education and big media.

Since many politicians believe that their re-election is essential to good government, they will rarely cross a line that entails earning enough public ire to throw them out of office. Defining the political debate is crucial to earning enough public support for a policy proposal to become public policy.

State and local elected officials seeking to enact conservative reforms need to boldly define the debate in terms that the public understands and already supports. Not only that, they need to set the tone in such a way that the public understands that by supporting a conservative reform they are really putting their own values to action.

In the debate over Right-to-Work, Republican leaders framed the issue around the numbers. Those numbers involved jobs projected to come to Indiana as a result of Right-to-Work, wage increases expected to occur after it became law, and even an increase in tax revenues projected from future economic activity. Although helpful arguments, none made the strongest case of all: Right-to-Work is about freedom, the freedom of the worker to choose for whom he will work for and the freedom of the employer to choose who he will hire.

Compared with arguable job numbers or mere partisan leverage, supporting a person’s freedom to own what is rightfully theirs makes a powerful political argument. In the case of Right-to-Work, our ability to be productive — our labor — is one of the few assets that we truly own free from any government taxation or regulation. Unlike other property, which can be taxed, or financial capital, which can be taxed, or anything that can be purchased (which includes a sales tax), your labor belongs to you. Right-to-Work is about ensuring that government does not allow unions to deny anyone the freedom to use their labor as they see best.

Thus framing the debate in terms of liberty and first principles, i.e., the ideas found in the Declaration of Independence, denies proponents of big government critical advantage. It clarifies that what is at stake is nothing less than the soul of our system of self-government and a free-market economy. Allowing the debate to degenerate into a mishmash of one man’s statistic versus another man’s statistic missed the big picture of freedom versus tyranny.

If Indiana’s state and local leaders are serious about championing conservative reforms, they need to think big and define the debate in terms of freedom. The other details can make for a good supporting argument but don’t give in to the temptation to debate progressivism on the statistical ground of its choosing.

This experiment in liberty is premised on the idea that self-government is the only legitimate form of government. Don’t legitimize the arguments of statists by debating them on any other terms.

Brian Sikma is the communications director for Media Trackers, a conservative investigative watchdog organization in Wisconsin. Previously, he spent nearly six years in Indiana politics. He wrote this for The Indiana Policy Review.


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