We expect political partisans to die with their boots on. That’s why our giggle-reflex kicks in whenever we hear a retiring public figure say that he wants to “spend more time with the family.” We presume that voluntary retirement by anyone under, say, 75 years of age, is an admission of political defeat.
That’s why, for instance, a lot of us can’t help thinking that Bart Stupak isn’t running for reelection because he thinks he’d lose and isn’t eager, in any case, to spend his last campaign defending his vote for ObamaCare. We’re too cynical to credit the notion, voiced by Sandra McElwaine among others, that Stupak’s retiring because he regards passing ObamaCare as the culmination of his career as a liberal politician.
SEIU president Andy Stern’s imminent retirement inspires the same reaction. During the last ten years, there hasn’t been a more dedicated and effective advocate of liberal causes. And, with the election of Obama and the passage of ObamaCare, Stern has never had more to show for his efforts. So our immediate impulse is to wait for another shoe to drop, perhaps a soon-to-be-revealed scandal or some personal misfortune that’s forcing his hand.
But what if it turns out that our reflexes are leading us astray in this case? What if Stern is retiring at the height of his powers because he really thinks that his ideological work is done? That calls to mind Mickey Kaus’s thesis (on which I commented here and here) that the passage of ObamaCare represents the end of liberalism’s political frontier, that henceforth servicing the welfare state will be largely a matter of tiresome public administration and political back-scratching. That notion gets a lot more credible if people of Stern’s stature start bailing out voluntarily.